Each US military service is developing two budgets for 2015 — one that includes sequestration spending cuts and another that builds on the Pentagon’s 2014 budget proposal, which is $52 billion above the sequestration cap. In past articles we have examined the impact of sequestration and the related budget cuts in general. Today we look at the impact of the cuts on the US Ari Force. The Air Force is faced with a dilemma—potential deep budget cuts and the desire to keep existing procurement initiatives on track.
The Air Force is considering scrapping its entire fleet of old KC-10 tankers and A-10 attack jets. Also possibly due elimination are the fleet of F-15C fighter jets and the planned $6.8 billion purchase of new combat search-and-rescue helicopters. These proposals are not final but the options being considered show the magnitude of the decisions that are facing the Air Force. “You only gain major savings if you cut an entire fleet,” Gen. Mark Welsh, Air Force chief of staff, told sister publication Air Force Times. “You can cut aircraft from a fleet, but you save a lot more money if you cut all of the infrastructure that supports the fleet.” We are looking at every platform we have, every one of those five core missions and trying to decide where must we recapitalize versus where can we modernize,” Welsh said.
This is what we have been saying that true savings come from cutting people in uniform. The proposed aircraft cuts, particularly the elimination of 340- A-10s t, are sure to face scrutiny in Congress. About fifty percent of the A-10 fleet resides in the Air National Guard. A previous proposal to cut five A-10 squadrons last year faced stiff opposition both in Congress and from the affected state governors. The Air Force Reserve also operates A-10s. A-10s are the ground force support aircraft and were heavily used in support of ground forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. A-10s also are based in South Korea.
Sources say the Army is interested in obtaining A-10s should the Air Force decide to retire the twin-engine jets, which have been flying since the 1970s. But how can the Army do that with budget cuts? The Air Force has tried to give the A-10s to the Army before, but they never gave the budget to go with them.
The Air Force currently operates 59 KC-10s. The KC-10 is the workhorse of the Air Force aerial refueling fleet. The tankers — equipped with both boom and hose-and-drogue refueling systems — can refuel Air Force, Navy and international military aircraft on a single sortie.
Pentagon leaders for several years have said they would like to get rid of single-mission air platforms. As mentioned there are an unspecified number of cuts to the F-15C Eagle. The Air Force has about 250 of the fighter jets, which, along with the F-22 Raptor, make up the service’s air-to-air fighter arsenal.
Additionally, there are some other cuts that could occur:
• Flying hours will be reduced and thus the Thunderbirds aerobatic team would no longer appear at events.
• The Air Force has already implemented a hiring freeze for all permanent and temporary employees. The next step would be to release all temporary employees deemed not mission-critical—about 3200 people. In an unprecedented move, the Air Force could also order a furlough of 180,000 civilians for 22 days to cut costs.
• Maintenance deferral --many aircraft are decades old and need frequent servicing and upgrades. Under one of the Air Force's proposed cuts, there would be a one-third reduction in work done at depots, where planes go for their long-term major overhauls and upgrades. They will no longer get as much care and attention. The impact, according to the Air Force is: "aircraft availability and mission-capable rates below standards."
• "New starts," what the Air Force calls its programs to develop and purchase new equipment, are vulnerable to budget cuts. There are now 22 such programs, and many will possibly suffer cutbacks and delays. Acquisitions of items already developed, like a new refueling tanker and the F-35 may also be delayed..
• An unbelievable suggestion is that various ground radar sites for missile warning and space surveillance would be reduced from 24-hour operations to just 8 hours per day.
In the end, Congress will have the final say. Lawmakers were less than thrilled with the Air Force’s 2014 budget proposal. We will report on this during the next several months.