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Air Force Leaders Dodge On Trump ‘Space Force’; Up To $8B To Reengine B-52

Posted by Colin Clark on

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson & CSAF Dave Goldfein

WASHINGTON: In a somewhat surreal scenario, President Trump yesterday riffed on the idea of a “Space Force,” something he’d clearly been briefed on at some point.

After telling an audience at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar that “space is a warfighting domain,” Trump tossed off the idea “that “we may even have a space force.”

Trump wandered among topics such as going to Mars — “Very soon we’re going to Mars. You wouldn’t have been going to Mars if my opponent had won. You wouldn’t even be thinking about it” — and then to a Space Corps.

“You know I was saying it the other day, because we’re doing a tremendous amount in space, maybe we need a new force. We’ll call it the space force, and I was not really serious, and then I was, what a great idea. Maybe we need to do that.”

That may be one of the most revealing glimpses yet inside the Trump administration’s decision-making process. Trump hears something and likes it. He rolls it around in his mind a bit. It gets broadcast — something like a tweet being used to fire a senior Cabinet member.

This must terrify Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff David Goldfein. They were, very gently, asked this morning about Trump’s “concept” by Rep. Kay Granger, the powerful chair of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee. Wilson and Goldfein offered variants of their now standard evasions of questions about a Space Corps. The Space Corps, which would relate to the Air Force as the Marine Corps does to the Navy, has been pushed hard by Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, and his ranking member, Rep. Jim Cooper.

The simple fact that President Trump mentioned this before a military audience and has clearly devoted some thought to it must surely be the subject of some anxious emails and phone calls by the Air Force’s senior leadership and that of its space enterprise. (Readers who have any are encouraged to share them. We’ll quote them without any fingerprints.)

So, as the president said, “think of it — a space force.”

Later in the afternoon, a hearing on the Air Force budget by the HASC seapower and projection forces subcommittee produced some details about the nascent B-52 re-engine program. Will Roper, the former Strategic Capabilities chief who’s now assistant Air Force Secretary for acquisition, told lawmakers that the acquisition strategy for the program should be ready in a few months — Roper held a meeting about it a few weeks ago — and his preferred approach is to “leverage commercial” engines.

Roper also said he expected the program to be worth a whopping $7 billion to $8 billion over the life of the program. In the 2019 budget the Air Force requests $1.56 billion to get it started, Roper told Congress.

So far, Boeing has made loud and clear its interest in helping the Air Force put new engines on the enormous planes.

I spoke with GE military engines’ spokesman David Jon Wilson this evening and he indicated that the program is a “big priority for us” and that they plan to offer the company’s new Passport engine to be used initially on the Bombardier 7000. The other engine they may offer, depending on what the Air Force says it’s looking for, is the venerable CF34, which was developed from a military engine.

Both engines, Wilson said, would greatly improve fuel consumption. That’s something Lt. Gen. Mark Nowland, the Air Force’s  deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and requirements, should really like. He told the subcommittee that a key reason to do the reengining is so that the country will get better mission capable rates from more easily maintained and more reliable engines, as well as extended range.

Pratt & Whitney, maker of the B-52’s original TF34 engine, has also indicated it could offer a new engine.

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