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Ranking Member Courtney’s Opening Remarks for Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee Hearing on Air Force Projection Forces Aviation Programs and Capabilities related to the President’s 2017 Budget Request

March 1, 2016
Press Release
(as prepared for delivery)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing on the 2017 Air Force budget request for the projection forces programs under the justification of our subcommittee. Thank you, as well, to our witnesses here today.

The tankers, bombers and airlift programs that fall under the “projection forces” side of our panel’s oversight serve as the backbone of our nation’s ability conduct operations and preserve our nation’s interests around the world. As we know all too well, however, they all share the common enemy of age. The tankers and bombers in service today are largely legacy aircraft that, in most cases, are much older than the airmen and women who fly them.

As we have heard repeatedly in our hearings over the last year, the need to modernize and recapitalize these aircraft and their capabilities is increasingly critical. Rapidly improving A2/AD capabilities, long range weapons and sensing technologies makes upgrading and replacing our legacy fleets that much more important. In order to meet these challenges, we must make the right investments today to ensure that we stay ahead of these trends. In my view, the 2017 budget we are considering here today makes important investments toward this goal and, on the whole, moves us in the right direction.

Most notably, the budget continues to reflect the high strategic priority placed on two critical recapitalization programs – the KC-46A Pegasus Tanker and the newly designated B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber. Both programs have recently seen important milestones in their progress. For example, a KC-46A successfully conducted an in-flight refueling of an F/A-18 Hornet last month, marking the aircrafts first use of the tanker’s hose and drogue system. And, the B-21 bomber recently saw the restart of the program following the conclusion a protest of the contract award. Together, these developments show continued progress towards rebuilding the essential core of our force projection capabilities, and I look forward to an update on the status of these two efforts.

An ongoing area of concern for me is the modernization of our C-130H fleet. The “Flying Yankees” of the 103rd Airlift Wing in Connecticut have largely completed their transition to their new C-130H flying mission. This mission, which ends several years of uncertainty after losing their A-10 mission in BRAC 2005, provides a sustainable and relevant role for our state and an important mobility capability for our nation.

Until last year, Congress and the Air Force had struggled to move forward on a clear plan to modernize our C-130Hs. Working with Air Force officials, including General Holmes who is testifying today, we included language in the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act to allow the service to first move forward with a two-part modernization program to meet near-term FAA and international airspace mandates that go into effect in 2020 and then focus on longer term upgrades to ensure the viability of the fleet well into the future.

I am pleased that the budget accelerates both modernization efforts, known as AMP 1 and AMP 2, for the C-130H fleet. It is my understanding that through this budget, the Air Force intends to have most, if not all, of the fleet airspace compliant by the 2020 deadline. Further, the budget outlines a plan to install 42 increment two upgrades by 2021, and to the rest of the fleet by 2028. I look forward to hearing from the witnesses about ways in which the Air Force, with the support of Congress, can continue to accelerate increment two to meet the enduring need for these workhorses of our nation’s airlift.

Finally, over the last year Congress has made meaningful and bipartisan progress in limiting the impact of sequestration and the Budget Control Act. While mitigating the across the board cuts in 2016 and 2017 was important, the fact remains that our Air Force, like the military at large, remains handcuffed by sequestration in 2018 and beyond. Even since passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act last fall, several world events have further demonstrated just how important it is for all of us on this committee and our colleagues on both sides of the aisle in Congress, to come together to make the compromises needed to protect our security and support the needs of our nation.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses