Sources said last week that the US Air Force's A-10 attack aircraft could be among the single-mission fleets eliminated under budget-cutting plans. (US Air Force)
NATIONAL HARBOR, MD. — Older, single-mission aircraft fleets could face the chopping block, according to the acting US Air Force secretary.
“Everything is on the table,” Eric Fanning said Monday afternoon. “We’re trying to protect a few of the main programs, but we are looking most closely at single-mission fleets.”
Fanning made his comments at a media briefing at this week’s Air Force Association Air & Space Conference. He was specifically asked about a Defense News report that service is considering cutting the KC-10 tanker and A-10 attack jet fleets.
Cuts, Fanning said, were unavoidable due to the limited options for the Air Force.
“If we go into [fiscal year 2014] with sequestration still in effect, and we need to achieve those savings, you have to look at cuts,” he said. “You can’t get your money out of installations because they won’t support [base realignment and closure]. You can’t get money out of people fast enough. It takes about a year to get savings out of people.
“If you try to fence off some of your priority programs, it puts a lot of pressure on that small part of the wedge,” he added. “You can’t get savings of the magnitude necessary by reducing all of your fleets. You have to take out some fleets entirely in order to get the whole tail that comes with it, in terms of savings.”
Those priority programs include the F-35 joint strike fighter, KC-46 tanker replacement program, and new long-range bomber. Fanning expanded on the importance of those programs later in his speech.
The KC-46 program replaces only a third of the aging KC-135 tanker fleet, with two follow-on programs needed after completion, Fanning pointed out. “That last 135, when it lands, is going to be older than any human being alive. That’s a critical backbone, not just for the Air Force but for the military, so that’s clearly a priority.
“The long-range strike bomber, the interesting thing about that is that the real money goes into the program in the future,” Fanning said. “That won’t give us savings when we’re at our most vulnerable.”
As for the F-35, the most expensive program in Pentagon history, Fanning described the fifth-generation fighter as “the critical warfighting program for the Department of Defense.”
“The Air Force, in any of the budget scenarios, is committed to the joint strike fighter,” he added. However, he did not rule out that a JSF buy could be cut or pushed back as part of a Pentagon budget decision.
“When we’re making our decisions, we certainly have Air Force priorities. But they exist within larger priorities,” Fanning said. “And that rebalance in the Pacific weighs heavily, when you think about recapitalizing tankers and investing in the [joint strike fighter].”
Speaking about the budget process as a whole, Fanning declared continuing resolutions “awful” and indicated a belief that if Congress can’t fix sequestration, it should at least allow the services flexibility with the required cuts.