Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson announced the results of an in-depth analysis aimed at outlining what the Air Force needs to implement the National Defense Strategy while speaking at the Air Force Association’s annual Air, Space and Cyber conference Sept. 17.
“The analysis says what every Airmen already knows,” Wilson said. “The Air Force is too small for what the nation is asking us to do. We have 312 operational squadrons today. The Air Force We Need has 386 operational squadrons by 2030.”
The National Defense Strategy, Air Force leaders said, marks the reemergence of long-term, strategic competition with China and Russia. The Air Force’s imperative is to compete, deter, and win this competition by fielding a force that is lethal, resilient, rapidly adapting and integrates seamlessly with the joint force, allies and partners.
Wilson said the analysis of the 386 squadrons needed to support this strategy is based on estimates of the expected threat by 2025 to 2030. At the end of the Cold War, the Air Force had 401 operational squadrons.
“Today, we are the best Air Force in the world,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein said. “Our adversaries know it. They have been studying our way of war and investing in ways to take away those advantages. This is about how we stay in front.”
Wilson said the Air Force chose to focus on operational squadrons—fighter and bomber squadrons, attack and special operations, space, cyber, tanker, airlift and other frontline units—because they’re the core fighting units of the Air Force.
“Our operational squadrons are the clenched fist of American resolve,” she said.
The analysis, according to Air Force senior leaders, presents an honest assessment of the Air Force America needs to fight and win in future conflicts. The analysis was driven by strategy and not by budget.
“We usually have the dialogue about the Air Force we can afford,” Goldfein said. “This is different. This is about the Air Force we need to present credible options to compete, deter, and if deterrence fails, win.”
Wilson understands it will take time to build the support and budget required for the Air Force We Need.
“We aren’t naïve,” she said. “But we have an obligation to be honest with our countrymen and tell them, as those who came before us have done in their time, what should be done… What we must do.”