The Long Climb Back

The Air Force’s Fiscal 2017 baseline “blue budget” request of $120.4 billion continues the long climb back to what the service calls “full spectrum readiness,” which won’t be achieved “for eight to 10 years,” USAF budget director Maj. Gen. James Martin told reporters at a Pentagon briefing on Tuesday. Martin said the Air Force expected to “take a knee” and reset after 14 years of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the eruption of the anti-ISIS fight postponed that reset, and it can no longer be deferred due to aging USAF equipment and technology advances among adversaries. The ’17 budget request retains some force structure USAF had previously wanted to divest, such as A-10 attack jets and EC-130 electronic combat aircraft. It “protects” funding for the KC-46 and Long-Range Strike Bomber, as well as the F-35A strike fighter, although that program gave up five aircraft to fund other modernization priorities. Tens of thousands of “preferred munitions” are being bought to restore inventories heavily drawn down in the anti-ISIS fight. Together with the overseas contingency operations account, the Air Force will be able to fund 88 percent of its weapon systems sustainment; meaning spare parts and depot throughput. The Combat Rescue Helicopter and the replacement for the Air Force One presidential transports gets underway, as does modernization of the ICBM force and an update of the B-2 bomber. Research and development money is requested to get started on a Service Life Extension Program for the F-15C and F-16 fleets, but none was requested to actually buy kits. A total of 52 AESA radars are being requested to enhance F-16s in the air defense role.