The US Air Force on Monday outlined a five-year plan that showed the extent of the Pentagon’s push to bring back Boeing Co’s F-15 fighter in an upgraded version, a US$7.8 billion investment that would jump from eight of the planes next year to 18 each year through 2024.
While Lockheed Martin Corp’s newer F-35 would get US$37.5 billion over the five years, the more advanced plane would still take a hit.
The service plans to buy 48 F-35s each year from fiscal 2021 through 2023 instead of the 54 previously planned.
A week after US President Donald Trump presented his proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins in October, the air force spelled out a longer-range plan that is sure to set off fierce congressional debate, including over the plan to buy 80 F-15X models and slow the trajectory of the F-35. That debate already has begun.
“As our nation’s only fifth-generation stealth fighter being built today, an investment in additional production and support for the F-35 fighter fleet is critical to ensuring the US maintains air superiority,” five senators said in a letter last month.
The letter to Trump and Acting US Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan was signed by Republicans John Cornyn, Ted Cruz, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins and Marco Rubio.
The F-35 is built in Texas and some are to be based in Alaska.
US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Joseph Dunford last week told the US Senate Committee on Armed Services that Pentagon officials decided to buy the F-15X partly because it is “slightly less expensive for procurement than the F-35, but it’s more than 50 percent cheaper to operate over time and it has twice as many hours in terms of how long it lasts.”
Among other major elements of the air force’s five-year plan sent to the US Congress included:
Northrop Grumman Corp’s new B-21 stealth bomber would get US$20 billion over the next five years, with funding jumping from US$3 billion next year to US$5 billion in 2023.
Of the US$5 billion, US$2.3 billion would be for the first year of major procurement.
Boeing would get US$19 billion through 2024 for purchase of 66 of its KC-46 tankers, fewer than the 75 previously planned through 2023.
The new plan calls for 15 in 2021, but 12 each in 2022 and 2023, instead of the 15 previously planned each year.
The service plans to spend US$12.4 billion through 2024 procuring space systems.
Research on the “Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared” early warning satellite would total US$11.4 billion through 2024.
Lockheed’s F-22 fighter could see as much as US$18 billion in spending for upgrades and support.
Air force spending on setting up and running a new Space Force is budgeted at US$363 million through 2024, averaging about US$72 million annually.
Space investments for fiscal 2020 include US$1.67 billion for space launch and ground service agreements pitting Elon Musk’s SpaceX against the United Launch Alliance that is a joint venture between Lockheed and Boeing; US$1.3 billion for Lockheed’s GPS-III satellites and Raytheon Co’s OCX ground control station program; and US$1 billion for satellite communications programs such as the family of “Beyond-Line-of-Sight” terminals.
The five-year plan calls for spending as much as US$8.7 billion on precision-guided weapons made by Lockheed, Boeing and Raytheon.
That includes US$1.4 billion on the new Small Diameter Bomb-II that can attack fixed and moving targets in bad weather, US$2 billion for the GPS-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition and US$2.2 billion on the extended-range stealth Jassm missile used last year against Syrian military targets.
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