WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's military buildup hasn't hit the Air Force yet, with the fiscal year 2018 budget request for the most part conforming to the previous administration's plans.
Although full funding tables have not yet been released, only a couple procurement surprises were immediately evident in the select Air Force budget documents given to reporters ahead of the rollout.
The Air Force requested 46 F-35As in 2018 — two planes more than planned last year, although still less than the 48 jets appropriated in 2017.
The service also plans to buy its first joint light tactical vehicles under a line item for "security and tactical vehicles." Justification documents show a request for 140 JLTVs total, with 138 included in the base budget and 2 purchased through wartime funding. Although the purpose of the procurement was unclear, the Air Force confirmed to Defense News last year that it was considering the JLTV to replace the up-armored Humvees used to protect the service's nuclear missile fields.
Overall, the Air Force’s budget jumped from about $171 billion to $183 billion. Procurement slightly increased from $23.9 billion to $24.7 billion, while the operations and maintenance account lifted from $47.9 billion to $49.2 billion. However, it was research, development, testing and evaluation that made the biggest leap — up $5 billion from $20.2 billion to $25.4 billion.
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The service’s future fighter jet — referred to as either Next Generation Air Dominance or Penetrating Counter Air — raked in one of the largest boosts in the budget, going from $21 million to $295 million as it begins to mature technologies that could filter into the aircraft. The Air Force has not divulged what specific advances in weapons, sensor and mission systems it is currently exploring, but in March the service’s top uniformed acquisition official said that a large boost in funding would be needed to keep the program on pace with expectations defined in its Air Superiority 2030 roadmap.
Air Force nuclear programs also saw a boost in R&D funding when compared to last years’ enacted totals. The service asked for an additional $100 million for Ground Based Strategic Deterrent in FY18, which would bring spending to almost $216 million. Funding for the Long Range Standoff Weapon hiked from $96 million to $451 million, while research and development funding for the B-21 bomber increased from $1.3 billion to $2 billion.
The service requested $434 million for R&D activities related to the Air Force One replacement. Although that is an increase from last year’s $351 million request, it is a cut of about $200 million compared to the service’s initial projections. Carolyn M. Gleason, the deputy for budget under the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Financial Management and Comptroller, told reporters during the briefing that there had been no changes to planned activities for the program in FY18.
"[The cut] reflects the current acquisition strategy and the new requirements baseline, and it's informed by Boeing's risk reduction activities," she said on Tuesday. "It's basically a change in the cost estimate and reflects that same content."
Research and development funding for the JSTARS recapitalization program increased from $128 million to $417 million in advance of a planned contract award this year. The combat rescue helicopter also moved from $273 million to $354 million.
Other technology investments included $10 million for ongoing B-52 engine replacement exploration, $60 million for laser development, and $593 million for the Adaptive Engine Transition Program.
Overall, the procurement budget remained stagnant.
KC-46A procurement stayed stable at 15 aircraft. The service also maintained its commitment to the T-X program, it stated, although currently released budget documents do not spell out how much the Air Force requested in FY18.
The Air Force is purchasing fewer airlift assets this year, with no C-130J procurement planned in either the base or overseas contingency operations budget. It requested five MC-130J aircraft and two HC-130Js, the same numbers projected in the FY2017 budget request.
Weapons procurement remained at high levels, driven predominantly by the need to replenish its stockpiles as the air war against the Islamic State continues. The service requested funding to buy 12,133 Joint Direct Attack Munitions in the base budget and an additional 18,531 in the Overseas Contingency Operations budget; 399 Hellfires in the base budget and 3,230 in OCO; and 4,579 Small Diameter Bomb I/II in the base budget with 2,273 in OCO.
A request for 16 MQ-9 Reapers also came in under the service’s OCO budget.
While the previous administration had included five year projections, called the Future Years Defense Program, in its budget documents, it was not immediately clear whether the service would include a FYDP in this year’s request.
There are no stated plans in the budget documents to retire the A-10, U-2 or F-15C/Ds, three platforms the Air Force has considered divesting to save money. The service is continuing investment in radar and electronic warfare upgrades for the F-15, and the budget request also includes $7 million for a service life extension program for the fighter's fuselage longerons, a key upgrade needed to keep it in service.
Correction: This article previously stated only the planned JLTV procurement through the Overseas Contingency Operations budget, and has been changed to reflect numbers in the base budget.