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Pentagon budget proposal heavy on aircraft R&D and repairs

As part of its fiscal year 2020 budget proposal, the Pentagon is requesting billions of dollars from the US Congress to further research and development work on new aircraft, as well as funds to improve the day-to-day flight readiness of its current fleet.

For example, requested funding for the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider heavy bomber is to increase by more than 30%, to $3 billion, as the programme moves from its design phase to manufacturing and development. The stealth bomber completed its critical design review last November.

In addition, requested funding for the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) aircraft, a conceptual sixth-generation fighter under study, will more than double, to $1 billion.

The US Air Force is also requesting $870 million to continue development work on its Adaptive Engine Transition Programme, as well as $576 million for its hypersonic efforts, including the air-launched rapid response weapon and hypersonic conventional strike weapon. It is pushing hard to achieve initial operational capability by FY2022 for both programmes.

Investment in research and development was a theme throughout the Department of Defense’s budget proposal.

“Today the Department of Defense rolls out our FY2020 budget proposal. With the largest research and development request in 70 years, this strategy-driven budget makes necessary investments in next-generation technology, space, missiles, and cyber capabilities,” says acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan. “The operations and capabilities supported by this budget will strongly position the US military for great power competition for decades to come.”

The DoD continues to push improvement on aircraft readiness to a goal of above an average of 80%, with investments in retaining pilots and maintenance personnel, as well as improvements to training and repair depots. Accordingly, the US Air Force is requesting $27.2 billion for improving its aviation readiness, the US Navy $7.5 billion, the US Marine Corps $3.4 billion, and the US Army $2.7 billion.

Overall, the DoD’s base budget, plus overseas contingency operations fund, requested about 7.5% less funding – $39.8 billion – for aircraft procurement for fiscal year 2020 compared to what given by the US Congress in fiscal 2019.

For the first time, the USAF will order eight Boeing F-15EX Advanced Eagle fighters, which will replace ageing F-15C fighters, for a total of $1.1 billion. The procurement is controversial, because it uses funds that could otherwise be assigned to procuring the Lockheed Martin F-35A.

The Pentagon is also requesting 78 F-35s for $11.2 billion and 24 Boeing F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets for $2.0 billion, along with 12 Boeing KC-46A Pegasus tankers for $2.3 billion and six Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft for $1.5 billion. Rotorcraft acquisitions will include 48 Boeing AH-64E Apache attack helicopters for $1.0 billion, six Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion helicopters for $1.5 billion and six Sikorsky VH-92 presidential transport helicopters for $800 million.

Correction: Story corrected on 14 March to include a dollar amount of all aircraft purchased by the DoD, not just a total of major aircraft procurement programmmes. The figure is a more accurate summary.

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