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US Air Force says budgets are billions short

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The Associated Press

Posted : Monday Feb 18, 2008 14:14:41 EST


WASHINGTON — Air Force officials are warning that unless their budget is

increased dramatically, and soon, the military’s high-flying branch won’t

dominate the skies as it has for decades.

After more than seven years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Air Force’s

aging jet fighters, bombers, cargo aircraft and gunships are at the breaking

point, they say, and expensive, ultramodern replacements are needed fast.

“What we’ve done is put the requirement on the table that says, ‘If we’re

going to do the missions you’re going to ask us to do, it will require this

kind of investment,”’ Maj. Gen. Paul Selva, the Air Force’s director of

strategic planning, said.

“Failing that, we take what is already a geriatric Air Force,” Selva said,

“and we drive it for another 20 years into an area of uncertainty.”

An extra $20 billion each year over the next five — beginning with an Air

Force budget of about $137 billion in 2009 instead of the $117 billion

proposed by the Bush administration — would solve that problem, according to

Selva and other senior Air Force officers.

Yet the prospects for huge infusions of cash seem dim. Congress is expected

to boost the 2009 budget, but not to the level urged by the Air Force. In

the years that follow, a possible recession, a rising federal deficit and a

distaste for higher taxes all portend a decline in defense spending

regardless of which party wins the White House in November.

“The Air Force is going to be confronting a major procurement crisis because

it can’t buy all the things that it absolutely needs,” said Dov Zakheim, a

former Pentagon comptroller. “It’s going to force us to rethink, yet again,

what is the strategy we want? What can we give up?”

The Air Force’s distress is partly self-inflicted, says Steve Kosiak of the

Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington. The F-22

Raptor and F-35 Lightning, the new jet fighters that will supplant the F-15

Eagle and F-16 Falcon, have drastically higher price tags than their

predecessors and require a bigger chunk of the defense budget.

“One of the reasons their equipment has aged so much is because they

continue to move ahead with the development and presumed acquisition of new

weapon systems that cost two to three times as much as the systems they are

replacing,” Kosiak said. “It’s like replacing a Toyota with a Mercedes.”

It’s not as if the Air Force has gone without any new airplanes. The B-2

Spirit stealth bomber, the C-17 Globemaster airlifter and the CV-22

tilt-rotor, which flies like a helicopter or an airplane, have all been

added since the mid-1990s.

The Air Force also is planning to spend between $30 billion and $40 billion

over the next 15 years for new refueling tankers. A contract is expected to

be awarded soon. Those new tankers, however, won’t be flying until 2013.

The Air Force isn’t alone in wanting more money, but its appetite is far

greater than the other military branches. Shortly after President Bush

submitted his defense plan for the 2009 budget year, which begins Oct. 1,

each service outlined for Congress what it felt was left out. The Air Force’s

“wish list” totaled $18.8 billion, almost twice as much as the other three

services combined.

“There’s no justification for it. Period. End of story,” said Gordon Adams,

a former Clinton administration budget official who specializes in defense

issues. “Until someone constrains these budget requests, the hunger for more

will charge ahead unchecked.”

Current F-15s and F-16s are on average more than 20 years old and have

reached a point where spending more money on extensive repairs is a poor

investment, Selva said. Originally designed to last 4,000 flying hours, both

have been extended beyond 8,000.

An F-15 with a comparatively low 5,000 flying hours disintegrated during a

routine training flight over Missouri in early November. For the Air Force,

that crash has become a touchstone event that demonstrates the precarious

state of a fleet collectively older than any in the service’s 60-year


Following the Missouri accident, more than 400 F-15s were grounded as Air

Force mechanics scoured them for defects that might cause a similar

accident. The F-15, a twin-engine jet with a top speed of 1,875 miles per

hour, is the anchor of the nation’s air defense network.

As aircraft age, corrosion eats away at metal parts. Wiring and sealing

begin to deteriorate. The fatigue, which can be hard to detect, is most

acute in fighters that make turns while going at incredible speeds.

“An hour is not an hour” to an aircraft constantly under the strain of

G-forces, Gen. John D.W. Corley, head of Air Combat Command at Langley Air

Force Base, Va., said at a news conference last month. “It’s like dog


The more an aircraft is flown, the more expensive and more extensive

maintenance becomes, Corley and Gen. T. Michael Moseley, the Air Force chief

of staff, told the House Appropriations defense subcommittee during a Feb. 6


The bottom line, the generals said, is older aircraft are in the shop more

often and cost more to fly when they are available.

It’s not just the fighters that are elderly.

Selva, who graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1980, said he remembers

hearing about the first flight of the mammoth C-5 transport when he was in

first grade. B-52 bombers and KC-135 tankers, which refuel airplanes in

flight, have been in the inventory for more than four decades.

And mechanics are finding it difficult to keep rust off the A-10

Thunderbolt, a tank-killing plane now a quarter-century old.

“If you want to accept that today we’re doing an adequate job with this sort

of patchwork of airplanes, when are we no longer able to do an adequate

job?” Selva asked. “What’s the next thing that’s going to happen?”

Each F-22 Raptor costs about $160 million. The Air Force says it needs 381

of the radar-evading planes and is fighting to keep the production line from

being shut down too soon.

“We have never rolled off of the requirement to field 381 F-22s,” Selva

said. “The real issue at play with the F-22 is when the line closes, it’s

closed. Restarting the line will be unreasonably expensive.”

The price for a single F-35 Lightning is $77 million, and the Air Force

wants close to 1,800 of these fighters. The F-35 won’t be in use for several

more years.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said only 183 Raptors are needed. The

more Raptors the Air Force buys, Gates said during congressional testimony

earlier this month, the less money it will have for the F-35 and other

aircraft. About 100 F-22s have been fielded. That aircraft has not been used

in Iraq and Afghanistan, Gates added.

The Air Force says the Raptors are needed for future threats, with China,

Russia and Iran at the top of the list.

“Al-Qaida doesn’t exactly have an advanced aerial defense system,” said Maj.

David Small, an Air Force spokesman.

The public push for more Raptors prompted Gates to rebuke a top Air Force

officer, Gen. Bruce Carlson, who said last week that the service remained

committed to buying 381 of the aircraft. In a Friday statement, Moseley and

Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne said the general’s remarks did not reflect

the Air Force’s position. But the statement did not say the service is

backing away from its goal of 381 Raptors.

Aircraft on the front lines in the terror war are also facing challenges.

Officials at Air Force Special Operations Command say it will become

increasingly hard to keep two key aircraft flying: The MC-130H Combat Talon

II, used to drop commandos into hostile territory and then retrieve them,

and the AC-130U, a hulking gunship that flies low to deliver firepower, are

both in need of substantial overhauls.

“We are literally flying the wings off these two airplanes,” said Brig. Gen.

Brad Heithold, director of the command’s plans, programs, requirements and

assessments office at Hurlburt Field, Fla.

There are only 20 Combat Talons and 17 AC-130Us. This small fleet is in

heavy demand by special operations forces around the globe. In 2001, the

AC-130Us flew just over 5,200 hours. The gunships logged more than 9,000

hours in 2007. It’s comparable, Heithold said, to putting 70,000 miles on a

car in a single year instead of a more normal 12,000 miles.

At any given time, several of the Combat Talons or AC-130Us could be in the

depot being fixed. That means there are fewer available to fly critical

missions. Training flights are also curtailed.

Heithold called the situation a “manageable crisis,” but said serious

problems could emerge if more money isn’t provided for extended improvements

and new aircraft over the next few years.

“Any time you have a small number of airplanes that the appetite for

continually increases, it’s hard to meet the demand,” Heithold said. “If we

don’t wrestle with this now, it’s a looming problem out there.”

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Hmm well the USAF is having a tough time - but spare a thought for the RAF - who may need to wheel some Lancasters out of the museum soon - and of course the Algerian AF with their Friday afternoon built Migs!

Edited by CoolHand29

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You have to wonder what the procedure is for this? When the top says "do it, with no money!" and the bottom says "without money, we can't!", who has to give? You can't make a dead horse fly...

Maybe they need to cut back on what they want the USAF to do...

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but spare a thought for the RAF - who may need to wheel some Lancasters out of the museum soon -


Lancs over Afghanistan/Iraq! :biggrin:

Edited by Gocad

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