Aviation Week l Amid Cuts USAF Cautiously Funds F-35, Bomber

February 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

The U.S. Air Force’s $154.3 billion fiscal 2013 budget request — roughly $12 billion less than the service requested in 2012 — includes termination of two aircraft efforts aimed at building partnerships with allies, as well as a new missile outlined for use in stealthy aircraft.

Funding for the next-generation missile was “removed from the budget” owing to “affordability” demands, says Marilyn Thomas, deputy budget director for the Air Force. The weapon, once dubbed the Joint Dual-Role Air Dominance Missile, was intended to merge the functionality of two workhorse weapons: the Raytheon AIM-120 series for medium-range attack (aka, the Amraam series) with that of the anti-radiation HARM missiles designed to destroy air defense sites.

The service has long contended a single weapon is needed to do both of these missions in order to maximize the use of the small weapons bays of the stealthy F-22 and forthcoming F-35 fighter.

The termination will be a blow to industry, which has long hoped for government support in developing next-generation seekers and rocket motors for such a mission. Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and ATK have been eyeing this effort.

Still, missiles encompass roughly 24% of the Air Force’s proposed procurement request. Modest increases are proposed in the production of the Boeing Small-Diameter Bomb (as well as $754 million for development and early production work on the SDB II moving-target variant), Lockheed Martin AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, and Raytheon AIM-9X short-range air-to-air missile. The buy rate for the AIM-120D Amraam, the newest generation of the missile, is projected to dip from 138 in fiscal 2012 to 113 units suggested in the next fiscal year. The Navy, however, proposes to maintain its annual buy of 67 AIM-120Ds.

Meanwhile, the service has also moved to cancel its Light Attack Armed Reconnaissance (LAAR) and Light Mobility Aircraft (LIMA) programs, which were intended to use Air Force pilots and aircraft to train partner nations in tactics for these missions. “The Air Force believes that this requirement can be substantially met with innovative application of the Air National Guard State Partnership Programs and Mobility Support Advisory Squadrons,” according to the service’s budget documents.

These were among the changes in the Air Force’s fiscal 2013 budget request, which includes $18.4 billion in procurement and $17.4 billion in research funding — down from $21.4 billion and $17.9 billion, respectively, in the previous fiscal year. Funding in the “Overseas Contingency Operations” request, which sets aside spending associated with wars abroad, is also cut back from $16.8 billion in fiscal 2012 to $14.3 billion.

Meanwhile, the Air Force decreased its planned buy of F-35As from 24 to 19 aircraft for fiscal 2013; this is up one from 18 approved in the fiscal 2012 budget.

The Navy, however, is boosting its buy of F-35B short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing versions from three in fiscal 2012 to six in the 2013 request. This increase was made possible by progress from Lockheed Martin and the government program office in tackling a host of F-35B development problems that plagued the flight test effort in 2010. Those problems prompted then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates to put the variant on “probation” pending a turnaround.

The U.S. Navy, meanwhile, is keeping its buy of carrier variants to four aircraft in 2013. This brings the total F-35 procurement request in fiscal 2013 to 29 at $6.15 billion, substantially lower than Lockheed Martin had hoped for early in the program. Research and development is slated to continue at nearly $2.7 billion between the two services in fiscal 2013.

Roughly $292 million in Air Force funding for the Long-Range Strike-B, a new, optionally manned, stealthy, nuclear-capable bomber, is requested. “The independent variable for LRS-B is cost,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said last week. “We are going to make our best effort not to overdesign this airplane.” He expects the service to field it in the middle of the next decade.

Meanwhile, the Air Force will terminate Northrop Grumman Global Hawk Block 30 purchases and shelve the aircraft already delivered. Work on the Block 40 will continue; it is optimized to complement the ground surveillance work done by the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System. Thomas says that a decision on whether to upgrade the E-8C fleet — its sensors and engines — is still on hold. An analysis of alternatives for the future of this mission was completed in the fall, but results have not yet been approved.

Buys of the MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft, made by General Atomics, will continue, though the Air Force wants to halve the production rate from 48 in fiscal 2012 to 24 in fiscal 2013; this is intended to keep building the fleet up to supplying 65 combat air patrols’ worth of armed reconnaissance. The Army, meanwhile, requests funding for 19 Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft based on the Predator platform, also made by General Atomics.

The Air Force is continuing in hopes of buying a new personnel recovery helicopter, after the collapse of its earlier Combat Search and Rescue-X program. The new effort, dubbed the Combat Rescue Helicopter, would begin in fiscal 2013, with buys planned as early as 2016, Thomas says.

But the Air Force has once again sidelined an effort to recapitalize its nuclear missile field support helicopters by shelving its plans for a Common Vertical Lift Support Program (CVLSP) rotorcraft and is opting instead to consider buying used Hueys from the U.S. Marine Corps as “mitigation” strategy before a new system can be built. The program was established to provide a faster, longer-range rotorcraft for nuclear missile field support.

With the termination of the Defense Weather Satellite System, Thomas says the service will take steps to ensure the two remaining Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) spacecraft remaining on the ground are sound, with the first set to launch in fiscal 2014.

February 13, 2012

By Amy Butler

Aviation Week l Amid Cuts USAF Cautiously Funds F-35, Bomber


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