By AARON MEHTA
The relationship between the US Air Force and Congress has been strained for several years, but budget documents show the four major defense committees are at least willing to consider most of the service’s funding priorities.
With two notable exceptions, the committees approved or deferred each Air Force-related item in DoD’s $4.3 billion reprogramming request, according to budget documents obtained by Defense News.
The largest pushback was to the service’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, which handles military space launches. Two of the four committees denied a request to shift move an extra $100 million into the program.
The other pushback came from the Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee, which denied the request to cut $23 million from an F-22 modernization program known as Increment 3.2B. The upgrade integrates new weapons onto the plane and improves the jet’s electronic protection package.
Several other requests were not denied, but deferred, which means they might be reconsidered at some point. Reprogramming requests must be approved by all four committees.
Among the deferrals are requests to: cut $1.03 billion from aircraft spares procurement, deferred by House appropriators; add $7 million to develop the service’s next (6th)-generation fighter, deferred by the Senate appropriations side; cut $5.8 million from ICBM modernization, deferred by the House Armed Services Committee; and cut $41 million for F-16 modernization, deferred by the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Service leaders say sequestration has driven them to prioritize new systems over modernizing old ones. That is seen in a number of the reprogramming requests, which would cut funds to the F-16, F-15, MQ-9 and B-2 fleets, as well as the F-22 upgrade cut denied by the Senate.
The tension between Congress and the service have boiled over publicly in recent years. In 2012, a bruising fight over cuts to the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve led Congress to create a national commission to lay out a path for the service. More recently, members such as Senators John McCain, R-Ariz., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N,H., have slammed the service for trying to retire the A-10.
Better relations with the Hill is a key part of the Air Force’s new 30-year strategy.