Air Force argues for more money
It says it needs billions of dollars more than the other services to stay competitive globally.
In the Pentagon's emerging budget wars, the military service perceived to be playing one of the smallest roles in the war on terrorism now says it's in danger of breaking and needs billions of dollars more than the other services to stay whole.Skip to next paragraph
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The Air Force, after years of maintaining older airplanes without buying new ones, says it must be allowed to modernize or America risks losing air dominance around the world.
Five years of war in Iraq has worn down the ground forces and focused attention on the need to rebuild the Army and Marine Corps for those kinds of counterinsurgency operations. But the Air Force's campaign to publicize its own budgetary woes – and the military's drive to stay competitive against conventional enemies, such as China, which requires air power – are forcing Pentagon planners to make tough choices.
Although the Air Force's recent decision to award a contract to an American and French partnership for its next-generation air tanker has diverted attention, the bigger challenge for the service remains: convincing an American public and a wary Congress that it needs as much as $20 billion in additional funding each year over five years.
This year, for example, the Air Force is asking for $18 billion in "unfunded requirements." That's money the service seeks for new airplanes like the stealthy F-22 Raptor, which lists for about $143 million each. These are replacing the stock of F-15 Eagles, one of which broke apart over Missouri last fall.
At the same time, peer competitors such as China – though Air Force officers never speak that word publicly – are designing top-of-the-line airplanes with new capabilities.
"We used to enjoy a pretty decided advantage over anybody else on the planet, but not so much anymore," Colonel Forster says.
(Earlier this month, the Pentagon released its annual assessment on China's military, with officials noting the country's "lack of transparency" as it buys high-tech weaponry and fighters and invests in submarines. Critics believe, however, that such reports amount to mere saber rattling and that some in the military are trying to create a false perception of China's military ambitions.)