Next-Gen Fighter, Nuclear Cruise Missile Eyed for Funding Boost


The Air Force wants to boost funding for next-generation technologies such as a potential sixth-generation fighter and a nuclear cruise missile.

The service's fiscal 2018 budget request released Tuesday includes $25.4 billion for research, development, test and evaluation programs -- an increase of $5 billion, or 26 percent, from the amount enacted for the current year, according to budget documents.

While some of the funding would go toward top acquisition programs such as the KC-46A Pegasus tanker, F-35A Lightning II and B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber, some would also support advanced technology initiatives.

For example, the "Next Gen Air Dominance" program aims to secure $295 million for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, up from just $21 million under the current year.

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"RDT&E funding allows us to do is to take an idea to -- to leap an idea to technology we'll use every day," Maj. Gen. James Martin, the Air Force's deputy assistant secretary for budget, said during a budget briefing at the Pentagon. "The capability gap is closing and we must continue to invest in game-changing technology such as hypersonics, directed energy, unmanned autonomous systems, and nanotechnology."

Next Gen Air Dominance, also known as Penetrating Counter Air, received a hike in line with the service's Air Superiority 2030 roadmap study completed last May, an Air Force spokeswoman told Tuesday.

The study is designed to identify shortcomings in the existing fighter fleet that could be addressed with advanced fighter aircraft, sensors and weapons in a growing and unpredictable threat environment.  

"We have to be ready for not only what we need today but we better be ready for the potential threats ... 10, 20 years from now," Martin said.

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Another area that saw a proposed increase in R&D spending was the Long Range Stand-Off Weapon, a nuclear-capable cruise missile to be launched from aircraft such as the B-52 Stratofortress. The proposal calls for boosting money for the program from $96 million to $451 million, according to the documents.

The LRSO program would replace the AGM-86B Air Launched Cruise Missile. Democratic lawmakers and nonproliferation advocates have criticized the effort in recent months, saying it would not deter, but rather escalate, tensions with foreign nations.

The missile, designed to be retrofitted to carry a nuclear-capable warhead or a conventional one, could be mistaken as a nuclear-only option, critics have said.

Lastly, as expected, the B-21 LRS-B -- the Air Force's classified, next-gen stealth bomber -- also saw a proposed increase from $1.3 billion to $2 billion as the program ramps up in planning, testing and evaluation and development efforts.

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