More F-35s, Compass Call replacements make it onto Air Force wish list

An F-35A Lightning II fighter jet assigned to the 6th Weapons Squadron lands after a training mission at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, March 16, 2021. (William Lewis/Air Force)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force’s wish list for fiscal 2023 would include billions of dollars for more, brand-new F-35A fighter jets as well as EC-37 Compass Calls aircraft, hypersonic technology tests and construction projects for bases recovering from natural disasters.

The biggest item on the $4.6 billion unfunded priorities list, obtained by Defense News, is $979 million for procurement of the new Compass Call electronic warfare aircraft, which will replace the decades-old EC-130H that now performs that mission. That money would buy four used Gulfstream G550 business jets that contractor L3Harris Technologies would transform into the new Compass Calls, as well as spare engines and the kits and components needed for the modifications.

This would bring the size of the next-generation Compass Call fleet to 10, the request said. L3Harris, which received the Compass Call contract in 2017, began conducting test flights of the EC-37 last August.

Another $921 million on the list would add seven more F-35As to the Air Force’s procurement request for 2023, bringing the total procurement up to 40. These would be Block 4 F-35As with the APG-85 radar from Lot 17.

The Air Force did not include F-35As on its unfunded priorities list last year, when it procured 48 of the fighters.

The Air Force also included $749 million in spending on 26 construction projects at bases around the world. This would include $286 million for multiple natural disaster recovery projects at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, Langley Air Force Base in Virginia and Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. A fund of $114 million would go to construction of a corrosion control hangar for the KC-46A Pegasus at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma.

The Air Force’s next biggest request on the list is for $579 million for weapon systems sustainment, focusing on aircraft including the B-52 Stratofortress, F-16 Fighting Falcon, T-38 Talon, C-17 Globemaster and C-5 Galaxy.

The Air Force also hopes to add another $197 million to test hypersonic technology at two locations — Edwards Air Force Base in California and Eglin Air Force Base in Florida — and add more contractors to take on some of the workload. This would be a significant increase from the $577 million requested in the budget for hypersonic prototyping in fiscal 2023.

The wish list also includes $276 million to bolster the procurement of the Small Diameter Bomb II, by eliminating problems with diminishing manufacturing sources and materiel shortages. It would also fund the development of software to improve the weapon’s current capabilities, and add new capabilities.

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter at Defense News. He previously reported for Military.com, covering the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare. Before that, he covered U.S. Air Force leadership, personnel and operations for Air Force Times.



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Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.