Graveyard of Priorities

In October, 2006, the Air Force leadership announced the service’s top five procurement priorities. They were (1) KC-X tanker; (2) CSAR-X combat search and rescue helicopter; (3) space-based early warning and communications satellites; (4) F-35 fighter; and (5) the next-generation long-range bomber. Just 30 months later, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has rendered all but one of these top priorities kaput; the F-35 was preserved. Gates promises a restart of the KC-X program he terminated last fall and will let the Air Force buy some new versions of existing satellites, but he has terminated the CSAR-X and Transformational Satellite (TSAT), with extreme prejudice—nobody expects them to come back in their previous form. No one’s sure when the bomber program will be reconstituted, either. Service officials say that Air Force long-range plans and roadmaps will have to be completely re-thought and that these will flow (it’s getting to be a hackneyed phrase) from the Quadrennial Defense Review. An Air Force spokeswoman said the service hasn’t had time to build a new top procurement priorities list, given the pace at which program decisions are being made. Watch this space.