Gates outlines important changes for top weapons programmes

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates announced the key decisions with respect to the Fiscal Year 2010 defense budget. Many big-ticket weapons programmes are affected or terminated.

The budget was crafted to reshape the priorities of America's defense establishment, Gates said. If approved, these recommendations will profoundly reform how this department does business. Some details relevant for the aerospace sector are:

* Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support for the warfighter in the base budget is increased by some $2 billion. This will include fielding and sustaining 50 Predator and Reaper class unmanned aerial vehicle orbits by FY '11 and maximizing their production. This capability, which has been in such high demand in both Iraq and Afghanistan, will now be permanently funded in the base budget. It will represent a 62 percent increase in capability over the current level and 127 percent from a year ago.
* We will increase manned ISR capabilities such as the turboprop aircraft deployed so successfully as part of Task Force ODIN in Iraq. We will initiate and -- research and development on a number of ISR enhancements and experimental platforms optimized for today's battlefield.
* We will also spend $500 million more in the base budget than last year to increase our capacity to field and sustain more helicopters, a capability that is in urgent demand in Afghanistan. Today the primary limitation on helicopter capacity is not airframes but shortages of maintenance crews and pilots, so our focus will be on recruiting and training more Army helicopter crews.

* Tto sustain U.S. air superiority, I am committed to building a fifth-generation tactical fighter capability that can be produced in quantity at sustainable cost. Therefore, I will recommend increasing the buy of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter from the 14 aircraft bought in '09 to 30 in FY '10, with a corresponding funding increase from $6.8 billion to $11.2 billion. We would plan to buy 513 F-35s over the five-year defense plan, and ultimately plan to buy 2,443. For naval aviation, we will buy 31 FA-18s in FY '10.

*We will retire 250 of the oldest Air Force tactical fighter aircraft in FY '10.
* We will end production of the F-22 fighter at 187, representing 183 planes in the current program, plus four recommended for inclusion in the FY 2009 supplemental.
* To replace the Air Force's aging tanker fleet, we will maintain the KC-X aerial refueling tanker schedule and funding, with the intent to solicit bids this summer.
* With regard to airlift, we will complete the production of the C-17 airlifter program this fiscal year. Our analysis concludes that we have enough C-17s, with the 205 already in the force and currently in production.
* Some have suggested that we should adjust the program by buying only the lower-capability Increment 1 option. I believe this is neither advisable nor affordable. Increment 1 helicopters do not meet requirements and are estimated to have only a five to 10-year useful life. This compares to the current VH-3 presidential helicopters, that are 30 to 40 years old. We will promptly develop options for an FY '11 follow-on program.
* We will terminate the Air Force Combat Search and Rescue X helicopter program. This program has a troubled acquisition history and raises the fundamental question of whether this important mission can only be accomplished by yet another single-service solution with a single-purpose aircraft. We will take a fresh look at the requirement behind this program and develop a more sustainable approach.
*  We will cancel the second Airborne Laser Prototype Aircraft. We'll keep the existing aircraft and shift the program to an R&D effort. The ABL program has significant affordability and technology problems, and the program's proposed operational role is highly questionable. We will terminate the Multiple Kill Vehicle program because of its significant technical challenges and the need to take a fresh look at the requirement.

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