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SSgt. Wayne Singleton with the 33rd Fighter Wing marshals in an F-35A Lightning II at Duke Field, Fla. The maintainers, typically stationed at Eglin AFB, Fla., were there to support the aircraft before and after a joint multi-wing major accident response exercise. Air Force photo TSgt. Sam King.

Not even the Air Force’s top three acquisition programs will be protected if sequester returns in Fiscal 2016, said industry experts during a wide-ranging panel discussion at AFA’s Air & Space Conference last week. James McAleese, founder of contracting consulting firm McAleese and Associates, said USAF spends about $24 billion annually on research, development, test, and evaluation, which far outstrips the other services. While much of the Long-Range Strike Bomber program, one of the top three priorities, remains shrouded in secrecy, McAleese said the program is one of the few slated for an increase in RDT&E dollars, rising to around $3.3 billion by 2019 by most recent estimates. If sequester returns however, the Air Force’s other two programs will be stressed—namely production of the F-35A strike fighter and the KC-46 tanker. The LRS-B is largely “walled off” because it’s primarily still in development, he said. A return of sequester in 2016 would effectively “flatline” the Department of Defense’s modernization efforts, as 60 percent of a 2016 sequester cut would target modernization accounts, some $115 billion, with only 35 percent from operations and maintenance.