Air Force submits smaller wish list

The Air Force on Monday showed new budgetary restraint, sending Congress a modest $1.9 billion wish list of programs that were left out of the Pentagon's fiscal 2010 budget -- roughly 10 percent of what the service asked for last year.

Rather than inundate Congress with a request for a slew of combat aircraft and other high-priced gear, the Air Force largely limited its unfunded requirements list to less-expensive items such as radar and missiles.

The two-page list of unmet needs includes only five additional aircraft the Air Force wants to buy but was unable to get into the fiscal 2010 budget -- two HC-130Js for aerial refueling and three HH-60G helicopters, for a combined price of $278 million. The Air Force list also includes $143 million for spare parts and support equipment for F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, but no funding for more jets.

By comparison, last year's Air Force wish list came to $18.75 billion and listed 152 items, including 15 C-17 cargo planes for $3.9 billion, four F-22 Raptor fighter jets for $600 million and a $497 million down payment for 24 more F-22s not requested by the Pentagon.

The request for four F-22s has become part of the Obama administration's pending fiscal 2009 war supplemental.

On Monday, Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz indicated in a letter to House Armed Services ranking member John McHugh, R-N.Y., that the service would move money around in its fiscal 2009 or fiscal 2010 accounts to pay for some of the more urgent operational needs on its latest list. Those urgent needs, Schwartz said, include the $180.2 million needed for the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node program, which includes the leasing of two aircraft.

The Air Force's modest unfunded list is the first indication that the services are heeding Defense Secretary Robert Gates' calls to end the military's backdoor lobbying of Congress to secure funding for prized programs that did not make the cut during preparation of the annual budget.

Because federal law bars the services from lobbying Congress, an annual ritual has emerged in which friendly lawmakers ask the services for their unfunded requirements shortly after submission of the Defense Department's annual budget request.

"What I have tried to do ... is to bring some discipline to a budgetary process that, shall we say, lacked a certain measure of discipline in the past," Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

This year, Gates demanded each of the services submit their lists to him before sending them to Capitol Hill.

While Gates has said he would ask questions but not censor the services' lists, the Defense secretary's direct involvement may have dissuaded service leaders from including major programs like the F-22 or the C-17, both of which Gates wants to end.

"I have no problem with them putting together a list of unfundeds," Gates explained Thursday. "But the law requires them to inform me about that list before they send it up here."

Also Monday, the Marine Corps submitted $188.3 million in unfunded requirements, compared to the $3 billion wish list the service gave Congress last year. The latest list includes $28.9 million to buy 352 trailers and $37 million to buy 273 forklifts.

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