Proposals in the US Congress to protect the Fairchild Republic A-10 and Lockheed Martin EC-130 from retirement and restrict further fleet reductions could force the US Air Force to “delay or eliminate” modernisation programmes, Secretary of the Air Force Deborah James warned on 15 July.

The House of Representatives and the Senate are meeting to reconcile differences in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2016, but both versions so far agree on keeping the A-10 close air support fighter and the EC-130 Compass Call fleet flying.

Some proposals also would force the USAF to keep a minimum number of fighters operational at any one time, restricting the service’s leadership from retiring older aircraft as a means of paying for new deliveries.

Speaking to a National Aeronautic Association luncheon, James called on lawmakers to give the USAF more freedom to manage its own fleet as modernization programmes for the Long-Range Strike-Bomber (LRS-B), Lockheed F-35A and Boeing KC-46A tanker ramp up spending over the next decade.

“We really need more flexibility than having a hard floor” on fleet sizes, James says. “The bills have to be paid somehow.”
Noting the presence of industry representatives at the luncheon, James warned that Congress’ restrictions could “blowback on modernisation needs and delay or eliminate modernisation programmes”.

The Department of Defense is still evaluating bids for the LRS-B contract submitted by Northrop Grumman and a Boeing/Lockheed team.

James repeated a standard refrain by DOD officials over the last three months, saying the contract award announcement will come “soon”. She also clarified that “soon” means within a “few months”.