A think tank’s 27-point plan to cut defense costs calls for the Air Force to move hundreds of fighters out of active duty, and slow its rate of F-35 purchases to protect other parts of the service’s fleet.
And the report has a familiar signature: retired Gen. Norton Schwartz, the former Air Force chief of staff.
The report, produced by the Stimson Center, calls for the Defense Department to cut about $50 billion from its more than $640 billion budget. The Defense Department would save $21 billion by reducing the force by 132,100 service members from the Army and Marine Corps, $22 billion by reforming military benefitsand about $1 billion by eliminating funding for commissaries and post exchanges. It also calls for $6 billion in cuts to modernization programs, including delayed or reduced purchases in programs such as the F-35.
“A more prudent course would be to act now to prevent the disruptive effect of sequestration, along with reshaping the defense budget on the basis of a strategy that is designed to protect America’s national security interests in the years ahead,” the report states.
The Air Force-specific savings would come from moving a large part of the fighter force from active duty to the Reserve.
The Air Force flies about 1,100 fighters in the active-duty force, which is necessary for large-scale operations, but that number of aircraft is not needed as current operations decrease, the report states. Also, many of these aircraft are A-10s and older F-16s, which are less capable compared with other fighters in the active force, such as F-22s and F-15s. This, coupled with the increase of remotely piloted aircraft, means the need for a large, manned active-duty fleet is no longer needed.
“We would transfer the remaining operational F-16 squadrons in the active force to the reserve component,” the report states. “We provide an offsetting increase to the reserve components to operate these units.”
Under the plan, the number of active-duty fighters would drop to about 500, including F-22s, F-15s and more than 100 A-10s, along with F-16s for training and operational contingencies.
These moves would save about $5 billion annually, the report states.
The report also calls for slowing the purchases of F-35s across all services.
“The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the largest acquisition program and was scheduled so aggressively that the Defense Department began to procure aircraft before they were fully developed and well before operational testing had begun,” the report says. “Technical programs have arisen with all three variants of the aircraft.”
Much of the Air Force’s F-35 procurement occurred from 2008 to 2012, while Schwartz was chief of staff.
The report calls for the Defense Department to slow F-35 procurement by cutting planned purchases by one-half each year.
The Air Force is planning to purchase 19 of its A variants in fiscal 2014 and 30 in fiscal 2015, and the report calls for the service to buy nine each in 2014 and 2015, with the planned ramp up to continue in 2016.
But while the report says procurement of F-35s should slow, it endorses the Defense Department’s plan to proceed with the long-range strike bomber.
“Strategic Ability emphasizes the importance of being able to penetrate enemy air defenses at great distances to ensure that the U.S. can defend its national security interests across the globe,” the authors wrote.
The report also calls for delaying and reducing purchases of the next generation ballistic missile submarine, shifting resources to research new technologies earlier, cutting minor procurement and maintaining “strategic depth” in the National Guard and Reserve.
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