House and Senate Armed Services lawmakers appear mostly aligned in their marks of the fiscal year 2021 defense authorization bill when it comes to the Air Force’s request to retire nearly 100 legacy aircraft.
In keeping with tradition, the two committees’ versions of the FY ’21 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) largely seek to deny the Air Force’s retirement plans, with some exceptions or requests for additional data before acceptance.
The Air Force sought to realign $4.1 billion across its portfolio toward new and emerging capability programs, by retiring nearly 30 aging tankers, 44 A-10 aircraft, 17 bombers and multiple intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) drones.
According to budget language released Wednesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of the NDAA would allow the Air Force to only retire up to 6 KC-10 Extender aircraft in FY ’21, and 12 KC-10 aircraft in FY ’22. In FY ’23, the service could retire up to 12 KC-10s and 14 KC-135 aircraft. The service’s budget request, released in February, detailed plans to retire 16 KC-10s and 13 KC-135s in FY ‘21.
The House Armed Services Committee’s version of the bill includes similar mandates for KC-10 retirements over the next three years, but prohibits any KC-135 retirements through the beginning of FY ’23 (Defense Daily, June 22).
The SASC version of the FY ’21 NDAA bill would also prohibit the divestment or retirement of any A-10 attack aircraft. The Air Force wanted to retire 44 A-10s, per their budget request. Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), a retired A-10 pilot and former House member, sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee and has long advocated for the aircraft’s continued operations in legislation. The HASC bill language does not include any such prohibition on retiring the A-10.
Senators added $105.7 million back into the Air Force’s flying hour program to bring the budget line up to $4.5 billion. About $53 million of that would reverse the “premature reduction of A-10 squadrons” while the rest would maintain the KC-10 and KC-135 squadrons. Likewise, the bill adds an extra $55.2 million back into depot purchase maintenance funds to maintain those three aircraft.
The SASC bill prohibits the Air Force from divesting any U-2 Dragon Lady or RQ-4 Global Hawk intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft. The service had planned to cut 24 Block 20/30 Global Hawks built by Northrop Grumman [NOC] while continuing to invest in the Lockheed Martin [LMT]-built U-2 along with the remaining RQ-4s.
Lawmakers want the chairman of the Joint Requirements Oversight Council, Air Force Gen. John Hyten, to certify in writing that any new ISR platform built to replace either the RQ-4 or the U-2 would not result in less capacity available to combatant commanders. That being said, the secretary of defense may waive this certification requirement if sufficient data shows that retiring these aircraft won’t impact combatant commanders’ missions. That data must be presented to the House and Senate committees for armed services, appropriation and intelligence.
The House Armed Services Committee’s version of the bill included mandates for similar documents, including a modernized plan for airborne ISR, to be submitted to Congress before any of the identified ISR aircraft could be retired.