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Tue, Feb 19, 2008

General Fears 'Geriatric' Air Force If Budget Isn't Increased

USAF Wants $20 Billion More Annually Over Five Years

Faced with an aging fleet of aircraft, and reluctance by lawmakers to purchase expensive new fighters, the US Air Force is telling the Bush administration and Congress that deteriorating F-15 fighters are not the only issue it's facing.

The service complains that seven years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan are wearing out the equipment -- and that unless the administration steps up to the plate with more budget, years of Air Force dominance in the world are threatened.

"What we've done is put the requirement on the table that says, 'If we're going to do the missions you're going to ask us to do, it will require this kind of investment,' Major General Paul Selva, the Air Force's director of strategic planning, told The Associated Press. "Failing that, we take what is already a geriatric Air Force, and we drive it for another 20 years into an area of uncertainty."

The Air Force wants $20 billion more each of the next five years than what the administration has proposed, beginning with $137 billion in 2009.

Congress is expected to boost the 2009 budget, but not that high. A looming recession, a rising federal deficit and campaign rhetoric about taxes and spending by the major presidential candidates all suggest the Air Force won't get all it wants.

Steve Kosiak of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington tells AP the Air Force has its own extravagant tastes to blame. The F-22 Raptor, at a currently-budgeted program cost of over $330 million per aircraft, and even the much less expensive F-35 Lightning are dramatically more expensive than the F-15s they'd replace.

"It's like replacing a Toyota with a Mercedes," Kosiak said.

And Congress has not been all-that-stingy. The B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, the C-17 Globemaster III airlifter and the Osprey tilt-rotor have all been added in the last 15 years, and the Air Force is getting more than $30 billion over the next 15 years for new refueling tankers.

As aircraft continue to age and military experts predict a 20-year minimum mission duration in Afghanistan, military budgets are likely to make more news in years to come.



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