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USAF may be forced to restructure F-35, KC-46 and MQ-9 under sequestration

The Lockheed Martin F-35, Boeing KC-46 tanker and General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper could be restructured if the current budget impasse is not resolved, according to a US Air Force presentation to Congress.

If the Congress and the Obama Administration are unable to reach a fiscal agreement before 1 March, US defense outlays will be automatically cut by 10% across the board.

"Without substantial reprogramming flexibility, a year-long CR [continuing resolution] and sequestration disrupts modernization programs & delays capability to warfighter and increases cost," the USAF memo says. F-35 quantities would be reduced, the KC-46 contract would be restructured, and the MQ-9 Block 5 would be delayed.

 

 USAF

Those restructurings would be on top of delays already being implemented on the F-35, Lockheed AC-130J gunship and space-based infrared satellite. New-start procurement and research and development efforts are also being frozen.

If the sequestration is enacted, flying hours would be reduced by 18% across the USAF fleet and depot level maintenance deferred. Flight training for pilots could shut down. The service's 180,000 civilian workers could be furloughed for up to 22 days.

The USAF is already "reviewing non-readiness flying for necessity" including appearances at the Paris Air Show and the Fairford Royal International Air Tattoo.

The USAF suggests to Congress that if a full year continuing resolution is unavoidable, that legislators ensure its funding approximates the Fiscal 2013 budget plan. The USAF would also like a waiver to reprogramme money more freely. Mostly importantly, the service suggests Congress "undo sequestration."

Todd Harrison, a budget analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, says that the cuts the services are already making are responsible moves needed to help mitigate some of the worst impacts of sequestration. "Those are smart things to do regardless of what actually ends up happening," he says.

Negotiations between the Administration and Congressional Republicans have thus far produced no results. President Barack Obama called for another short-term agreement to once again postpone the sequestration cuts on 5 February. Republican leaders in the House of Representatives welcomed the proposal, but criticized it nonetheless.

"We welcome President Obama to the table, perhaps better late than never. We are, however, concerned that his proposal will include the same mix of tax increases and defense cuts that Democrats have advocated for in the past," Representative Howard "Buck" McKeon, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Senator James Inhofe, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee said on 5 February in a joint statement. "We must be clear. This approach is neither responsible nor balanced"

Even with this latest proposal, nothing has fundamentally changed in this budgetary stand-off. "I still think it's very uncertain and we won't really know until very last minute right up until midnight before March first," Harrison says. "I think that it is a very real possibility it will go into effect at least for some period of time."

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