Two-year strategy will see procurement levels steady in 2005, with major concerns to be addressed the following year

A $401.7 billion budget proposal for US defence in 2005 is designed to largely sustain current procurement levels for another year, but sets up a round of dramatic spending decisions in 2006.

Funding for most aircraft programmes remains on track under the budget plan, which was delivered to the US Congress on 2 February. The most notable exception is a slight funding increase to launch restructuring of the system development and demonstration phase of the Lockheed Martin's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme, including postponing low-rate initial production by at least a year to resolve weight growth issues.

Even so, the JSF restructuring plan intentionally delays until 2006 the need to address other major concerns, including the ultimate size of the US Air Force's order for conventional take-off and landing F-35As and the fate of the US Marine Corps' sustainment needs for its existing force until the weight growth problem of the short-take-off/vertical landing F-35B is resolved.

The Pentagon has, meanwhile, adopted a two-year budget planning strategy that restricts most spending changes during the off-year in the cycle.

"We did not rebuild every programme," defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee in testimony on 4 February. "We made changes to just 5% of the department's planned 2005 budget, and then only on high-interest and must-fix issues - and then only when the costs incurred to mitigate risks could be matched by savings elsewhere in the budget."

Overall procurement spending would be held steady at $74.9 billion in fiscal year 2005, which is slightly lower than the enacted procurement budget for this year.

Total aircraft procurement for the air force would rise by $1.1 billion to $13.1 billion, with the increase going towards buying more airlifters. The request includes $525 million to boost procurement of Boeing's C-17 by three aircraft to 14, and by $440 million to increase Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules orders from four to 11 aircraft. The air force also plans to add about $88 million to buy three Bell Boeing CV-22 Ospreys; one more than during fiscal year 2004.

The Lockheed Martin/Boeing F/A-22 Raptor budget would be held steady at $3.6 billion, but improving production efficiency allows the air force to increase deliveries by two aircraft, to 24. The air force's unmanned air vehicle purchases include a nearly $90 million jump for the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk to buy four aircraft, although this is offset by a $64 million cut to reduce production of General Atomics' RQ-8 Predator from 16 to nine in FY05.

The US Army's overall aircraft procurement spending is projected to decline from $2.1 billion to $1.8 billion, reflecting falls in long-lead procurement for its Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbows and nine fewer Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks than in FY04.

The US Navy is planning to allocate $8.7 billion for aircraft procurement in FY05; a $400 million decline on the current year. This reflects a reduced spend on spare parts and aircraft modifications. The funding plan includes $2.9 billion for 42 Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets; $846 million for eight MV-22s; and $242 million for a combination of six Bell Helicopter UH-1Ys and three AH-1Zs. The plan also includes $295 million to buy 15 Sikorsky MH-60S helicopters and $338 million for eight MH-60Rs, or two more of both aircraft than in FY2004. The US Marine Corps also would buy another four Lockheed Martin KC-130Js for $279 million.

Source: Flight International