Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said Thursday, “we’re not sure what the impact will be” on modernization accounts if the sequester kicks in next month. Broadly, he told AFA’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla., “the F-35 program will lose up to three aircraft this production year.” Research and development accounts will not be immune, “with greater software development risk, which affects [initial operational capability] dates,” he said. It’s uncertain how the KC-46A will fare; Welsh hopes that the tanker program will face less than a 12-percent funding reduction, so that the Air Force doesn’t have to renegotiate the tanker contract. Because of the current budget continuing resolution, the Air Force can’t change the quantities of Space Based Infrared System satellites it will buy, but would have to defer the buy of one of them, a delay that “will cost us an addition $1 billion,” said Welsh. Test and evaluation efforts will be delayed, amounting to “a tripling of our test costs,” he said. On new starts like the long-range strike bomber, “we’ll have to wait and see the impact,” said Welsh. Overall, the sequester implies significant changes for “how big we are in the future,” he said, but insisted that “out the other side . . . we will still be the best Air Force in the world.”
Boeing’s receipt of the 10th lot contract award for the KC-46 Pegasus this week leaves just three lots left to complete the Air Force’s buy of the tanker, although a further buy of 75 additional aircraft as a “bridge” to the Next-Generation Aerial-refueling System (NGAS) seems increasingly likely.