Aviation programmes received a significant boost in funding in the Obama administration's fiscal year 2016 budget submission, which is up 6.7% on the enacted total for FY2015.

The $561 billion budget request sent to Congress on 2 February contains a total $48.8 billion investment in aircraft and related systems, up from $42.1 billion in the current fiscal year.

None of the US Department of Defense's major ongoing aircraft procurement programmes received less funding than in FY2015 in the request, according to government budget documents. The DoD will purchase more of most major aircraft platforms than in the current fiscal year.

The overall aircraft-related procurement budget jumps from $11.9 billion in the 2015 enacted budget to $15.6 billion in the 2016 request. The budget also supports a long-term aviation procurement plan of 492 aircraft over the five-year defense plan.

The Pentagon plans to buy 57 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning IIs for a total of $11 billion, including 44 conventional take-off and landing examples for the US Air Force, nine short take-off and vertical landing aircraft and four carrier variant F-35Cs for the US Marine Corps and US Navy. In the current fiscal year, 38 of the aircraft were purchased for $8.6 billion. Another $1.6 billion is allocated to acquire 19 Bell Boeing V-22 tiltrotors.

USAF F-35A - US Air Force

US Air Force

The budget requests funds for 12 Boeing KC-46A aerial refuelling tankers in FY2016. Plans are for the air force to take delivery of 70 aircraft by end of 2020 and procure a total of 179, the budget says.

The third leg of the USAF's modernisation priorities triumvirate, the long-range strike bomber (LRS-B), would receive $2 billion for ongoing development. A decision between Lockheed and a Boeing-Northrop Grumman team to build the LRS-B is expected in late spring or early summer.

LRS-B, along with the KC-46 and F-35, remains one of the air force's top-three modernisation priorities.

The USAF's FY2016 request includes funding to continue the development of an affordable, long-range, penetrating aircraft that incorporates proven technologies, the budget document says. This follow-on bomber represents a key component to the joint portfolio of conventional and nuclear deep-strike capabilities.

A back-and-forth battle between the venerable Lockheed U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft and the unmanned Northrop RQ-4 Global Hawk has seemingly been settled in the FY2016 budget. Both will be retained under the spending plan, which funds sensor upgrades to the Block 30 Global Hawk to extend its service life beyond 2023. The U-2 fleet would be retired in FY2019.

The budget also funds the purchase of 29 Lockheed C-130J Hercules aircraft.

Funding for the various air force aircraft modernisation programmes in part will come from the retirement of the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II, which was proposed two years ago. Political and emotional resistance to mothballing the close-air-support (CAS) aircraft has since flared. As weapon systems, smart munitions and tactics have evolved over the last 20 years, several other platforms are now capable of providing CAS, the budget document says. Additionally, the A-10 does not possess the necessary survivability to remain viable in anti-access environments.

The air force again intends to divest the A-10 over a four-year period, with 164 of the aircraft to be retiring in FY2016.

Army plans to restructure its aviation assets by shuttling Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopters from reserve to active units in exchange for Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks, among other structural changes, received full support in the budget. It also provides funding for 64 AH-64Es, 39 Boeing CH-47 Chinooks and 94 more UH-60s.

The USN received funding for 29 MH-60 Seahawks and the first of its V-22 Ospreys among a total buy of 19. It also proposes purchasing 16 Boeing P-8A Poseidon multi-mission maritime aircraft and five Northrop E-2D Advanced Hawkeye command and control aircraft.

The General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 Reaper won out over its smaller cousin the MQ-1B Predator. The budget provides for 29 Reapers for the USAF and 17 MQ-1C Gray Eagles for the US Army.

All of the plans outlined in the budget are contingent on the repeal or delay of sequestration budget caps that are set to kick in later this year. Air force modernisation plans especially are vulnerable to mandated across-the-board cuts. Army officials have said they will not be able to execute the aviation restructuring initiative under sequestration.

Without relief from sequester-level funding, the USAF will be forced to operate at budget levels that are insufficient to support the strategy, the budget says. The service has survived the past three years by delaying or cancelling planned modernisation programmes, reducing end strength by 5%, and taking short-term risk in installation operations and facility maintenance and sustainment.

Fighters Contractor FY14 FY15 FY16 request
F-35A LM 19 28 44
F-35B LM 6 6 9
F-35C LM 4 4 4
EA-18G Boeing 21 15 0
Subtotal 50 53 57
KC-46 Boeing 0 7 12
C-130J LM 16 13 27
KC-130J LM 1 1 2
Subtotal 17 21 41
E-2D NG 5 5 5
P-8A Boeing 16 9 16
MQ-4C NG 0 0 3
MQ-9 GA 20 24 29
MQ-1C GA 23 19 17
MQ-8C NG 2 5 2
RQ-21 Boeing 3 6 7
Subtotal 69 68 79
Total Fixed Wing 136 142 177
AH-64E Boeing 46 35 64
UH-60M Sikorsky 70 87 94
CH-47F/G Boeing 29 32 39
V-22 Bell Boeing 23 19 19
MH-60R/S Sikorsky 37 37 29
UH-72 Airbus 37 55 28
A/UH-1 Upgrades Bell Helicopter 22 28 28
Total Rotorcraft 264 293 301

Source: FlightGlobal.com