The conservative Heritage Foundation is proposing an $86 billion increase in defense spending, recommending that lawmakers partially offset the cost through a sharp cut to the Air Force's planned purchase of more than 1,700 F-35A fighter jets.
In a policy proposal released Wednesday, the D.C.-based think tank called on Congress to "substantially" increase military spending in fiscal year 2018 to $632 billion, a five percent expansion to President Donald Trump's budget request submitted earlier this month.
This increase would be counteracted in part by a 30 percent reduction in the Air Force's F-35 purchase plan—from 1,763 F-35 fighter jets to 1,260 jets—under the National Defense Authorization Act, according to Heritage.
John Venable, a senior research fellow for defense policy at the Heritage Foundation who helped craft the proposal, told reporters during a private breakfast Tuesday morning that the decrease in the Air Force's purchase plan for F-35As would free up money for different acquisition programs within the service.
Heritage is pressing Congress to fund the expedited acquisition of F-35As over the next four years, but the report noted that even with accelerated production, the Air Force would still not complete its purchase of the 1,040 combat-ready F-35As recommended by the think tank for the active duty force until the early 2030s. That projection does not include the additional 60 combat-ready fighter jets Heritage recommended the service maintain in its National Guard and Reserve fleets with another 100 to be used in active duty training and operational test and evaluation requirements.
Venable, a former Air Force pilot, said the slow acquisition rate of F-35s will force the service to continue to use a mix of fourth and fifth generation aircraft for the "foreseeable future," meaning the branch will need a sharp increase in federal funding to continue operating its dual-capable F-16s and F-15s.
"Even if we ramp [production] up to 100 aircraft a year, it's going to take 12 years to bring all of those fighters onboard that we've got planned for the F-35A, so throughout that time, if we were able to do that, we would need to have F16s, F-15Es, and F-15Cs," he said.
Air Force officials told lawmakers last week they were considering plans to retire the F-15Cs as early as the mid-2020s to cut costs, proposing to replace the aircraft with modernized F-16s. Venable advised against the retirement of any of the service's platforms for at least the next seven years given existing deficits in the service's capacity. (end of excerpt)
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Click here for the full report (29 PDF pages) on the Heritage Foundation website.