Funding for avionics upgrades looks steady in DoD budget request

While there does not appear to be an end to any time soon, the President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 request for the Department of Defense () shows an increase over 2015: For FY 2016, the Department is requesting base budget funding totaling $534.3 billion, an increase of $38.2 billion from the FY 2015 enacted budget of $496.1 billion.

It’s a refreshing change, especially if it gets approved by Congress and sequestration goes away ... wishful thinking, I know. We shouldn’t get too excited just yet as there are not many new platforms being funded, aside from the Long Range Strike program and continued support of the F-35. That said, there are pockets in the budget that bode well for commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) suppliers in retrofits.

“While new production is down, there remain funding pockets within the budget for avionics and retrofits to bring new capabilities to fielded aircraft and meet other needs such as additional mission computing and to manage challenges,” says Troy Brunk, Vice President and General Manager of Airborne Solutions, Rockwell Collins Government Systems in a Q & A in this month’s Avionics Issue (page 14). “Avionics remains a strong part of the aircraft Research, Development, Test, & Evaluation (RDT&E); procurement; and Operations & Maintenance (O&M) budgets because avionics systems are an integral part of the aircraft’s mission capabilities.”

Rotary-wing aircraft

Some rotary-winged aircraft programs getting continued avionics funding in the FY 2016 budget request include the UH-60 Black Hawk, the Apache AH-64 Block 3, the H-1, and the CH-47F tanker.

The Black Hawk is up about $90 million over the FY 2015 request, to a total of $1.563 billion in FY 2016 with procurement of 94 UH-60M aircraft requested. Funding for UH-60L digital upgrades are also included. Northrop Grumman is providing a digital cockpit upgrade based on an open-architecture design for the UH-60L variants, which will be called the UH-60V once it’s upgraded.

The H-1 program, which replaces the AH-1W Super Cobra and the UH-1N Huey helicopters with the AH-1Z Viper and UH-1Y Venom, has an advanced cockpit common to both aircraft. The FY 2016 program funds the procurement of 28 new-build aircraft (16 AH-1Z and 12 UH-1Y) and also funds developmental efforts for avionics and other systems. Overall funding for this program is down slightly from FY 2015 to $856.2 million in FY 2016.

The CH-47F Improved Cargo Helicopter program, which procures new and remanufactured Service Life Extension Program CH-47F helicopters with an upgraded digital cockpit, gets a procurement request for 39 aircraft (12 new-build and 27 for the extension program) in FY 2016. Funding is at $1.124 billion, an increase of nearly $20 million over FY 2015.

The AH-64E Apache program, which consists of a remanufacture and a new-build effort, is slated to get funding for the remanufacture of 64 AH-64D aircraft to the AH-64E configuration and continued development of upgrades in the FY 2016 budget request, with a funding level of $1.378 billion in FY 2016, up more than $500 million over FY 2015.

F-35 & Long Range Strike

Funding for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) increased across all variants in the FY 2016 request – the F-35A Conventional Take-Off and Landing (CTOL), the F-35B Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL), and the F-35C Carrier variant (CV). Total procurement requested for FY 2016 is 57 aircraft – 44 CTOL for the Air Force, 9 STOVL for the Marine Corps, and 4 CV for the Navy in FY 2016. Navy RDT&E funding for the F-35 increases in the FY 2016 request to $1.149 billion over the FY 2015 request of $1.022 billion, while Air Force RDT&E funding increases nearly $100 million to $704.8 million in the FY 2016 request.

The Long Range Strike (LRS) program covers both next-generation and legacy bombers. The LRS Bomber (LRS-B) is a new, high-tech long-range bomber that will eventually replace the Air Force’s aging bomber fleet, but its mission details remain classified, according to the DoD. For the FY 2016 program, development of the next generation Long Range Bomber and modernization of the U.S. legacy strategic bombers continues, with an increase of $400 million in FY 2016 to $2.023 billion.

Orion spacecraft

NASA’s budget is increasing modestly, from $18 billion in FY 2105 to $18.5 billion in FY 2016, with continued funding for the Orion program, which includes the Orion Crew vehicle and its new avionics system. Funding for Orion is only down about $89 million in the FY 2016 budget, at $1.096 billion. However, funding for this program is slated to increase each year through 2020. For more on the Orion vehicle’s avionics, see our Special Report on page 22.