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FY2022 budget request delivers air power spending hit

2nd June 2021 - 19:12 GMT | by Tim Martin in London

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A F-15EX on the ground at Eglin AFB, Florida. (Photo: USAF)

Unsurprisingly, fifth-generation fighter funding dominates air power spending in the latest US defence budget request, but the retirement of over 200 US Air Force aircraft and a one-year delay to MH-139A helicopter plans are among the more eye catching subplots this time around.

The US DoD FY2022 defence budget request runs at a deficit of $4.5 billion for aircraft procurement and associated items like research and spare parts, compared to FY2021 figures.

Overall, $52.4 billion has been requested for air power spending, marking the lowest level of funding since FY2018 when $49.9 billion was called for.

In line with previous requests, funding for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter far outstrips that of other procurements, with $12 billion requested for 85 aircraft, split between 48 F-35As (USAF), 17 F-35Bs (USMC) and 20 for the Department of the Navy (15 Navy and five USMC).

Additional funding of more than $1 billion for the fifth-generation F-22 Raptor has been requested, with provisions for fourth-generation spending including 12 F-15EX platforms for $2.2 billion.

However, specific plans laid out by the Department of the Air Force indicate that it will push to retire 48 F-15C/D and 47 F-16C/D fighters, alongside asking Congress to approve the retirement of 42 A-10 Warthogs, 20 RQ-4 Block 30 Global Hawks, 18 KC-135 and 14 KC-10 refuellers, 13 C-130H cargo aircraft, and four E-8 surveillance aircraft.

In justifying the proposed cuts, the USAF said it was seeking to focus funding on several ‘modernization efforts’ including B-21 and B-52 bombers.

Major weapons systems documents show that the USAF has requested FY2022 funding of almost $3 billion for the B-21 and $1.07 billion for B-1, B-2 and B-52 bombers collectively. No information regarding quantities of aircraft to be acquired has been published for the B-1, B-2, B-21 or B-52, however.  

Elsewhere, funding for 14 KC-46A tankers in FY2022 has also been requested at a cost of $2.5 billion, one less than the number sought in FY2021.

On the rotary-wing front, one of the more surprising issues to be revealed has been the USAF's decision to impose a one-year delay on funding for the MH-139A Grey Wolf, despite it being scheduled to undergo operational test and evaluation activities in FY2022 to validate aircraft performance.

Problems associated with getting Federal Aviation Administration certification for the aircraft are said to be the cause of delay, according to Defense News.  

It is not the first time that troubling issues have surfaced for the Boeing-Leonardo aircraft. In its annual report for FY2020, for example, the Office of the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation warned that a ‘cockpit and cabin armor solution’ would be unable to protect the aircraft adequately against small arms fire.

A total of 84 aircraft are expected to be delivered to the USAF, with a first delivery taking place in Q4 2019.

In all, 115 rotorcraft are requested by the Biden administration for FY2022, including 30 AH-64E Apache attack helicopters and 48 UH-60 Black Hawks, whereas just six UAVs are sought.

Those unmanned systems, though not identified by type, all fall under the SOF Armed Overwatch effort to support CAS, precision strike, and ISR missions.

As confirmed in the FY2021 request, the USN’s MQ-4C Triton programme sees a pause in production for FY2022, in order to support development of the Multi-INT configuration, before a planned production resumption in FY2023.

FY2022 funding for the Navy’s MQ-25 Stingray effort will largely support the manufacturing of three System Demonstration Test Articles (SDTAs), budget documents also confirm.

Low-rate MQ-25 production has been scheduled for Q1 2023, setting Boeing on course to build 69 aircraft for the USN in addition to a total of seven test assets.

This article was amended on 3 June to reflect the DoD-wide rotorcraft request.

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