After Long Neglect, Munitions See Funding Surge

A dozen 2,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions sit inside a warehouse at Al Udeid AB, Qatar Dec. 17, 2015. The bombs were built by hand by airmen from the 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron’s Munitions Flight. Air Force photo by TSgt. James Hodgman.

The Air Force’s munitions stocks get a substantial increase in its Fiscal 2018 budget request. The “max rate” surge—meaning USAF is buying weapons literally as fast as the US bomb-makers can produce them—is necessary because stocks have drawn down so steeply during the war against ISIS.

Rules of engagement demand near-zero collateral damage and civilian casualties—compelling USAF to use its most precise weapons—and the furious pace of attacks has emptied weapons “igloos” at Air Force bases worldwide.

Maj. Gen. Jim Martin, USAF deputy assistant secretary for Budget, noted in a service press briefing Tuesday that the Air Force has released “over 70 percent of all munitions” dropped on ISIS, and flies some 70 weapons-dropping sorties per day.

Clearly, the preferred weapon in the fight is the Small Diameter Bomb, which is very precise but carries a small warhead, inflicting limited damage. The Air Force wants to increase its SDB I and II purchases from some 4,500 munitions in the enacted Fiscal 2017 budget to about 8,000 munitions in Fiscal 2018, combining both “base budget” buys and Overseas Contingency Operations money. The base budget is supposed to pay for long-term capabilities while the OCO money is supposed to replace materials used up in the war.

The Joint Direct Attack Munition—very precise, but large, by Operation Inherent Resolve standards—would be bought in numbers somewhat lower than Fiscal 2017 levels. In the enacted current budget, USAF is buying some 30,600 JDAMs, but in 2018 it would buy about 27,200 JDAMs. The AGM-114 Hellfire missile, which is typically used from USAF remotely piloted aircraft such as the Predator and Reaper, was bought in quantities of about 1,500 in Fiscal 2017, while the FY18 budget calls for about 3,600, Base and OCO funding combined.

The Air Force would continue to buy AGM-158 JASSM-ER long-range stealth ground-attack missiles at a rate of 360 per year in ’18. In the dogfight missile category, there would be an uptick in AIM-9X Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles from 287 in ’17 to 310 in ’18. The longer-range radar-guided AMRAAM would see a dip, however, from 256 in ’17 to 205 in ’18.