WASHINGTON — Around 50 new start programs for the US Air Force are at risk if the Pentagon is forced to operate under a continuing resolution, the service's top officials warned Monday.
Secretary Deborah Lee James and Gen. Mark Welsh, Air Force chief of staff, warned that a long-term continuing resolution would severely hamstring the service at a time when it is attempting to simultaneously recapitalize multiple fleets and maintain training and end strength among airmen.
The continuing resolution, or CR, has been used as a short-term budget measure to fund the government at the previous year's funding levels when a budget agreement cannot be reached. Under a year-long continuing resolution, the Pentagon would wind up with $35 billion less than it requested, according to an analysis by former Pentagon Comptroller Bob Hale.
The use of a CR for the first quarter of a new budget year has become commonplace in recent years, but sources tell Defense News that Congress is mulling a full-year CR, which would place dramatic tensions on the Pentagon. In particular, the CR does not allow new start programs unless the service can reach a waiver agreement, a complicated process.
James said the service is estimating "a rough order of magnitude there may be as many as 50 programs … that would fall under a category for new starts, which could not be done under a full-year CR."
Some of those programs would be small scale, she noted, but a CR would undoubtedly impact such programs as the service's new T-X trainer or JSTARS fleet.
"A full-year CR would provide for our Air Force, really our military, even less money than the sequestration budget would provide," James explained. "So all around that would be a bad deal and we have to get the full-up appropriation and the full-up authorization passed at roughly the president's budget level."
It will also impact existing programs that are ramping up, Welsh noted.
"We do have quantity increases scheduled in '16 in aircraft procurement, like the KC-46, F-35, C-130 multiyear program, and a few other things," he said. "Those would go away under a year-long CR. The quantity increases would not be allowable. There is a big impact."
Asked whether the Air Force would consider personnel reductions in the face of a CR, James said the goal is to avoid such an impact. However, she did not flatly rule out such a move.
"We would be significantly down in terms of our dollars … so everything would have to be looked at," James said.
One program that would not suffer under a CR? The service's next-generation bomber, the Long Range Strike-Bomber program.
James explained that because the LRSB has already had some work done — much of it in the "black" budget — it would not count as a new start, and hence would not be halted by a CR.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.