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Air Force officials take tactical aviation strategy to Capitol Hill

Dr. William LaPlante testifies on tactical aviation strategy before the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces on March 26, 2014, in Washington, D.C. LaPlante assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Carlin Leslie)

Dr. William LaPlante testifies on tactical aviation strategy before the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces on March 26, 2014, in Washington, D.C. LaPlante assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Carlin Leslie)

Lt. Gen. Burton Field deputy chief of staff of the Air Force for operations requirements, speaks with Lt. Gen. Robert Schmidle, 
deputy commandant of the Marine Corps for aviation, before their testimony panel March 26, 2014 in Washington, D.C. The two generals testified on tactical aviation strategy before the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Carlin Leslie)

Lt. Gen. Burton Field, the deputy chief of staff of the Air Force for operations requirements, speaks with Lt. Gen. Robert Schmidle, deputy commandant of the Marine Corps for aviation, before their testimony panel March 26, 2014 in Washington, D.C. The two generals testified on tactical aviation strategy before the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Carlin Leslie)

Dr. William LaPlante testifies on tactical aviation strategy before the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, March 26, 2014, in Washington, D.C. LaPlante is the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Carlin Leslie)

Dr. William LaPlante testifies on tactical aviation strategy before the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, March 26, 2014, in Washington, D.C. LaPlante is the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Carlin Leslie)

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Air Force officials said on Capitol Hill during a hearing March 26 that while the Bipartisan Budget Act has provided greater stability for technology and acquisition, “hard choices” must continue to maintain current readiness and prime the force over the next 10-15 years.

Dr. William LaPlante, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, and Lt. Gen. Burton Field, the deputy chief of staff of the Air Force for operations requirements, testified before the House Armed Services Committee that regardless of current threat assessments, technologies are proliferating in air, space and cyberspace.

“We have a down payment to begin to upturn readiness,” LaPlante said of the Budget Bipartisan Act. “We did use a little bit of it in the Air Force to protect some of our high-priority programs.”

Among the high-priority programs the BBA shielded was the F-35 Lightning II, which LaPlante reported stood to lose 4 to 5 planes when sequester occurred.

But, he added, a return to the sequester numbers will inevitably create the reality of a smaller Air Force.

“Platforms like KC-10 (Extender), Global Hawk Block 40 and new engine technologies for adaptable engines frankly do not survive mathematically in the sequester budget beyond (2016),” LaPlante said.

In the near-term, Defense Department and Air Force officials have allocated $1 billion in the fiscal 2015 budget for next generation jet technology development.

LaPlante noted ongoing research on adaptive engine technology, which began with Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency before moving to the Air Force Research Laboratory, now has a budget enabling its extension beyond 2017.

“With the billion dollars … we’re going to be able to continue that, take it to potentially an engine development model and fund it through the end of 2019,” he explained.

Field reported to the Congressional panel that, if the Air Force must accept sequestration-level budgets between 2016 and 2023, some of the service’s highest-priority programs, namely the F-35, the long-range strike bomber and the KC-46, could once again be at risk.

“Those are the three we’re going to try to protect the most,” Field said.

 But according to Field, other vulnerable programs include the KC-10, RQ-4 Global Hawk, various intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets and virtually every modernization program.

“(This) will lead to the smaller, less capable and less viable force,” he noted, adding the Air Force continues to recover readiness in about a 3-6 month time frame from the 31 squadrons it has stood down.

“We will probably have to attack that readiness problem again and will probably have more squadrons stood down for periods of time that (inhibits) any recovery of readiness for the future,” Field said.

Field also reported Air Force officials opted to retire the A-10 Thunderbolt II in 2015 saving the service about $4.3 billion over the fiscal year defense plan. “The A-10 was the best decision to make even though nobody likes having to make that decision.”

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