The Air Force is planning to procure more fourth- and fifth-generation fighter jets, along with new combat rescue helicopters and nuclear site protection rotor platforms in its fiscal year 2021 presidential budget request, submitted to Congress Feb. 10.
Budget documents released Monday show the service plans to invest $22.9 billion in procurement in FY ’21, including $17.9 billion for aircraft. It also wants to invest nearly $27 billion in research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) funds, down from $35.1 billion in the fiscal year 2020 budget.
The service plans to procure 48 F-35A variants for about $5.1 billion, and requested $923 million in RDT&E funds for the program. The conventional takeoff and landing variant is expected to incrementally replace the service’s oldest A-10 attack aircraft and F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft. The Air Force procured 62 F-35As in fiscal year 2020 and 56 in FY ’19, according to budget documents released Monday. Lockheed Martin [LMT] is the prime contractor for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
It also plans to procure 12 F-15EX aircraft in development by Boeing [BA] for nearly $1.3 billion in FY ’21. The Air Force began procurement of the F-15EX aircraft in the FY ’20 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and intends for the platform to eventually replace its aging F-15C/D fleet.
For rotary wings, the Air Force will begin procuring the first 12 Boeing-made MH-139 Grey Wolf systems, which will replace the UH-1N Huey fleet to conduct nuclear site protection and VIP transportation. The budget request includes $212 million to begin the low-rate initial production (LRIP) phase of the program.
The combat rescue helicopter program to field the new Sikorsky-built HH-60W aircraft will continue in 2021 with 16 Whiskeys requested for $973 million, up from 12 funded in the enacted FY ’20 budget. Sikorsky is a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin.
About $801 million in RDT&E would be allocated to continue development of the Boeing-led VC-25 presidential aircraft recapitalization program to replace the current Air Force One platforms. The service plans to continue work under the Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) period in anticipation of fielding the capability by 2024.
The Air Force is also planning a variety of modernization programs for its current fleet, including new F-22 advanced sensor capabilities, and modernizing the 218 A-10 attack aircraft that would remain in the fleet should the service’s proposed retirement of 44 Warthogs be approved. Maj. Gen. John Pletcher, the service’s deputy assistant secretary for budget, said in an afternoon briefing that $161 million was earmarked for A-10 modernization and the aircraft remains the service’s “most effective close-air support platform.”
Pentagon budget documents show that the Air Force does not plan to continue pursuing new light attack aircraft under OA-X, an experiment it began in 2017 to determine the feasibility of using off-the-shelf aircraft for light attack and close-air support.
While the service will procure four to six light attack aircraft from Textron Defense [TXT] and Embraer and Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) as planned under a series of request for proposals released in 2019, no further aircraft will be procured under OA-X, service officials confirmed Monday.
Instead, Special Operations Command (SOCOM) plans to procure five new “armed overwatch and targeting” aircraft in FY ’21, which will provide the component command with armed reconnaissance, strike coordination and reconnaissance, and airborne forward air control in the counter-violent extremism fight, per budget documents. SOCOM has requested $106 million for the new start program. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill expressed support for the combatant command to invest in light attack aircraft after the Air Force investment began to slow (Defense Daily, Nov. 25, 2019).