A Congressional committee voted on 28 April to add money for the Pentagon to buy 18 more fighters and four more unmanned air systems in the next fiscal year.
But the release of US military’s long-term aviation plan a day earlier shows that fleet retirements are accelerating over the next 10 years.
As the first step in a months-long authorisation and appropriations process, the mark-up by the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) is a highly anticipated event. The panel concluded by authorising a proposal to give the Pentagon $604 billion in the fiscal year that begins on 1 October, which is slightly less than the $612 billion requested overall for the military by the Obama Administration.
The aviation industry fared well in the HASC version of the bill, which must still be approved by the House of Representatives. Committee members authorised the navy to spend $1.15 billion more than the Pentagon requested to buy 12 Boeing EA-18Gs, which the manufacturer needs to extend production through Fiscal 2017 as it awaits decisions by potential foreign buyers.
The committee also approved $1 billion for six more short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing Lockheed Martin F-35Bs, which would raise the overall number of F-35s in the Fiscal 2016 budget to 63 (not counting orders by foreign countries).
The air force’s latest attempt to retire the Fairchild Republic A-10 fighter continues to face resistance from Congress. The committee added $240 million to continue funding for a wing replacement programme for the close-air-support attack aircraft.
The HASC members also revealed a potential new delay for the air force’s plan to award a contract for a long-range strike bomber (LRS-B) this summer. Citing delays to air force’s schedule for awarding the contract, the committee reduced funding for the bomber by $400 million.
Although the committee overall added to the aviation accounts next year, the long-term trend is tilted in the opposite direction.
A long-term aviation plan submitted to the Congress by the Pentagon shows that the military aircraft fleet is now expected to decline by nearly 2,000 aircraft over the next decade, dropping from 14,900 today to about 12,900 in Fiscal 2025.
The scheduled retirement of about 600 Bell Helicopter OH-58Ds by the end of this year accounts for a large percentage of the decrease. But the overall numbers are lower in every category of military aviation except airlifts and tankers, which is projected to grow by about 140 aircraft to about 4,620 by FY2025.