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General: Rising costs a challenge as Air Force maintains, buys aircraft

DAYTON, Ohio — Ever-rising costs to maintain a fleet of aging aircraft could squeeze the Air Force’s capability to buy and field new aircraft and systems, a top service leader said Monday.

Lt. Gen. C.D. Moore II, commander of the Wright-Patterson-headquartered Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, outlined challenges facing the new center to an audience of the Dayton Area Defense Contractors Association. The three-star general said the center will focus on affordability and cost effectiveness amid pending defense budget cuts and operational demands.

The Life Cycle Management Center, home to 26,000 military and civilian employees from the Middle East to the Pacific, manages the “cradle to grave” acquisition and support of aircraft, engines, electronics, and munitions, among other responsibilities.

Among the most important priorities is how to “address those (rising operational) costs so we’re not trading off modernization and future capability just to keep hardware operating,” he said. “There’s a balance there because if your weapon systems support costs are going up 6,7,8 percent per year, you will start squeezing out the best new capabilities of new platforms and you don’t want to do that.”

The Air Force Materiel Command has estimated the average age of an aircraft in the inventory has reached 25 years old, the oldest in the service’s history.

The Air Force has bet part of its modernization future on the cost-spiraling Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the Boeing KC-46 aerial tanker, both programs managed at Wright-Patterson.

AFMC realigned into five major centers from 12 across the nation this summer, creating the Life Cycle Management Center. The changes eliminated 1,000 jobs and saved $109 million, according to Air Force figures.

Moore said his command has knocked down communication barriers and appointed a single representative accountable for answering questions about weapon systems, among other changes to improve teamwork, efficiency and cut costs.

In an interview with the Dayton Daily News, he declined to speculate on how defense budget sequestration might impact his command or area defense contractors. “I’ll go back to what our senior leaders have said that it would be very difficult going into a sequestration environment just given the way that the bill has been written now and how it would be applied,” he said.

Under a budget sequester, the Pentagon will have to contend with $500 billion in across-the-board budget cuts next January over the next decade unless Congress and the White House reach a deal to avoid the reductions. Senior defense leaders have warned the cuts would be devastating. The cuts are in addition to the $487 billion the Pentagon has already agreed to accept over 10 years.

The potential for massive cuts has worried both area defense contractors and the military. “When they take an across-the-board cut, it’s going to be very difficult to apportion that cut on a weapon system,” said Dale J. Kirby, president of Dayton Defense. “The workload just figuring out the choices is going to paralyze the system.”
 

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