Air Force Budget Slashes Legacy Aircraft

The 2015 budget translates into fewer airmen and fewer aircraft across its active-duty, reserve and guard components.

The Air Force on Tuesday released a 2015 budget that translates into fewer airmen and fewer aircraft across its active-duty, reserve and guard components with officials saying the service has chosen to recapitalize the fleet versus upgrading legacy aircraft.

Air Force personnel would drop across the force from 503,400 to 483,000 under the 2015 plan.

It will reduce its active-duty personnel from 327,600 to 310,900, for a loss of 16,700 airmen. The Air Force Reserve will lose 3,300, leaving a force of 67,100, and the Air National Guard would trim its numbers by 400 members, leaving 105,000 citizen airmen.

At the same time the Air Force says it will be transferring some people and planes to its reserve components that stand to lose missions because its plans to retire the A-10 and the U-2

As Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced last week, the Air Force plans to retire its A-10 Thunderbolt fleet, a plane built for close air support and long and widely appreciated by ground troops. But the Air Force considers the plane, dubbed the “Warthog,” as a single-mission aircraft at a time when it needs weapons able to conduct multiple missions.

Air Force leaders have said retiring the A-10 “achieves large savings while preserving multi-role [aircraft].” Of course, the Air Force tried this last year, and was promptly denied by Congress who included legislation in last year’s budget ordering the service not to spend a dollar toward retiring the fleet.

Service leaders also chose to reverse last year’s decision to keep the U-2 Dragon Lady fleet and allow the RQ-4 Global Hawk to continue to mature. Even though, Air Force brass freely admits that the Global Hawk still struggles to operate in bad weather, the service has proposed shutting down the historic fleet.

The Air Force backed up its promises to improve on the Global Hawk fleet by doubling the research and development funding for the fleet from $120 million to $244 million.

Even though the Air Force decided to retire the A-10 and the U-2, Air Force leaders decided on Tuesday to save the Combat Rescue Helicopter program. In January, Congress inserted $333 million into the budget to save program after the Air Force decided it wasn’t a priority in a lean budgetary environment.

Air Force brass chose on Tuesday not to fight Congress on the program. Air Force Maj. Gen. Jim Martin, director of budget, said the Combat Rescue Helicopter program has enough funding from last year and will likely present a contract this year even though a funding line is not included for the program in the 2015 budget proposal.

The service’s top three modernization priorities remain the same. The budget proposal includes increased funding for two of the top three priorities — the F-35 Lightning IIs and the KC-46 Pegasus, an aerial refueling tanker and transport plane.

The Air Force anticipates picking up 26 of the 34 F-35s the Pentagon plans to buy next year. The service has requested an increase of funding for the Joint Strike Fighter by about $600 million in 2015 versus 2014.

Air Force leaders expect to purchase the service’s first seven KC-46 tankers and plan to spend $2.3 billion on the program in 2015.

Other purchases include a dozen more MQ-9A Reapers, seven C-130J Super Hercules transports, and the recapitalization of four HC-130s and two MC-130s.

One fleet that took a hit to funding in 2015 was the C-5. Funding for the Galaxy dropped from $1.1 billion to $385 million in 2015.