Valerie Insinna, Defense News7:20 p.m. EDT June 14, 2016
WASHINGTON — The outgoing Air Force chief of staff is bracing for a continuing resolution this year, and is generally pessimistic that the Pentagon will be able to keep its modernization programs going forward without budget stability.
In an exclusive interview with Defense News on June 13, Gen. Mark Welsh said he was “not confident” about the current budget environment, citing potential complications that include the upcoming election, a new presidential administration and a return to mandatory spending caps in fiscal year 2018.
If spending returns to Budget Control Act levels, the Air Force is unlikely to be able to keep its modernization programs on track, with Welsh highlighting the T-X trainer and Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System recapitalization efforts as two programs that are particularly vulnerable.
“We go back to a sequester budget, everything is going to be affected,” he said. “Assuming we stay on the trend we have now with budgets, assuming we continue to get something at the current projected levels of funding [or] the vicinity of that between now and 2024, the T-X will stay on time.”
The same is true of the JSTARS recapitalization program, he added.
“If the funding stays where it is right now, we have it funded in the budget,” he said.
The service plans to release a request for proposals for the JSTARS recap by the end of the year. The legacy JSTARS, built by Northrop Grumman around a militarized variant of Boeing’s 700-300 aircraft, has provided ground surveillance since 1991 and is nearing the end of its service life. However, a contract for the engineering, manufacturing and development of its replacement has been delayed to the first quarter of fiscal year 2018. Initial operational capability has slipped by two years, from fiscal 2022 to 2024.