During his campaign, Barack Obama promised to change the priorities of the Air Force by investing in "advanced technology ranging from the revolutionary, like unmanned aerial vehicles and electronic warfare capabilities, to systems like the C-17 cargo and KC-X air refueling aircraft—which may not be glamorous to politicians, but are the backbone of our future ability to extend global power." Equally impressive, Obama promised to "make tradeoffs among systems originally designed for the Cold War and those required for current and future challenges."
It appears that Obama has accomplished what he set out to do.
Unmanned aerial vehicles have been highly effective in Afghanistan and Iraq by providing reconnaissance and airstrikes. Since there are no pilots in a UAV the planes can stay in the air much longer, and are significantly cheaper than say, an F-15. In the 2010 budget proposal Obama requested a 40 percent increase in spending in procuring new RQ-4 Global Hawks, which are autonomous drones used for reconnaissance. The famed Predator drones, which has been the favorite of the CIA, Special Forces, and the Army and Marines, received a 36 percent increase from last year. The Defense Bill rushed through Congress on December 20, 2009 did not significantly change these numbers.
On the electronic warfare front, President Obama's budget also includes a 317 percent increase in funding for the Advanced Extremely High Frequency Satellite, which is a next-generation communications satellite for warfighting operations and is supposed to launch in 2010.
President Obama got more than he asked for when it came to the C-17 transport aircraft. The final bill includes 10 additional C-17's beyond the 48 percent increase in spending he was already requesting. The larger C-5 Galaxy also saw a significant boost.
President Obama's new Air Force Chief of Staff is Gen. Norton Schwartz, most recently commander of U.S. Transportation Command, which gave the president a strong ally in the push for more transport spending.
Appointing the first Chief of Staff in the Air Force who was not a fighter pilot in over 25 years helped President Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates kill the F-22 program, which has been criticized as a plane that didn't meet modern needs. Schwartz, unlike the previous Chief of Staff, told Congress that the Air Force did not want more F-22's, and with a strong push from Gates and the president, Congress voted not to order any new F-22's for 2010.
The only place where Obama has not made significant progress is in the KC-X air-refueling aircraft. The bid for the plane was awarded to Northrop-EADS in February 2008 but was cancelled after a Boeing protest on the fairness of the bidding was upheld. EADS now claims the new bidding rules are too favorable to Boeing, but nonetheless, the project to develop the KC-X is moving forward.
Still, he has made substantial progress on the other aspects of this promise by boosting the funding for UAVs, satellite technology and the C-17. That's sufficient for us to make this a Promise Kept.