Pentagon report: Long sequestration would threaten F-35 program
F-35A Lightning II fighters from the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base perform an aerial refueling mission with a KC-135 Stratotanker off the northwest coast of Florida, May 14, 2013.
If sequestration-level funding continues beyond 2015, the F-35 program will take quite a hit, according to a new report from the Pentagon.
In a recently released report, the Department of Defense says massive cuts to military forces, modernization and readiness will be required if defense budgets are held at sequestration levels in the years beyond fiscal year 2015.
Cuts will be distributed across all branches of the military, the Pentagon says, but will include 17 fewer F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets — 15 of which will come from the Air Force — and the complete removal of one full squadron of the F-35A, the Air Force's version of the jet.
Although the Pentagon has not detailed the specific locations from which the jets would be cut if sequestration continues, the report's findings can't be good news for Hill Air Force Base.
Hill performs maintenance on the F-35, and in December 2013, Hill was named the Air Force's first operational basing location for the F-35A.
Hill is slated to receive its first operational F-35 in late 2015. Planning is currently underway for three operational F-35 squadrons at Hill and the jets are expected to arrive in phases over a three-year period with full conversion anticipated by March 2019.
The report also says sequestration-level funding would require the Air Force to shrink its tanker fleet to 468 aircraft by 2019. The service begin terminating its entire KC-10 fleet starting in 2016, and it would be fully removed by 2020.
The Air Force would also terminate its entire MQ-1 Predator fleet in 2016 and substantially reduce the MQ-9 Reaper fleet. The Air Force would also cancel all procurements for the MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle in fiscal years 2018 and 2019. Hill currently performs maintenance on the both the MQ-9 and the MQ-1.
The report says readiness, facilities, maintenance, installation services, and administrative support will also all be slashed under current budgets.
Flying hours would be cut for Air Force pilots in each of the next five years. The report says current funding levels would leave accounts critical to Air Force readiness underfunded, including exercises, simulators, training ranges, threat emitters, and modeling and simulation.
"Overall, sequester-level cuts would result in a military that is too small to fully meet the requirements of our strategy, thereby significantly increasing national security risks both in the short- and long-term," said a statement released by the Pentagon. "As Secretary Hagel has said, under sequester-level budgets, we would be gambling that our military will not be required to respond to multiple major contingencies at the same time."