The US Department of Defense rolled out its fiscal year 2014 budget request on 10 April. But the $527 billion spending plan does not include overseas contingency operations (OCO) funding, nor does it reflect the effects of the automatic budgets cuts imposed by the US Congress. OCO funding plans will likely be submitted during May, according to Pentagon comptroller Robert Hale.

The budget rollout comes even as the Pentagon scrambles to implement $41 billion worth of cuts to its 2013 funding. This has forced the US Air Force to stand down nearly one-third of its combat aircraft and the US Navy to reduce the readiness of one of its carrier air wings to minimal levels. A second carrier air wing will also be moved to a reduced readiness level in the near future.

Additionally, DoD leaders say that as the effects of the automatic "sequestration" spending cuts become apparent, there may be further reductions to procurement accounts. For example, the USAF may have its Lockheed Martin F-35A purchase truncated from 19 aircraft to a few as 14, according Maj Gen Ed Bolton, the service's deputy assistant secretary for budget.

F-35A pair - USAF 

US Air Force

There is still a deep level of uncertainty about exactly how much money the Pentagon will have available going forward, senior DoD leaders say. President Barack Obama has intentionally rolled out a plan that does not reflect the effects of sequestration, because he hopes to avert the most damaging effects of those cuts, says US secretary of defense Chuck Hagel. "The president's budget request offers a comprehensive deficit reduction plan that would permit Congress to eliminate sequestration," Hagel says. "That plan averts what would otherwise be another significant reduction in the defence budget, some $52 billion in fiscal year 2014 alone and $500 billion over a decade. Instead, it calls for $150 billion in additional defence savings over 10 years."

Moreover, under the proposed 2014 budget plan, defence cuts would "back loaded", with most spending reductions being punted to 2018 and beyond. "The president's deficit reduction proposal requested in this budget gives the department time - and that's important - time, to achieve these longer-term savings, without disproportionate harm to modernisation and readiness," Hagel says.

Pentagon leaders realise, however, that there will remain a degree of uncertainty about whether Congress will override the sequester law. Hagel says that he has commissioned a strategic choices and management review to examine the array of potential budget scenarios that might emerge, including a full sequester.

Despite the cuts, Hale says that the Pentagon is working towards better allocating its resources to match the Obama administration's Asia-Pacific strategy. For aviation programmes, that means certain select platforms are getting a boost, including the USN's Boeing EA-18G Growlers, Boeing P-8 Poseidons and the USAF's fleet of Lockheed Martin C-130J tactical transports. The DoD is also boosting its stock of precision munitions - particularly those that are useful against anti-access/area-denial threats. Overall, aircraft funding for the DoD as a whole is being set at $45.5 billion in the 2014 budget request, which is down from $47.6 billion in the FY2013 budget request.

For the Department of the Navy, which includes the US Marine Corps, procurement plans for the F-35B and C variants remain unchanged, according to Rear Adm Joseph Mulloy, deputy assistant secretary of the navy for budget. The service will buy six F-35Bs and four F-35Cs for $2.78 billion. However, Mulloy says it will be receiving 21 additional EA-18G Growlers to fill the expeditionary electronic attack role for $2 billion.

MQ-4C Triton 

Northrop Grumman

The Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton, meanwhile, has been delayed by one year, Mulloy says. There are two technical issues with the machine which forced the USN to push back funding for the unmanned aircraft, he says. One problem is with the aircraft's ruddervators and the other involves difficulties with integrating the mission computer.

The P-8, meanwhile, is entering full-rate production, with 16 aircraft expected to be ordered for $3.5 billion in 2014. On the USMC's Bell H-1 programme, the service has adopted a "buy to budget strategy", Mulloy says. Additionally, the Marines' Boeing Insitu RQ-21A small tactical unmanned aircraft system programme has been "truncated", with no aircraft to be purchased in 2014. The Northrop MQ-8 Fire Scout programme has also been "paused", Mulloy says.

For the USAF, F-35 procurement will continue in 2014 at a rate of 19 aircraft per year for $3.58 billion. But Bolton says that in the Pentagon's five-year defence plan, the air force hopes to ramp up production to 60 aircraft per year. Meanwhile, the service is purchasing 12 General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 Reapers for $375 million. It also wants to buy 16 C-130Js for $1.88 billion, including five AC-130J gunships and five other special operations machines.

Davis Welch, the US Army's deputy budget director, says that the service will continue to convert Bell OH-58D model Kiowa Warrior helicopters into the F-model for $184 million. The F-model aircraft will continue on, he says, until the army decides what it wants to do about its nascent Armed Aerial Scout programme. A recent series of voluntary flight demonstrations flown by various industry teams did not yield an obvious candidate aircraft for potential militarisation, Welch says.

Meanwhile, the army hopes to buy 65 Sikorsky UH-60 helicopters for $1.24 billion and remanufacture 42 Boeing AH-64 Apaches into the Block III configuration for $813 million. It also hopes to purchase 15 General Atomics MQ-1C Gray Eagles for $518 million, and buy a last batch of 10 EADS UH-72 helicopters for $96 million.

Research and development continues on several high-profile programmes. The USAF is spending $379 million to continue development of the Long Range Strike-Bomber and $1.6 billion on the Boeing KC-46 tanker. The navy is spending $147 million in research and development funds on its unmanned carrier launched surveillance and strike aircraft.

Source: Flight International