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Nov. 4, 2008—The nation goes to the polls today to select either Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) or Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) as President. Whoever wins will lead an Administration that, quite unexpectedly, will be making decisions on a long list of major Air Force acquisition programs that were originally supposed to have their futures decided by now. Among the items to be resolved:

¾ CSAR-X. The Air Force’s next-generation combat search and rescue helicopter is mired in protest after two competing companies, Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky, successfully protested USAF’s original decision to award the contract to Boeing in November 2006. Although the Air Force’s rescue forces are desperate for something—anything—to replace the HH-60 Pave Hawk, the service just last month announced yet another delay in selecting the ultimate winner. 

¾ KC-X. The aerial refueling tanker to replace Eisenhower-era KC-135s has been stuck in limbo for years, since McCain originally challenged USAF’s 2003 plan to lease tankers from Boeing. More recently, the Air Force awarded a contract to Northrop Grumman/EADS for the KC-30 tanker. After another successful protest, this time by Boeing, the Pentagon voided the contract in September and pushed a new competition to next year. 

¾ C-17. The future of Globemaster III production has long been in question, as a debate over the proper mix of C-17s and modernized C-5 airlifters never seems to get fully resolved. For Fiscal 2009, the Pentagon took the unusual step of requesting neither procurement funding nor funds to shut down Boeing’s line. Congress added 15 more planes in a Fiscal 2008 war supplemental, but the decision on whether to continue C-17 production beyond that, for another year at least, will come with the 2010 budget that the new Administration releases in February. 

¾ F-22. The air dominance fighter was also left in limbo. There’s a yawning gap between the 183 Raptors that the Bush Pentagon has agreed to and the 381 USAF insists are necessary, but Gen. Norton Schwartz, Chief of Staff, says the correct number is undoubtedly in the middle. Lt. Gen. Mark Shackelford, USAF’s senior uniformed acquisition official, said in October that a decision—and additional funding—is needed by March 2009 or the front-end of the production line will begin to shut down.

A year ago, it was expected that the strategic decisions on each of these programs would have been made by now. When it comes to defense policy, the new Administration that takes office on Jan. 20 will have to hit the ground running.