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Chairman Joe Courtney's Opening Statement: “Air Force Projection Forces Aviation Programs and Capabilities Related to the 2022 President’s Budget Request”

June 15, 2021
Press Release

Stream the hearing here:

The Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee meets this morning to hear testimony on the Department of the Air Force’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 budget request. Before us today to discuss that request are three witnesses who are no strangers to our subcommittee and we welcome you back this morning - Acting Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Ms. Darlene Costello, Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Programs, Lieutenant General David Nahom, and Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategy, Integration, and Requirements Lieutenant General Hinote.  Thank you all for being here today.  

The bombers, tankers and tactical airlifters under our subcommittee oversight form the backbone of our ability to project force and support operations around the world. With increasing age and readiness challenges, the current airlift fleet is already strained in meeting key warfighting requirements.  

Like Fiscal Year 2021, the Department of the Air Force’s budget request for 2022 proposes force structure cuts across these critical capabilities —retiring dozens of aircraft over the next five years—and asks the Congress to redirect a large share of the recouped money towards modernization and emerging technologies. 

The question for our subcommittee as we begin our work on the next NDAA is whether this budget request properly balances the investment in future capabilities with the assumed risk of strained capacity today. 

Important to note, this budget proposal does bolster investment in future bomber forces with increases in funding for the B-21, readying Ellsworth Air Force Base to host the first operational B-2s and the modernization of the B-52 legacy bomber with new engines, communications systems, and radars. All of those efforts in the past have had strong congressional support in and I expect that trend to continue.

This budget also proposes to procure 14 new KC-46 tankers in 2021, while retiring 32 so-called “legacy” tankers. At the same time, the Air Force plans to continue accepting new KC-46s for limited operations despite the six category 1 deficiencies on the aircraft. We expect consistent and transparent follow-up from the Air Force to ensure the platform we’re delivering to our airmen is safe, effective, and reliable. As the witnesses know well, this subcommittee has been very engaged and active in last year’s NDAA in the process of addressing the deficiencies.  

Just this year myself and a dozen or so members had the opportunity to fly in a KC-46 and utilize the RVS system first-hand. That visit reaffirmed for us all that there is a fundamental problem with the original RVS design that must be resolved to make this system fully operational. The good news is that a real hardware solution has been agreed upon with the manufacturer. Now the task ahead for Congress and the Air Force is to safely and efficiently execute that solution. 

To that end, the budget asks this committee to authorize a balancing act including the retirement of fully functional tankers with the KC-46. I look forward to hearing from the witnesses what level of risk this plan will create for the fleet and its crews.  

In addition, I know a number of members are concerned that the Air Force’s plan for sustaining the tactical airlift capabilities of our Air National Guard. In the past, this committee has pursued a two-pronged approach on this important issue. First, directing congressionally directed investment in modernization efforts like upgraded avionics, safety enhancing propellers and high-performance engines. And, second, pursuing congressionally-directed procurement of new C-130Js.  

I say “congressionally-directed” because it has been Congress, and in many cases this subcommittee, who had led these efforts. The absence of upgrades in the budget is confounding to me, particularly propeller enhancement which is all about safety. I would note this is an issue which has strong bipartisan interest. 

Lastly B-52 investments this year were mainly in the Commercial Engine Replacement Program also known as CERP due to be awarded this year. The CERP supports nuclear and conventional operations by replacing the current aging TF33-Pratt & Whitney-103 engine on the B-52H aircraft. As I stated earlier, I think there has been broad consensus on the need to replace the existing engine. However, I’m particularly concerned that a lack of adequate guardrails has resulted in requested cost increases in CERP in the hundreds of millions of dollars in just one year. If the re-engining were to be a regular program at this point, it would clearly been approaching a Nunn-McCurdy Breach, which should be a serious concern to every member of this subcommittee.  

This remains a top concern of the subcommittee, and one we will address in the 2022 defense authorization bill.  

With that, I would welcome any opening remarks from my friend and colleague Ranking Member Wittman.