U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall announced last week that the Air Force’s fiscal 2024 budget would contain plans for 1,000 Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) to be used by the Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35 and the service’s future manned Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter, but the service’s March 13 unclassified fiscal 2024 budget documents contain scant reference to CCA.

An Air Force budget overview points to a $522 million request for CCA in fiscal 2024 versus a congressionally appropriated amount of $52 million last year. Kendall said that he could not divulge breakouts of the requested fiscal 2024 CCA funding, as to do so would venture into the classified realm. The service requests about $119 million for “autonomous collaborative platforms” in fiscal 2024, an increase of about $68 million from the nearly $52 million appropriated last year.

CCA is among the programs that account for a requested $4 billion boost in the Department of the Air Force’s research and development accounts compared to last year’s appropriation. The department received $61.7 billion for research and development last year, including $16.6 billion for the U.S. Space Force, and asked for more than $65.6 billion this year, including nearly $19.2 billion for the Space Force.

The Air Force’s fiscal 2024 budget requests more than $2.3 billion for NGAD–$600 million than the nearly $1.7 billion appropriated by Congress last year.

In fiscal 2024, the service also asks to buy 24 Boeing [BA] F-15EXs–the same number provided last year–for nearly $3 billion and 48 F-35As–an increase of five from last year–for nearly $5.3 billion. In addition, DoD said that its fiscal 2024 request “accelerates an [F-35] organic depot maintenance capability to reduce depot repair cycle times to improve air vehicle availability rates.”

report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) last month said that between 2021 and 2022 F-35As’ availability fell by 11 percentage points, while F-35Bs’ availability dropped by 7 percentage points, and F-35Cs’ availability rose by 5 percentage points. Last year, availability rates ranged from 54 percent for the F-35A and F-35B to 58 percent for the F-35C, CBO said. Availability rates are calculated by dividing the number of hours that aircraft are both mission capable and in the possession of operational squadrons by the total number of aircraft hours for the entire fleet, including aircraft undergoing depot-level maintenance.

Repairing stealthy aircraft, such as the F-35 and the Lockheed Martin F-22, may involve removing and then reapplying stealth coatings–a process that lengthens repair time and decreases aircraft availability rates.

CBO said that the availability rate of an F-35A with five years of age was around 40 percent, while an F-22 of that age had an availability rate of more than 50 percent, and an F-15E of more than 70 percent. In addition, while F-15Es recorded about 25 flying hours per month at five years of age, F-22s and F-35As of the same age recorded about half that number.

To improve F-35 availability and reduce costs, DoD is considering awarding Lockheed Martin a five-year Performance-Based Logistics (PBL) contract for the F-35 this year, if the program is able to meet conditions set out in the fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (Defense Daily, Feb. 17).

In addititon to the proposed Air Force increase for F-35As in fiscal 2024, the budget requests $5.3 billion for the Northrop Grumman [NOC] B-21 Raider stealth bomber–an increase of $500 mlllion from last year’s appropriation. The $5.3 billion includes more than $2.3 billion for procurement in fiscal 2024–a $673 million increase from last year to support low-rate initial production, the Air Force said.

The bomber is to fly for the first time this year.

As has been the case with past budgets, the Air Force also asks for significant retirements of older aircraft to fund modernization. In fiscal 2024, the service requests 310 retirements, including 18 of 31 Boeing [BA] E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS); 32 Block 20, non combat-coded Lockheed Martin F-22 fighters, 42 A-10s; and 57 Boeing F-15C/Ds.

The Air Force plans to replace the AWACS with at least 15 Boeing E-7A Wedgetails. Last month, the service said that it had awarded Boeing a $1.2 billion research and development contract to begin rapid prototyping of the E-7A Wedgetail aircraft (Defense Daily, Feb. 28).

Boeing said that, under the contract, it will begun development work on two Wedgetails.The Air Force received about $427 million for E-7A research and development last year and is requesting $681 million in fiscal 2024. The fiscal 2024 request “continues funding for the E-7A developmental contract to modify the current configuration baseline to incorporate M-code GPS, Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) satellite communication, and mission system updates for cyber security and program protectio,” per the DoD comptroller’s office.

The Air Force requests more than $3 billion for 15 KC-46A Pegasus tankers in fiscal 2024–an increase of about $371 million from the more than $2.6 billion Congress appropriated last year to buy 15 KC-46As.

On the nuclear side of the Air Force budget, the service requests nearly $4.3 billion for research and development on the Northrop Grumman LGM-35A Sentinel ICBM–nearly $662 million more than the $3.6 billion appropriated in fiscal 2023.

The Air Force said that the fiscal 2024 request for Sentinel includes $539 million for long-lead items, and the DoD comptroller’s office said that such items are “Inertial Measurement Unit electronics, missile guidance computer electronics, [the] air vehicle booster and post-boost propulsion system, and weapon system structures (e.g., launch facilities/centers).”

The Air Force’s fiscal 2024 budget also requests nearly $889 million in research and development for the Survivable Airborne Operations Center (SAOC)–an increase of nearly $791 million over last year’s appropriated amount.

SAOC is to replace the Boeing E-4B National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC), possibly with a used, commercial derivative aircraft.

The Air Force has said that the SAOC engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase is to include two to four modified EMD aircraft, associated ground support equipment, and a SAOC weapons system production design.

The E-4B—known as the “doomsday plane”—is a militarized version of the Boeing 747-200 airliner and would serve as the NAOC for the president, defense secretary, and Joint Chiefs of Staff to direct military forces, deliver emergency war orders, and coordinate civil authorities in the case of destruction of ground command and control cente