Acquisitions of new planes and weapons to replace aging bombers, surveillance and trainer planes have become a zero-sum game as the Air Force struggles to fit expensive programs under given budget. The huge program has become a jigsaw puzzle the USAF tries to solve every day.
To do better within given resources, the Air Force is extending the program time horizon to 10 years, rather than the usual five-year cycle.
All decisions on critical requirements of the programs are being made based on commanders’ needs, cost of weapons and how they fit into the Air Force’s 10-year plan.
The Air Force has determined its needs and set priorities in order for the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter, the KC-46A air refueling tanker and a new long-range strike bomber.
There are two more items part of the wish list, a new trainer, called T-X, and a replacement for the JSTARS radar plane subject to funding.
Contractors are waiting for Air Force decisions on the replacement for JSTARS (Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System), and the T-X trainer.
The JSTARS in use was built on a Boeing 707 airplane and it is being used for surveillance of ground and air targets. If the Air Force decided to acquire a new plane, the “biggest risk” will be the integration of the sensors and the battle-command software. The Air Force is expected to reach a milestone decision early next year.
The Air Force asked for $100 million for JSTARS recapitalization in fiscal year 2015, and an additional amount of $2.4 billion over the next five years.
The T-X jet program is expected to cost $16 billion and is in a similar state of play as the Air Force weighs requirements against cost. A big question is whether the Air Force will go for an existing aircraft or all new design. The Air Force is likely to purchase 350 of trainers to replace aging T-38.
Possible contenders could be the Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems, Alenia Aermacchi and Lockheed Martin.