Reduced Fleet: Under proposed budget caps, the US Air Force would purchase five fewer KC-46 tankers. (Boeing Illustration)
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has laid out plans for how it would cut $66 billion in procurement and research-and-development projects between 2016 and 2019 should US defense spending caps remain in place.
The cuts would affect dozens of Defense Department programs, including the Lockheed Martin F-35 joint strike fighter, Boeing KC-46 aerial refueling plane and Airbus Light Utility Helicopter.
DoD’s 2015 base budget proposal conforms to spending caps. However, the White House submitted an additional $26 billion request in a separate measure known as the Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative. The Pentagon’s five-year spending plan submitted with its 2015 budget proposal is $115 billion above defense spending caps.
And though its budget runs the risk of being cut through sequestration as long as the caps are in place, don’t expect DoD to submit conforming budgets, one senior Pentagon official said.
“[I]t is extremely unlikely that we will ask for less money than the president thinks he needs to defend the country,” DoD acquisition chief Frank Kendall said on April 15 at a National Defense Industrial Association conference.
Kendall stressed that no formal White House decision had been made to submit cap-busting DoD budgets down the road. But he pointed to the Pentagon’s long-term 2015 budget proposal, which exceeds the caps by $115 billion between 2016 and 2019.
“[W]e are not going to send over budgets, I believe, at sequestration levels,” Kendall said. “We’re going to be sending budgets that ask for the amount of money the [Obama] administration thinks it actually needs.
“That was what we did this year, and I expect that is what we’ll do in the future,” he said.
DoD has faced criticism in Congress and from defense budget experts for not adhering to budget caps. Some analysts say that not planning for budget caps hurts more in the long run since across-the-board cuts are then made through sequestration to bring spending levels in line with the caps.
On Chopping Block
Last week, DoD detailed how it would cut the required $66 billion if the caps remain in place.
The US Army would not sign another multiyear procurement deal with Sikorsky Aircraft for new Black Hawk helicopters, and a fourth brigade of General Dynamics Stryker double-hull vehicles would be canceled, according to a DoD document detailing the cuts.
The Army also would reduce a buy of new Airbus UH-72 Light Utility Helicopters from 100 to 55 aircraft, meaning existing National Guard helicopters would get transferred to the active duty force for training. The planned purchase of more than 1,000 Joint Light Tactical Vehicles would also be pushed back.
Procurement of the US Marine Corps’ Sikorsky-built CH-53K helicopter would be postponed one year, should the caps remain in place. The Marines’ development of a new amphibious combat vehicle would also be delayed.
The Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey program would continue at planned spending levels, but procurement of Bell H-1 helicopters would be delayed, at increased cost.
In the US Navy, three fewer DDG-51 Flight III guided-missile destroyers would be procured in 2017, 2018 and 2019. A second Virginia-class submarine in 2016 would be “unaffordable,” DoD said.
The nuclear refueling of the aircraft carrier George Washington would be canceled and the ship would be retired, and the Navy also would delay procurement of six Boeing P-8 maritime patrol aircraft.
If the spending caps remain in place, the US Air Force would purchase five fewer Boeing KC-46 tanker planes and delay the start of its Combat Rescue Helicopter program until 2019.
The service also would purchase 10 fewer Lockheed Martin MC-130J cargo planes, one less Lockheed GPS III satellite and eliminate an adaptive engine program.
The Air Force would cut 16 F-35A joint strike fighters and field one less squadron of jets over the next five years, according to the report. The Marine Corps F-35B would remain intact, and the Navy would postpone its planned F-35C buys by two years.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, DoD’s F-35 program manager, said last week that shrinking the number of planned jet purchases has contributed to a slight rise in the program’s production and development costs.
If the spending caps remain, the Pentagon would also cut the planned procurement of 531 Raytheon Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles. More than 17,000 Boeing Joint Direct Attack Munitions would also be cut.
As previously known, the Air Force would divest the Boeing KC-10 tanker fleet and the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk Block 40 unmanned surveillance aircraft, and it would cancel a planned buy of 38 General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper UAvs.
And DoD would not fund the Ballistic Missile Defense Midcourse Defense Segment and additional ground-based sensors. ■