Pentagon slashes fighter squadrons, airlifters in new budget proposal

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The US Air Force will eliminate six fighter squadrons, divest the L-3 Communications C-27J and retire 27 Lockheed Martin C-5As and 65 ageing C-130s under a new round of sweeping budget cuts announced on 26 January.

The Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Block 30 Global Hawk procurement will also be truncated, while the Block 40 variant of the high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned air vehicle will be increased.

The reductions in military airpower are a small part of a $259 billion package of cuts to planned budget increases over the next five years.

But the review also rededicated the Department of Defense to supporting new military aviation programmes, including the next-generation bomber and the Boeing KC-46A tanker.

The Lockheed F-35 Lightning II, meanwhile, escaped the budget reviews with all three variants intact, although procurement over the next five years will be further slowed, said Leon Panetta, secretary of defense.

"We want to make sure before we go into full-rate production that we are ready," Panetta said.

Despite the reduction of six tactical fighter squadrons and one fighter training squadron, the US military still remains committed to the F-35's full programme of record, Panetta said. That programme anticipates buying 2,443 operational fighters through 2035, including 1,763 for the air force.

The US military also plans to make new investments in enabling airpower capabilities, such as equipping existing aircraft with new missiles, sensors, communications and electronic warfare systems, Panetta said. The budget preserves the army's joint air-to-ground missile, but at a reduced funding level.

The budget review was launched after the Obama Administration committed to reduce military spending by $487 billion over the next decade. Pentagon officials unveiled a new strategic guidance document earlier this month.