The Air Force would cut 20,400 airmen and about 2,700 civilian jobs and retire dozens of planes under a $109.3 billion fiscal year 2015 budget request focused on replacing an aging aircraft fleet and boosting readiness hurt through sequestration, according to federal budget documents released Tuesday.
The call for military cuts comes as some in Congress have alleged President Barack Obama’s administration has weakened U.S. defenses around the world and allowed Russian President Vladimir Putin to aggressively move forces into Ukraine. The reductions reflect shrinking defense budgets because of sequestration, or automatic spending reductions, and the end of nearly 13 years of war as U.S. forces prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of the year.
If the spending plan is enacted by Congress, the cuts would reduce uniform ranks by 16,700 active-duty airmen, 3,300 Air Force reservists and 400 Air National Guardsmen by September 2015 and pull more than 200 planes off the flight line, Air Force documents show.
“Overall, the budget shows its going to be very difficult for the Air Force to overcome the effects of sequestration and many of the accounts are taking hits,” said Michael Gessel, Dayton Development Coalition vice president of federal programs in Washington, D.C.
“Obviously, cuts of that size will be felt by Wright-Patterson, but there’s no way of knowing at this point how they will be proportioned,” he said.
In a push to keep cutting-edge technology at the expense of a larger force, the Air Force would retire the fleet of A-10 tank-busting attack jets and U-2 spy planes, the latter replaced by the RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance drone. Another 51 F-15C Eagle aircraft would be pulled out of flight status, leaving about 170 of the fighter jets, Maj. Gen. James F. Martin, the Air Force’s deputy assistant secretary for budget, told reporters in a televised briefing Tuesday at the Pentagon.
“We had to save billions in this budget and we made some very tough choices,” Martin said.
The Air Force would buy 26 F-35A Joint Strike Fighters, seven KC-46 tankers and continue with plans to develop a long-range strike bomber. The military branch has a new trainer jet and a combat search and rescue helicopter on its priority list to replace an aging inventory, Martin said. The average age of an Air Force aircraft has reached 27 years old.
“The Air Force is facing relatively modest threats today but it sees that the danger will grow in the future so it is determined to maintain its combat edge with new aircraft and missiles,” said Loren B. Thompson, a defense analyst with the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va. Russia and China have fielded stealthy fighters and air defense system that could deny most U.S. aircraft access into contested airspace, he said.
Thompson said he was most surprised by the decision to retire the U-2, first fielded in the 1950s but technologically upgraded over the decades, because the high flying, glider-like spy plane can haul heavier and bigger payloads at higher altitudes.
Impact at Wright-Patterson
The budget contains no military construction spending for Wright-Patterson, and could squeeze funding at the Air Force Research Laboratory in areas such as material research, Gessel said late Tuesday.
“One thing which is of great concern for Dayton is the Air Force is making investments on short-term efforts such as procurement, but there is less emphasis on science and technology which will ultimately feed the weapons’ systems of the future,’’ he said.
As part of President Barack Obama’s defense spending plan, the military will ask Congress to set aside an additional $26 billion to counteract the impact of sequestration. The money would boost readiness, reduce maintenance backlogs, repair facilities, and buy more weapons. The Air Force hopes to obtain $7 billion of that amount, Martin said. Overall, the administration wants another $115 billion over five years to supersede spending caps.
Pentagon leaders have warned cuts would grow steeper if sequestration stays in place in fiscal year 2016 and beyond.
The wide-ranging $495.6 billion Defense Department budget proposal next year would shrink the size of the Army from 490,000 today to between 440,000 to 450,000 by 2019, cancel a new Army ground combat system, and could potentially permanently dock a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, among other changes. It would also boost the size of U.S. Special Forces to 69,700 service members compared to 66,000 today.
U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, has said in a statement the proposed budget “will greatly impact our national security and not reflect the increased security risks around the world.” He has added sequestration has imposed a “massive strain” on the military.
Barrie Barber - Dayton Daily News, Ohio (MCT)
Washington Bureau reporter Jack Torry contributed to this story.
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