Despite a declining budget, the US Air Force is committed to its secretive Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) programme. However, what kind of military capacity the service will be able to offer in the future is an open question.
"Long term, we're committed to the long range strike bomber," says USAF Secretary Michael Donley. "We're going to try to keep programmes like that on track. But every programme would be affected if sequestration were to hit."
Sequestration was originally scheduled to be enacted on 2 January, but a last minute deal reached between the Obama Administration and the US Congress delayed the maneuver by 51 days. If the Congressional sequestration were to be enacted, it would automatically cut US defence outlays immediately by about 10% every year for 10 years. "Sequestration is a self-inflicted wound on national security," says US Army Gen Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "It's an irresponsible way to manage our nation's defense. It cuts blindly, and it cuts bluntly."
The Pentagon, in a memo issued by deputy secretary of defense Ashton Carter, has already taken steps to try to mitigate the damage by deferring maintenance and civilian personnel actions. But even if sequestration were to be avoided, analysts say that defence budget cuts are all but unavoidable given the massive hole in Washington's coffers.
In that eventuality, the Pentagon needs the ability to manage its finances in a strategic manner. "We need budget certainty; we need time to absorb the budget reductions; we need the flexibility to manage those reductions across the entire budget," Dempsey says.
Even with potential defence cuts, USAF leaders say that they know what the service will look like in the 2020s. "You can see what the Air Force will look like now in 2020 in terms of new capabilities coming onboard," Donley says. "The [Boeing KC-46] tanker will be fielded. The [Lockheed Martin] F-35 will be fielded. We'll be well along in the development of the bomber program. We will have developed further in the cyber area, for example. So you can see based on our priorities, and the dollars that are being invested now when these capabilities will deliver."
But Donley cautions: "But the underlying issue is size, overall capacity of the armed forces."