Air Force’s “Underfunded” Priorities

The Air Force’s wish-list of some 20 additional items not included in its Fiscal 2010 budget request landed on Capitol Hill Monday evening. Noteworthy is the fact that the list adds up to slightly more than $1.9 billion, less than a tenth of last year’s $20 billion list of unfunded priorities. Chief of staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, in a cover letter, said the 20 items either support the current “joint fight, accelerate programs to achieve national security goals, or identify programmatic disconnects”—the last referring to things that inadvertently got left out of the budget request due to the “rapid close” of the process. Last week, Schwartz told reporters that the list doesn’t involve “new starts or things that are not otherwise in the budget, but rather need to be accelerated or robusted for some good cause.” He labeled it an “underfunded” priorities list. Topping the items is $180.2 million for a Battlefield Airborne Communications Node, labeled as a “Joint Urgent Operational Need.” The program is a BD-700 aircraft the Air Force now leases, but wants to buy to save money. Some of the items listed are “a few so mission critical to the Combatant Commanders that we would provide offsets to ensure their funding,” Schwartz wrote to Congress. Last year’s list had many big-ticket items and was crafted to draw attention to the long neglect of USAF capabilities. Defense Secretary Robert Gates asked the then-Chief of Staff and Secretary of the Air Force to resign within weeks of their promoting the list on Capitol Hill. He instructed service chiefs to meet with him last week before they sent their UPLs to the Hill. (The UPL list)