Pentagon Will Slow JSF Buys, Cancel Global Hawk Block 30
The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) previewed a Fiscal Year 2013 budget submission on January 26 that slows procurement of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, terminates the Global Hawk Block 30 and retires some C-5As and C-130s.
The $613 billion DoD budget will be submitted to Congress in February with the federal budget. It reduces overall defense spending by $259 billion over the next five years.
In releasing the “budget priorities and choices” document, Pentagon officials said they remain committed to all three variants of the Lockheed Martin JSF, but will slow procurement to complete flight testing and allow for developmental changes.
Ashton Carter, deputy secretary of defense, noted the recent lifting of the short takeoff vertical landing (STOVL) variant “probation” in his remarks. “We got some good news this year with respect to STOVL,” he said. “That was the result of some good engineering work done in the last year, and that means that all three variants can go forward. At the same time, the issue with the Joint Strike Fighter of cost and the performance of the program in this difficult [period] where we’re transitioning in trying to reach full-rate production, that’s still a concern to us. We’ll ride up that curve to full-rate production…when it is economically and managerially prudent to do it.”
The Pentagon determined that the cost of the Global Hawk Block 30 program over the five-year budget would exceed that of the Lockheed Martin U-2 it was supposed to replace. The decision to cancel the Block 30, one of four versions of the Northrop Grumman high-altitude surveillance UAV, is a “good example” of the need to focus on cost performance in a tight budget, Carter said. The Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation (OT&E) last spring described the Global Hawk as “not operationally effective” following a 2010 evaluation.
“The Block 30 priced itself out of the niche of taking pictures in the air, so we will continue to use the U-2,” said Carter. “That’s a disappointment to us. We had hoped to replace the U-2 with the Global Hawk, but the Global Hawk became expensive. That’s the fate of things that become too expensive in a resource-constrained environment.” [See USAF Extends Life of Lockheed Martin U-2 as Northrop Grumman Defends Global Hawk’s Failed Evaluation–Editor.]
The budget calls for reducing the active Army to 490,000 soldiers, from 562,000, and the Marine Corps to 182,000, down from 202,000, by 2017. “The changes to the size of our ground forces allowed us to examine the Air Force’s airlift fleet. Our intensive review determined that we could reduce, streamline and standardize our air fleet with minimal risk,” said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. That will be done by retiring some older C-5As and C-130s.
The DoD will continue to fund development of a next-generation bomber and the KC-46A aerial refueling tanker, officials said.