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WASHINGTON — The Air Force would see more money but fewer airmen under the Defense Department’s 2006 budget proposal.

The 6 percent increase Pentagon officials have asked for is based on a reduction of about 2,300 active-duty airmen and another 2,100 drop in reservist numbers. Service officials estimate about 3,800 of those posts will be filled by civilian employees instead.

That change is part of ongoing efforts by the force to “remove the military from nonmilitary jobs.” Also, all airmen would receive a 3.1 percent base pay increase, but civilian Air Force employees would see only a 2.3 percent bump in their salary.

The proposed $102.9 billion budget was briefed to reporters Friday by senior Air Force officials. Overall spending would be increased by $6.9 billion, up more than 6 percent from FY 2005. But officials blamed nearly $800 million of that on increased fuel prices, and another $2.1 billion on inflationary costs.

The budget includes plans for the service to build and renovate more than 7,200 housing units next year.

However, the fate of major weapons systems, including the F/A-22 Raptor and C-130J Hercules, has been put on hold. Production of the highly coveted F/A-22 was kept flat in the budget, and plans to buy more C-130J cargo planes in 2006 were canceled.

Senior Air Force officials say decisions on long-term productions of those and other systems won’t be answered until after a pair of force readiness studies — the quadrennial defense review and the Pentagon’s mobility and capability study — are finished later this year.

And while the F/A-22 funding will actually decrease by about $300 million under the plan, Force officials made it clear they hope force strength studies will support increasing production of the stealth fighter, which they see as the long-term replacement for the force’s aging fighter force.

As recently as two years ago, service officials said they needed 381 of the aircraft, but current budget plans would pay for only 179 of them over the next decade.

Air Force researchers will take over research and development of unmanned combat planes in 2006, and $350 million is proposed to pay for that work.

The budget proposal also calls for $226 million for creation of a unified space radar system for the entire U.S. intelligence community. In the last two years about $240 million has been spent on the system, which is scheduled to be operational in 2015.


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