The U.S. Air Force is terminating the C-130 avionics modernization program (AMP) and culling 286 aircraft from its fleet over the next five years as it restructures to meet budget constraints. At the same time, the service also plans a service-life-extension program (SLEP) for 350 F-16s to compensate for delayed deliveries of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The “force structure changes” were announced February 3, providing more detail about the Air Force’s contribution to $259 billion in overall defense spending reductions over the next five years. The Pentagon earlier revealed the cancellation of the Global Hawk Block 30 and C-27J programs.
The cost-challenged C-130 AMP program, originally awarded to Boeing, was cancelled one month after the first production delivery of an upgraded C-130H Hercules. “We developed the C-130 AMP to ensure our C-130H fleet met basic communication, navigation, surveillance and air traffic management requirements,” the Air Force said. “We later determined that there are less technically complex approaches to meet these requirements and resolve select obsolescence issues.” The cancellation will save $2.2 billion over the Pentagon’s five-year future years defense program (FYDP) submission. Yet the Air Force said it is funding a new-start avionics program in Fiscal Year 2013 to ensure its 184 C-130Hs can comply with ICAO requirements.
The Air Force will eliminate 123 fighters, 133 mobility aircraft and 30 intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms from active and reserve units over the FYDP, saving $8.7 billion. This includes retiring aircraft from five A-10 squadrons, one F-16 squadron and one F-15 Aggressor training squadron. The service will retire all 27 of its C-5A airlifters, retire 65 of the oldest C-130s and store or cancel procurement of 38 planned C-27Js. It will maintain a fleet of 275 strategic airlifters (52 C-5Ms and 223 C-17s) and 318 C-130s (134 C-130Js and 184 C-130Hs).
The service will retire 20 KC-135s and maintain a fleet of 453 refueling tankers. It said development of the KC-46A tanker remains on track for initial deliveries in Fiscal Year 2016.
By divesting 18 Block 30 RQ-4 Global Hawk UAVs in favor of using the manned U-2S for surveillance and reconnaissance, the service expects to save $2.5 billion over the FYDP. Funding will be eliminated for all 11 Fairchild RC-26 twin-turboprop surveillance aircraft operated by reserve units. The 37 MC-12 twin turboprops acquired recently under Project Liberty will be transferred to the Air National Guard in Fiscal Year 2014.
The Air Force said it has acquired 12 F-35s to date and plans to acquire 160 more through Fiscal Year 2017. With the rate of F-35 procurement “depressed for a few years while we work through the concurrency issues,” according to Air Force Secretary Michael Donley, the service is proceeding with a nearly $3 billion SLEP of 350 Block 40/52 F-16s, with a substantial number receiving new avionics as well as structural improvements. The first aircraft with SLEP structural improvements will be fielded in 2017.