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Guard Chief Asks Congress to Find Money for More Fighters

04-02-24 WR Wish List WEBSITE
04-02-24 WR Wish List WEBSITE
Washington Report

The chief of the National Guard Bureau is asking Congress to find the funds for 12 new fighters for the Air Guard at a combined cost of $1.35 billion. 

The request was in Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson’s unfunded priorities list, or UPL, for fiscal 2025 defense appropriations he submitted to lawmakers Thursday, March 28.

While Hokanson's name does not appear in the document, he asked for a total of $2.662 billion for items not included in President Joe Biden’s fiscal 2025 defense budget request.

For example, the $1.35 billion covers $690 million for six F-15EX Eagle IIs and $660 million for six F-35A Lightning IIs.

They were originally in the Air Force’s budget plans for fiscal 2025, but the service cut them to meet spending caps imposed by the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023.

President Joe Biden and then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., agreed to the caps in May to extend the nation’s debt limit to 2025.

Biden released his budget request March 11.

Congressional defense leaders immediately said they do not intend to follow the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 and will add funds to Biden's proposed defense budget.

The nation's military services and some of its major commands have submitted UPLs annually for several years.

The Air Force did not include the 12 fighters in the UPL it delivered to Congress on March 25.

NGAUS helped the NGB chief secure the ability to submit UPLs to Congress in the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act.

"The UPL is way for senior leaders to inform Congress on where their requirements shortfalls lie," said retired Col. Mike Hadley, the NGAUS vice president of government affairs.

"It enables Congress to make well-informed resourcing decisions based on best-military advice and ultimately what risk the nation is willing to assume if those requirements are left unfunded or partially funded," he continued.

Some in Congress derisively call UPLs "wish lists."

Hadley disagrees. He said many of the items are urgently needed to meet readiness and capacity requirements.

"These items are often not just nice to have; they’re necessities," he said.

The 12 fighters in the NGB chief’s UPL will enable the Air Force to fulfill its fielding plans to fully recapitalize six Air Guard F-15 fighter units in five states that currently fly Eagles the service wants to retire, Hadley said.

The units would increase the Air Force’s fighter capacity in the Indo-Pacific Command’s area of operations, the chief’s UPL said.

These units are in California, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts and Oregon, which has two units.

F-15 recapitalization is a NGAUS legislative priority.

The Guard’s latest UPL also requested $288 million for 54 sets of conformal fuel tanks that would boost the F-15EX’s combat range and capability.

The UPL additionally asked for $349 million to help the Guard cover the full cost for 16 C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft scheduled to arrive at two Air Guard airlift wings in fiscal 2026.

NGB says the money would correct a funding shortfall and help the Guard recapitalize two C-130H units.

— By Mark Hensch