The Obama administration delivered a proposed $496 billion base U.S. defense budget for Fiscal Year 2015 to the Congress on March 4. In a round of briefings at the Pentagon, service budget officials spoke of making difficult choices because of spending limits Congress imposed in the Budget Control Act of 2011, followed by deep “sequestration” budget cuts that took effect in FY2013. Congress scaled back sequestration somewhat with the Bipartisan Budget Act it passed in December.
With the war in Iraq over and the one in Afghanistan coming to an end, the active-duty Army will reduce in size from the current 520,000 troops to around 450,000 by 2017. The service has cancelled its Ground Combat Vehicle acquisition and will retire its Bell OH-58 Kiowa Warrior scout and TH-67 (Bell 206) training helicopters. It has discontinued the Kiowa Warrior cockpit and sensor upgrade programs.
Davis Welch, the Army’s deputy budget director, provided details of an “aviation restructure initiative” that calls for the active-duty Army to transfer UH-60 Black Hawk tansport and utility helicopters to the National Guard. The Guard will send its AH-64 Apache attack helicopters to the Army.
“Shrinking budgets and the possibility of sustained Budget Control Act funding levels in the out years drove the Army to re-evaluate its strategy in Army aviation,” Welch said. “As a result of a comprehensive aviation review, the Army decided to restructure its aviation formations to achieve leaner, more efficient and capable forces that balance operational capability and flexibility across the total force. In the end state, which is 2019, the restructure will reduce the number of aviation brigades by three in the active component…Reserve components retain their 12 aviation brigades, but will be restructured and optimized for assault, lift and medevac missions. The National Guard will retain its current UH-60s, CH-47s and UH-72As, while garnering an additional 111 UH-60s to enhance their medevac and lift capabilities. All National Guard AH-64s will transfer to the active component.
“The initiative divests single-engine rotary-wing aircraft from the Army’s inventory, so the Kiowa Warrior A, C and D models as well as the TH-67 trainer helicopter will go out of the inventory,” Welch added. Initial rotary-wing training will take place on the Airbus Helicopters UH-72A Lakota. The Apache will do double duty as a scout helicopter for now. “The AH-64E will fulfill, in a temporary aspect at least, the armed aerial scout mission, leveraging a Level 4 manned-unmanned capability with unmanned aerial systems,” he said.
The Air Force will retire its aging U-2 Dragon Lady surveillance and A-10 Warthog close air support jets. “Although a difficult choice, we divested entire fleets, such as the A-10 and the U-2, and focused on global, long-range and multirole capabilities, especially those that can operate in contested environments,” said Maj. Gen. Jim Martin, Air Force budget director. “We did this because divesting entire fleets saves billions versus millions.” Another “tough decision we had to make this fiscal year,” he said, was to delete funding for the F-16 Combat Avionics Programmed Extension Suite (Capes) program to upgrade U.S. and Taiwanese F-16s with active electronically scanned array radar.
While the Air Force said that its long-drawn-out plan to acquire a new combat rescue helicopter (CRH) was being reviewed, Martin revealed that the service will move forward with the acquisition and award a contract this year. “Breaking news: we have made a decision to fund the CRH,” he said, explaining that the service will use FY2014 money to continue the program. The decision “was made today,” he added. “In fact, I was informed of the decision before I walked in here.”
The F-35A Joint Strike Fighter, the KC-46A tanker and the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) remain Air Force priority programs. The service funds the secretive LRS-B program at $900 million in FY2015 and $11.4 billion over the 2015-2019 Future Years Defense Program (FYDP). The service’s FY2015 budget funds the T-X jet trainer replacement program, development of a next-generation Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System (JStars) aircraft, and development of a next-generation jet engine.