April 10, 2013
Credit: Lockheed Martin
The U.S. Air Force is cutting down its buy of MQ-9A Reaper UAV in its fiscal 2014 budget request, to 12 from twice that slated for this fiscal year, but the armed service is maintaining the same level of new F-35A Joint Strike Fighters (19) and largely sustaining procurement of the C-130 transport while increasing most space-related hardware purchases and missiles and bombs for the year starting Oct. 1.
Still, while the budget request, released today, holds relatively good news for near-term acquisition, the service warns of dire effects to operations, maintenance and, in particular, future readiness, as the full scope of the 2011 Budget Control Act and its recently implemented sequestration budget rescissions becomes clear.
“The FY13 sequestration jeopardizes [the] FY14 budget request,” claims a part of the official USAF presentation, as the latest budget request—which will be amended and finally approved by Congress before heading to the president for enactment—does not address massive changes triggered last month during sequestration’s effects. Those effects “will cause [a] catastrophic impact to readiness with [a] bow wave of mission requirements into FY14.”
Nor does the request fit inside the budget act’s topline restriction for 2014, meaning if that law is not changed by the end of September, then another round of automatic, widespread sequestration cuts will take effect starting in October.
“Impacts continue to worsen with additional reductions,” the Air Force says.
Wall Street analysts have been predicting the same thing recently. “In the near term, the greatest pressure on the Air Force will be operations and maintenance, as it is for the other services,” Bernstein Research analysts said the day before the budget request’s release. “Service contracts will be curtailed in proportion to Air Force internal cuts. Rising wages and benefits place added pressure and an inability to control these costs will create a high level of risk. One should expect a reduction in force size, leading [to] a smaller but more lethal Air Force.”
Indeed, the Air Force says it will take six months just to restore pilot proficiency levels lost to sequestration, potentially creating a “bath tub” effect that haunts future training and readiness. A total of about 70 depot inductions that were deferred will take “multiple years to recover.” And less spending toward research, development and acquisition—so-called investment accounts—will drive up weapons procurement costs and delay critical capabilities.
That means fewer F-35As acquired in coming years than previously planned, as well as a delay to the MQ-9 Block 5, the service said.
Overall, the Air Force is requesting $114.1 billion for its direct spending in fiscal 2014, up from $102.8 billion it expects to be allowed to spend in 2013 after sequestration kicked in. The 2013 request, made a year ago, was $110.1 billion. Within the $114.1 billion, $18.8 billion is slated for procurement, $17.6 billion for research, development, testing and evaluation, $46.6 billion for operations and maintenance, and $29.2 billion for personnel. Additional spending via the war-supplemental appropriations request will be submitted separately later by the Pentagon.