WASHINGTON - Today, Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA), Chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower & Projection Forces, made the following remarks, as prepared for delivery, on the Subcommittee's hearing titled “Air Force Projection Forces Aviation Programs and Capabilities for the 2018 Budget Request.” For testimony and to watch the hearing click here.
"Today the subcommittee convenes to receive testimony on the fiscal year 2018 Air Force budget request regarding bomber, tanker, and airlift acquisition programs.
The distinguished panel of Air Force leaders testifying before us are:
• Lieutenant General Arnold W. Bunch, Jr., USAF Military Deputy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition;
• Lieutenant General Jerry D. Harris, USAF Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategic Plans and Requirements; and
• Major General Scott A. Vander Hamm, USAF Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations
Gentlemen, thank you for being with us today.
The fiscal year 2018 budget request for projection forces continues to modernize and recapitalize critical Air Force weapon systems. I am pleased to see significantly increased investment in the B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber, and steady investment in procuring KC-46A tankers. The budget also continues to take solid steps to modernize the legacy Guard and Reserve C-130H tactical airlift fleet and recapitalize the high-visibility Presidential Aircraft.
That said, I continue to be concerned about the ability of our military to properly provide for our nation’s defense given the damage that sequestration may have on our fiscal year 2018 budget deliberations.
Throughout the past year in testimony to Congress, Air Force senior leadership indicated that 'the Air Force is one of the busiest, smallest, oldest and least ready fleets in our history.' It is my firm conviction, in light of the higher-end threats posed by China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, that we provide the Air Force the resources it needs to fully support, and if possible accelerate, critical recapitalization programs.
With regard to bombers, I fully support the critical B-21 bomber program; and am pleased to see that we are moving forward on this new platform, which is needed for projecting power over long distances and into denied environments. I look forward to assessing in better detail the classified portion of the B-21 program to ensure progress on design and assess proposed risk mitigation strategies.
With regard to tankers, I am concerned that the KC-46A program continues to suffer delays even after overcoming initial setbacks and is now facing a highly compressed test and certification schedule that has little room for error. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this program and whether or not the first 18 aircraft will be delivered in time to meet the adjusted October 2018 contract deadline.
With regard to recapitalizing the Presidential Aircraft, I want to ensure that the President has the capability to carry out the requirements of the office and that the American people—whose taxes fund these aircraft--do not have to pay one dime more than necessary.
Lastly, I am concerned that this budget fails to provide the necessary resources to procure needed avionics upgrades. These upgrades will ensure that the entire fleet of tankers, airlifters, and bombers are able to operate safely in compliance with the FAA mandated NEXT GEN air traffic management standards by January 1, 2020. The civilian aviation sector is rapidly moving toward compliance, and I am concerned that our military aircraft could be shut out of the air space they need for transit and training.
While I am pleased that the Air Force’s fiscal year 2018 budget request makes up some lost ground over last year, I am concerned that the proposed budget directs the Air Force to make false choices between capability, capacity, and safety, when the undeniable reality is that our military needs all the above.
I firmly believe that what this subcommittee and the rest of Congress does about national defense and military readiness will be a defining issue. We need a strong Air Force equipped with the most capable aircraft that enable our men and women to carry out their missions effectively and safely. To do this, we need leadership in national security. We need an unambiguous declaration that our national security is our preeminent responsibility.
Once again, I want to thank our witnesses for participating in our hearing this afternoon and I look forward to discussing these important topics."