USAF justifies fleet cuts, confirms budget would ground all U-2s in FY16

Washington DC
Source: Flightglobal.com
This story is sourced from Flightglobal.com

The US Air Force is defending its plan to retire its Lockheed U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance and Fairchild Republic A-10 close air support aircraft.

At a press conference at the Pentagon on 18 March, the service reiterated that ongoing federal budget cuts left it "no good choices" and required it to shave $8 billion from its fiscal year 2015 budget alone.

USAF assistant deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and requirements Maj Gen James Jones makes clear the service intends to ground all U-2s in fiscal year 2016, long before its Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawks receive needed upgrades.

"We can't afford to keep both platforms," Jones says, even though the USAF does not have the ability to meet combatant commanders' requirements for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

asset image

But Jones concedes Global Hawks require substantial modifications to give them the reconnaissance abilities desired by the US military.

The USAF's five-year budget plan calls for an investment of $258 million through fiscal year 2019 on Global Hawk upgrades, plus another $489 million in later years.

The budget plan now goes before Congress for approval.

That money would go towards image enhancement, synthetic aperture radar complex imagery and improvements to Global Hawk's data computer and joint mission planning system, according to budget documents.

Additionally, the money will be used to improve Global Hawk's reliability and maintainability, and allow it to better operate in adverse weather, including in icing conditions.

The USAF intends to spend $500 million alone on universal payload adapters, says Jones.

In addition, the service plans to invest $329 million on improvements to Global Hawk's ground station technology.

Jones also touched on the USAF's intention to retire its A-10s, which he says will be sent to Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona for decommissioning.

Grounding those aircraft will save the $3.7 billion, plus $500 million in "cost avoidance," says Jones.

That's equal to savings the service would generate if it mothballed its entire fleet of Rockwell B-1 bombers or 350 General Dynamics F-16s, he says.

The decision to target A-10s was made partly because other aircraft, some of which are equipped with precision-guided munitions, already perform the close-air support mission, he adds.

"The vast majority of close-air support is being accomplished by airplanes other than A-10s, and it is being done very effectively," says Jones. "We would keep the A-10 if we could, [but] that [aircraft] was the least risk for us to divest."