The Pentagon proposes retiring the U-2 Dragon Lady and A-10 Warthog in the Fiscal Year 2015 defense budget it will present to the Congress next week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said. Hagel and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, previewed the budget for reporters on February 24.
The proposed budget is the first to fully reflect the transformation the Department of Defense (DOD) is undergoing now that 13 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan are coming to an end, Hagel said. It is also framed by more recent budget constraints. The Bipartisan Budget Act the Congress passed in December limits Pentagon spending in the coming fiscal year to $496 billion, which is $45 billion less than the President’s previous budget request estimated for FY2015. While that statute provided some relief from automatic “sequestration” budget reductions that took effect last March, the DOD still must cut $75 billion from its budget over the current and coming fiscal years. At the same time, it is reducing spending by $487 billion over 10 years as Congress required in the Budget Control Act of 2011.
“In crafting this package, we prioritized DOD’s strategic interests and matched them to budget resources,” Hagel said. “This required a series of difficult choices.”
For the Air Force, prioritization means mothballing the aging U-2 reconnaissance jet and replacing it with the unmanned Global Hawk Block 30. “This decision was a close call, as DOD had previously recommended retaining the U-2 over the Global Hawk because of cost issues,” Hagel said. “But over the last several years, DOD has been able to reduce the Global Hawk’s operating costs. With its greater range and endurance, the Global Hawk makes a better high-altitude reconnaissance platform for the future.” Retiring the 40-year-old A-10s will save $3.5 billion over five years, he said.
The Air Force will also slow its acquisition of armed UAVs under the proposed budget. It will, therefore, take its force of Predators and Reapers to 55 combat air patrols rather than 65. “Given the continued drawdown in Afghanistan, this level of coverage will be sufficient to meet our requirements, and we would still be able to surge to…71 combat air patrols under the plan,” Hagel said.
If the Congress reestablishes full sequestration-level cuts in 2016 and beyond, he warned, the Air Force would have to retire 80 more aircraft, including the entire KC-10 tanker and Global Hawk Block 40 fleets, and decelerate acquisition of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, buying 24 fewer F-35s through FY2019. It would also have to reduce by 10 the number of 24-hour Predator and Reaper combat air patrols.
The FY2015 budget would also facilitate a realignment of Army aviation platforms. The active Army would transfer UH-60 Black Hawks to the National Guard to improve its capabilities for disaster relief and emergency response, while the Guard would transfer AH-64 Apache attack helicopters to active-duty Army units. The Army would also retire OH-58 Kiowa scout and TH-67 training helicopters. Under this plan, its overall fleet would shrink by about 25 percent.