Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has announced some details about the proposed military budget to be released by President Obama next week, and the Air Force—including Wright-Patterson Air Force Base—could see some major changes in the coming years.
The overall military budget isn’t so much facing cuts as the potential for slower growth over the next few years: Hagel’s request for 2015 is expected to be $496 billion dollars, and he does want that number to keep ramping up, just more gradually than it has been. His 2015 proposal accounts for sequestration, but beyond that, it appears he’s counting on Congress to repeal the automatic spending cuts authorized in 2011.
“Under sequestration spending levels, we would be gambling that our military will not be required to respond to multiple major contingencies at the same time,” Hagel said in a speech Monday afternoon. “Sequestration requires cuts so deep, so abrupt, so quickly, that we cannot shrink the size of our military fast enough.”
For the Air Force, Hagel’s proposals would focus on a reorganization of the fleet: the defense secretary wants to cut the combat plane A-10, aka the Warthog, in favor of Lockheed Martin’s F-35, an expensive plane that’s had a controversial roll-out. He also says the Air Force should finally phase out the 50-year-old U-2 fighter in favor of Northrup Gunman’s Global Hawk, an unmanned drone system.
Perhaps most controversially, the secretary says compensation will take a hit, and recommends new limitations on commissary subsidies and housing assistance.
“Given the steps already taken to reduce civilian personnel costs – including a three-year pay freeze – no realistic effort to find further significant savings can avoid dealing with military compensation,” he said. “That includes pay and benefits for active and retired troops, both direct and in-kind.”
Finally, Hagel is pushing hard for a BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) process in 2017, an idea Congress has resisted in recent years. Wright-Patt made out well in the last BRAC, but a new one would mean a new fight to keep Air Force activity in the state.
After the president introduces his full budget proposal on March 4, the process will go to Congress for approval. Many elements including the retirement of planes and compensation issues are likely to be unpopular, particularly with representatives of military areas.