WASHINGTON — If the Pentagon is forced to operate under a long-term continuing resolution next year, the US Air Force will likely ask Congress for an exemption for the KC-46 tanker program, according to one top service official.
The Air Force has not yet asked Congress for any relief from the CR because leadership is still hoping for a short-term measure, Lt. Gen. Arnie Bunch, the service's deputy assistant secretary for acquisition, said Thursday. However, KC-46 will likely be a top priority if the Air Force has to face down a yearlong CR, he said.
"Right now we haven't done that because we're hoping it's a short-term continuing resolution, but it will probably be one of the ones that we go back in and look for a waiver to," Bunch said Sept. 24 after a breakfast hosted by the Air Force Association.
Congress has until Oct. 1 to reach a budget agreement before the Pentagon is slapped with a CR, a stop-gap spending measure that temporarily funds the government at prior year levels.
Should a long-term CR take effect at the beginning of the fiscal year, the Air Force's most pressing concern is arguably the impact to the KC-46 tanker recapitalization program. If the Air Force is restricted to prior year funding levels for KC-46, the service may be forced to break the contract with Boeing.
According to Brig. Gen. Duke Richardson, KC-46 program executive office, the contract requires the Air Force to award eight aircraft at minimum in the second low-rate initial production lot planned for fiscal year 2016. But in fiscal 2015, the Air Force only budgeted for seven aircraft in LRIP 1. If the service is only allowed to buy seven aircraft in fiscal 2016 due to a yearlong CR, that would breach the terms of the contract, Richardson said.
The Air Force can choose to seek exemptions from the CR for the tanker, but the service must balance its top priorities. A yearlong CR also threatens to derail the F-35 joint strike fighter, another top program.
When asked which program the Air Force will prioritize in seeking exemptions from the CR, Bunch declined to identify a specific programanswer.
"That will be a decision we make at the time based on looking at what the ripple effects are and the cost impacts of what we're trying to do," Bunch said, and that the Air Force has some time before a decision must be made.