| NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland, Sept 16
NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland, Sept 16 The top U.S.
Air Force official on Monday vowed to protect three weapons
programs from sweeping federal budget cuts: Lockheed Martin
Corp's F-35 fighter jet, a new refueling plane built by
Boeing Co and early work on a new bomber.
Acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning said the Air Force
was convinced of the need to invest in those three programs to
ensure continued U.S. military superiority the future. But he
said other single-mission aircraft programs would likely face
cuts if lawmakers did not reverse a second round of
across-the-board cuts due to hit the Pentagon in fiscal 2014.
"You can't get savings of the magnitude necessary by
reducing all of your fleets. You have to take out some fleets
entirely in order to get the whole tail that comes with it in
terms of savings," Fanning told reporters at the annual Air
Force Association conference.
Fanning declined to comment directly on reports that the Air
Force's plan for coping with continued budget cuts called for
retirement of its fleet of A-10 attack planes and KC-10
refueling planes, saying only that some single-mission aircraft
would clearly be affected.
He said the Air Force was still seeking to retire its fleet
of Block 30 Global Hawk high-altitude unmanned planes, built by
Northrop Grumman Corp. Instead, it wants to rely on its
older, manned U2 planes, despite new data showing the cost per
flying hour of the new planes had come down by more than half.
So far, lawmakers have blocked the Air Force's plans to
mothball the Global Hawk planes.
Fanning said the Air Force remained committed to Lockheed's
F-35 fighter because of its size and importance to the other
military services and foreign buyers. But he said rapid gains by
Russia and China in developing their own radar-evading fighters
made it the Pentagon's top modernization priority.
He said the Boeing tankers were another big priority for the
Air Force because of the advanced age of the current fleet of
KC-135 tankers, a fleet he said would "older than any human
alive" when the last ones were retired.
He said the fledgling bomber program was also important, and
cancelling early work on the program would not generate
sufficient savings at a point when they were needed.
Under the 2011 Budget Control Act, the Pentagon must cut
spending by $500 billion over the decade that began in fiscal
2013. Those cuts would be in addition to $487 billion in cuts
already planned for the same period.
Officials have warned that the automatic budget cuts known
as "sequestration" will erode the U.S. military's ability to
deal with crises around the world. But lawmakers have not agreed
on alternate measures that would allow them to lift those cuts.
Fanning said the Air Force, Army and Navy would submit two
sets of budget proposals to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on
Sept. 23. One would continue the president's budget plan for
fiscal 2014, and another would implement the bigger cuts.
At that point, Hagel and his staff would have to evaluate
the potential cuts and make strategic decisions about the future
of the U.S. military.
He said the Air Force could not achieve the deeper cuts by
closing facilities because Congress was resisting such moves, or
by eliminating personnel, because it took to long to reap those
savings. As a result, the cuts would fall largely on operating
and investment accounts, he said.
"It's a series of very painful decisions and painful cuts
that are really damaging, in my view, to readiness and national
security, and will be very expensive to fix later in the future
if we try to," Fanning told reporters. He said the Air Force's
sequestration budget envisioned a smaller force but gave no