National Guard wish list would restore fighters cut from FY25 budget

by Vern Evans

The National Guard’s budgetary wish list would restore the dozen fighter jets the U.S. Air Force trimmed in its original fiscal 2025 request, and allow for the purchase of all F-15EXs originally planned for procurement.

The nearly $2.7 billion unfunded priorities list the Guard submitted to Congress asks for another $690 million to buy six more F-15EX Eagle IIs, and another $660 million for six more F-35A Joint Strike Fighters. The $1.35 billion price tag for the additional fighters makes up a little more than half of the National Guard’s unfunded priorities request.

The Air Force earlier this month released a proposed budget that called for buying 42 F-35As from Lockheed Martin and 18 F-15EXs from Boeing, a reduction of six each from what the service had originally projected it would buy. And the force said it planned to cap the total purchase of F-15EXs next year at 98, down from the 104 the service most recently expected to buy.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said before the budget release the service “had to make some hard choices” to fit within the spending caps set by the Fiscal Responsibility Act that Congress passed last year. As a result, the service cut its procurement spending by $1.6 billion and boosted its research, development, test and evaluation budget by a similar amount.

The Air Force also said the delay in the F-35 upgrades known as Technology Refresh 3 partly prompted it to dial back its fighter procurement.

The Air Force’s own unfunded priorities list did not ask for any additional fighters in FY25.

The National Guard said in its unfunded priorities list that boosting the F-35 purchase next year will allow the Air National Guard to finish building a sustainable fleet of five squadrons flying the advanced jet and increase its capacity in the Indo-Pacific region. It will also allow the Guard to finish standing up another training squadron to help pilots learn how to fly the F-35.

The Guard said the additional Eagle II fighters would let it finish building a fleet of three combat squadrons that fly F-15EXs and would maximize the defense-industrial base’s output of these jets.

The Guard also asked for another $288 million to buy more conformal fuel tanks for F-15EXs to extend their range and capability. The Air National Guard wants to have 54 conformal tanks total in its inventory.

Another $349 million in the request would help the Air National Guard pay for 16 more C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft expected to arrive in 2026. Congress has not provided enough money to pay for recapitalizing two C-130H units in the force, the request said, and the additional money would fix that shortfall.

The Air National Guard also wants another $52 million to give its pilots about 4,600 more flying hours. The unfunded priorities list includes $110.4 million for 803 more recruiters, civil engineers, security forces and maintainers.

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.

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