The Air Force is seeking to allocate additional funding to its drone wingmen initiative for the fiscal year 2024, requesting special permission from lawmakers to transfer an extra $150 million into the program on top of the initial $392 million allocated by Capitol Hill, as per documents reviewed by Breaking Defense.

The additional funding requested in the proposal, amounting to a nearly 40 percent cost increase for the Air Force’s Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) program in FY24, will be used for various purposes such as conducting analyses, identifying technology candidates, refining concepts, and designing/building/testing production representative test articles. This increase is primarily attributed to the recently approved acquisition strategy, updated attributes for the production prototype, and revised costs following the receipt of proposals and contract awards.

The reprogramming request, which must be approved by the chairs and ranking members of the four congressional defense committees, was reviewed by Breaking Defense and is part of a broader request involving the reshuffling of $3.3 billion in funds, as reported by Inside Defense. The exact source from where the additional funds will be reallocated is not immediately clear.

The CCA effort, aimed at enabling an „affordable mass” of drones to address challenges related to the phasing out of aging aircraft, has received significant support from lawmakers. However, some key legislators have pushed for cost targets, a move that the Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall opposes.

Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek described the need for additional funds as a „refinement” of the program’s costs, rather than actual cost growth, emphasizing that the original estimates were developed two years ago, and additional funds are now required due to program refinements.

Anduril Industries and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) were selected by the Air Force in April to advance in the initial round of CCA development, tasked with constructing and testing prototypes. The potential for multiple vendors entering production for the first increment of the CCA program remains a possibility, although the impact of current cost growth on this prospect is uncertain.

Brinkley from GA-ASI mentioned the longstanding challenges of balancing cost, survivability, and mission system capability in advancing to autonomous collaborative platforms, expressing confidence in meeting the outlined program targets, including cost.


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