The Air Force’s fiscal year 2020 presidential budget request funds a new fighter aircraft and provides increased research-and-development dollars to build the advanced technology the service needs to fulfill requirements laid out in the national defense strategy.
The service’s budget overview book, released March 12, includes $165.6 billion for FY ‘20, a $10 billion or 9 percent increase over the service’s request in FY ’19. That number is what the Air Force needs to maintain readiness levels and prepare to meet advanced threats from countries including Russia and China, Air Force spokespeople said Tuesday.
The request includes $1.05 billion to procure eight F-15EX fighter jets made by Boeing [BA] to replace the service’s aging F-15C fleet. The new F-15s will leverage the foreign military sales investments made by countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia for advanced F-15 jets, to “complement fifth-generation capabilities across a full range of operational challenges” for the Air Force.
The service said Tuesday it estimates one F-15EX will cost about $80 million, but the budget request includes non-recurring engineering costs which bring the price up to about $125 million per aircraft for the first few years, said Maj. Gen. John Pletcher, deputy assistant secretary for budget at the services office of the assistant secretary for financial management, during the Air Force budget overview briefing Tuesday at the Pentagon.
Overall aircraft procurement appears to remain stagnant in FY ’20, with service documents outlining plans to buy 54 aircraft – 18 fewer than the 72 per year senior officials have said they would like to procure.
Forty-eight of those would be Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35A Joint Strike Fighters, the same number as in 2019. The cost to purchase that number of aircraft has reduced over the past year, however. The FY ’20 budget includes about $4.9 billion for those 48 aircraft, compared to over $5.2 billion in FY ’19.
The service included 12 Boeing-made KC-46A Pegasus tankers for over $2.2 billion to begin full-rate production for the program. The unit request is down from 15 in FY ’19, and 18 in FY ’18, and Pletcher noted that requesting 12 this coming fiscal year keeps the service in line with its goal to buy 15 refuelers per year. Over $59 million is allocated for KC-46 research and development programs.
For intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets, the Air Force requested $572 million in the base budget to procure three General Atomics- Aeronautical Systems Inc. MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft systems along with 12 ground control stations, and $192 million in overseas contingency operations (OCO) funds for an additional nine aircraft. About $155 million is included in the base budget to upgrade the Reaper to an extended range configuration.
Research, development, technology and evaluation (RDT&E) funds total $35.3 billion in the FY ’20 request, up from nearly $31 billion in 2019. That will fund Air Force priorities including $3 billion for the B-21 Raider next-generation nuclear bomber in development by Northrop Grumman [NOC]; $758 million for the Boeing-led VC-25A presidential aircraft recapitalization program to replace Air Force One; and $348 million for the new end-to-end T-X trainer system, also in development by Boeing.
Over $191 million in RDT&E dollars and $49 million in procurement dollars is being allocated to upgrade the service’s RQ-4 Global Hawk UAS fleet. The budget request includes over $32 million in development funds to procure five Northrop Grumman-built Global Hawks for the NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) UAS program.
The service is requesting $1.5 billion to test and prototype “game-changing technologies” to include hypersonic weapons, directed energy and adaptive jet propulsion. The request includes $576 million for hypersonics prototyping specifically, up from $509 million last year.
The Air Force is planning to begin investing heavily in its “next-generation air dominance” family of systems, which are expected to eventually lead to technologies for a sixth-generation fighter. The FY ’20 presidential budget includes $1 billion, up from $430 million in FY ’19.
The budget request also includes 65 Joint Light Tactical Vehicles for $32 million in base budget dollars, with an additional $41 million in OCO funding allocated for 75 more trucks.
The Air Force continues to upgrade its legacy fighter and bomber fleets, allocating over $868 million in procurement and development funds to modernize its aging bombers: The B-1B Lancer, the B-2 Spirit and the B-52 Stratofortress. Just under $820 million is allocated to modernize the F-22 Raptor, and a little under $949 million would upgrade the existing F-15 fleet.
For rotorcraft, the Air Force requested over $884 million for 12 new combat search and rescue (CSAR) helicopters, which will make up the second low rate initial production lot of HH-60W helicopters in development by Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky subsidiary. The service included 10 helicopters in the FY ’19 budget, and plans to procure 112 new combat rescue helicopters in total. The request includes $247 million in R&D funds for the program, down from $445 million in the previous budget.
Funding for the UH-1N Huey helicopter replacement was not included in the FY ’20 budget overview book. Boeing and Italy-based Leonardo won a 2018 contract to build the MH-139 helicopter to replace the aging nuclear site transport rotorcraft. An Air Force Public Affairs spokesperson said Tuesday that more details should be available in the FY ’20 justification book, which is slated to be released March 18.