This article first appeared in Aerospace Daily & Defense Report.
U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz said increasing production rates for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and developing the next-generation bomber are at the top of his wish list of projects to fund if the service had more money.
Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on the Air Force's $160.5 billion fiscal 2010 budget request May 19, Schwartz said service leaders felt they had enough tactical aircraft capability despite Defense Secretary Robert Gates' plans to halt F-22 Raptor procurement at 187 aircraft.
The Air Force chief said the service's leadership believed it was a "prudent opportunity to accelerate the retirement of older aircraft." The FY '10 budget calls for retiring 250 F-15s, F-16s and A-10s, enabling the Air Force to redistribute more than $3.5 billion over the next six years to modernize combat air forces into a "smaller but more capable force," Schwartz and Air Force Secretary Michael Donley told lawmakers in joint written testimony.
Schwartz did say more money would make it easier and faster to upgrade remaining legacy aircraft and make modifications to the F-22 until the F-35 starts rolling off the line in large numbers.
Schwartz said the Air Force would like to see F-35 production boosted to at least 80 aircraft and perhaps as many as 110 per year before the F-16s start retiring in large numbers.
Committee members, including Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) and Rep. John McHugh (N.Y.), the senior Republican on the panel, worried about producing and flying an aircraft while it was still being tested.
Donley conceded budget constraints compelled the Air Force to make some difficult calls. If there was more money "we might have made some different choices," Schwartz added. But both leaders insisted the Air Force was not short-changing itself.
The chief of staff said his wish list also included developing plans for the future long-range strike capability. "We need, through the QDR [Quadrennial Defense Review] and the NPR [Nuclear Posture Review] to get our secretary of defense comfortable with the parameters of what we propose for that platform."