The Obama administration’s fiscal year 2016 budget proposal for the Air Force includes continued purchases of F-35 fighters, transport aircraft and a large increase in research and development funding for the long-range strike bomber.
Unlike the controversial 2015 budget proposal, this year’s request does not seek to retire any legacy aircraft models. It proposes reducing the number of F-15C/Ds by 31 aircraft through the next five years, including 10 in 2016.
Platforms such as the U-2 spy aircraft and Block 40 Global Hawks are currently funded. Congress has opposed previous attempts by the Air Force to retire them as well as the A-10 Warthog.
The document did say that the Air Force would have to divest the number of Block 40 Global Hawks and U-2s if the Budget Control Act of 2011 goes back into effect for fiscal year 2016. It did not specify by how many.
Meanwhile, the Air Force is proposing to move 143 of the Warthogs from the active Air Force to the Air National Guard and Reserves, with the Guard receiving 85 aircraft and the Reserve 55. The service failed to convince Congress to retire the aircraft during the previous budget cycle.
The proposal seeks to fund the acquisition of 44 F-35 strike fighters, 29 MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft, and 12 of the still under development KC-46A tankers.
It continues a multi-year procurement of C-130 transport aircraft and its variants. Multi-year buys allows a service to sign contracts for longer periods without having to seek yearly approval from Congress. Fiscal year 2016 will see the acquisition of 14 C-130J Hercules five HC-130, which support personnel recovery, and eight MC-130s used by Air Force Special Operations Command.
The proposal includes structural upgrades to the F-22 Raptor fleet, new radars for the F-15 and improved communications for the B-52 bombers.
Combat aircraft budget numbers overall increases from the enacted $3.9 billion in 2015 to $5.7 billion in 2016. The airlift line rises from $2.9 billion to $4.6 billion. The modification account for legacy aircraft drops from $2.8 billion to $2.4 billion.
The Air Force for the first time has broken out the space procurement appropriations “to increase transparency and focus on space,” the budget document said. The overall proposed budget for space operations in fiscal year 2016 is $2.58 billion.
A breakdown of the 2015 enacted number is not available since this is the first year that space has its own line item. The funding will be available to spend for five years rather than three “commensurate with the complexity of the systems,” the document said.
“The Air Force continues to explore an alternative architecture for the aging satellite communications and overhead persistent infrared technologies,” the document said. Meanwhile, it continues to stand pat on its block buys of current systems.
The 2016 number includes funding for the fifth and sixth Advanced-EHF protected communications satellites, fifth and sixth Space-Based Infrared System missile warning spacecraft and one GPS III navigation satellite.
The Air Force is also seeking to fund five launches on its evolved expendable launch vehicle, which lofts larger satellites. The proposal also includes funding for two separate efforts to create a domestic version of the Russian-built RD-180 heavy launch rocket engine.
In the wake of a strident report released in November criticizing the state of the Air Force’s nuclear forces personnel and equipment, the budget includes upgrades for the intercontinental ballistic missiles, the helicopters that provide security among the missile silos, and adds more than 1,000 additional civilian and military billets to the service’s nuclear enterprise.
“Strengthening the nuclear enterprise remains the number one mission priority within the Air Force,” the document said.
The Air Force will purchase Army UH-60A Black Hawks and convert them to fit the nuclear security mission. ICBM upgrades will include a fuze replacement program.
The overall research, development, test and evaluation account is increased in the proposal from $7.5 billion to $8.5 billion. That includes a boost in the long-range strike bomber development program from $914 million enacted in 2015 to $1.2 billion proposed for 2016.