By Jen DiMascio

The Air Force’s list of $20 billion in unfunded requirements was front and center at a House Armed Services Committee (HASC) hearing yesterday.

Members of the committee sought to get to the bottom of the difference between the service’s official budget and its annual wish list, which this year more than doubles the unfunded requests of other services.

HASC Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) pounced on an inconsistency with respect to personnel in which the president’s budget calls for a reduction of 12,963 personnel, but its unfunded requirements list seeks an increase of 18,884 personnel.

Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne called the unfunded requirements a “hedge” against unforeseen changes in the service’s projection and something he supports personally.

Rep. Vic Snyder (D-Ark.) had a different term for the list.

“I wish it had been titled request for earmarks, because that’s what it is,” Snyder said, adding that he hoped in a potential political battle over earmarks, the service leadership would lay claim to those requests.

The largest price tag on that list is $3.9 billion for the Boeing [BA] C-17 Globemaster, a platform for which several members of the committee expressed their support.

Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) said the problem with continuing to pay for them via congressional plus-ups is that the service misses savings it might realize on a multi-year procurement. She added that she understood the service has been offered a deal for buying 15 aircraft for the price of 12.

The Air Force has been waiting for the recent certification of the Lockheed Martin [LMT] C-5 program. It now plans to proceed with an effort to refurbish engines of the C-5B aircraft. Remaining C-5A aircraft will receive a lesser upgrade called the Avionics Modernization Program (AMP), which basically brings those planes up to international standards for flight, Wynne said.

The service will start to move the newest C-5A aircraft through the AMP program “along the way,” he said. Last year, the Air Force sought authority to retire the C-5A aircraft of its choice, but a law requiring tests of the AMP aircraft prohibits their retirement, he noted later.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley said the service is still staffing a mobility study but that given changes since a study in 2005, the service is likely to require more, because the Army is growing, Future Combat System vehicles will no longer fit on a Lockheed Martin C-130 and will likely require C-17 lift, and because of the needs of the fledgling Africa Command.

“That’s the river we’re swimming in when we look at a new mobility capability study. We have a different world,” he said.