Ending the week much as it began, Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein told the Senate Armed Services Committee, April 4, that the Air Force must grow to meet – and defeat – security threats at home, globally and in space in an era of great power competition.
“In fiscal year 2020, we will continue to build a more lethal and ready Air Force, while fielding tomorrow’s Air Force faster and smarter,” Wilson and Goldfein said in a joint posture statement to the committee. The hearing marked the third congressional appearance of the week by Wilson and Goldfein devoted to the Air Force’s posture, budget and mission.
As in separate hearings, April 2, before the House Armed Services Committee and House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, the Air Force’s two senior leaders cited findings from the independent and bipartisan National Defense Strategy Commission to explain the stakes and their vision for building “the Air Force we need.”
“Regardless of where the next conflict occurs or which adversary it features, the Air Force will be at the forefront,” the Commission said.
They also bluntly emphasized the necessity of Congress providing predictable and uninterrupted funding so the Air Force can properly plan and execute the missions and mandates in the National Defense Strategy.
“No enemy in the field has done as much to harm the readiness of the Air Force than the combined impact of artificial spending restrictions, worsened by operating for 10 of the last 11 years under continuing resolutions of varied and unpredictable duration,” the joint statement says.
“Let’s be clear. We cannot fully implement the National Defense Strategy to protect America’s vital national interests with unpredictable and constrained budgets. We must come together to find a way forward,” they said.
Building a more lethal, ready force
Another, equal necessity, they said, is increasing the number of operational squadrons to 386 from the current 312. The additional squadrons will provide the tools needed to meet requirements in the National Defense Strategy and to “prevail over our highest priority competitors.” The analysis from which 386 was derived included thousands of simulations and war games “produced an unmistakable conclusion: the Air Force is too small for what our nation needs.”
“It’s no surprise that the Air Force we have is smaller than the Air Force we need,” Wilson told the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, April 2.
The service, in the fiscal year 2020 budget, is set to continue the development and purchase of key weapon systems to include the KC-46, B-21 and F-35 while also investing in modernized F-15EX’s to replace the aging F-15Cs.
“We remain committed to the F-35 and its game-changing capabilities, and will continue purchasing 48 aircraft each year,” they said.
Wilson and Goldfein also continued to urge that Congress pass a supplemental spending bill. That legislation includes funds to repair Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., that was heavily damaged by Hurricane Michael in October and Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., that was submerged last month by seven feet of water in some places when the Missouri River flooded.
While Wilson and Goldfein anticipated a broad range of questions on topics such as the impact of climate change and local, such as strategies for addressing groundwater contamination, they continued to highlight a core set of issues.
Ensuring readiness is one. When fiscal year 2020 ends, they said, the Air Force will increase by 4,400 Airmen and 5,143 civilians. That growth follows 2019 in which the Air Force increased pilot production by graduating 1,211 pilots with production expected to hit 1,480 in 2020.
“We are more ready for major combat operations today than we were two years ago. More than 90 percent of our pacing squadrons are ready to ‘fight tonight’ with their lead force packages,” Wilson and Goldfein said in their Fiscal Year 2020 Posture Statement to Congress.
The service’s space budget also increases in fiscal 2020 with a 17 percent increase over the 2019 budget, building on advances and further accelerating efforts to protect and defend the nation’s ability to operate in space.
The top service leaders will also affirmed the importance of a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent. The Air Force provides two-thirds of the nation’s nuclear triad and 75 percent of the nuclear command, control and communications capability, they told the Armed Services Committee.
“Since the end of the Second World War over 70 years ago, every president and every Congress has supported the nuclear triad as a vital element of our national defense. We must continue to do so,” they said in the joint statement.
Fielding tomorrow’s Air Force faster, smarter
Yet another continuing priority is updating the Air Force’s acquisition system to make it faster and more efficient.
In this era of great power competition, Wilson and Goldfein said, “We cannot win this contest with an acquisition system from the Cold War. We must move fast to stay competitive, and we are fundamentally transforming what we buy, how we buy it, and from whom we buy it.”
They noted the advances the Air Force has realized in speeding up and streamlining the acquisition process. To date, the service has eliminated 78 years of “acquisition schedule time” and saved $15 billion in the last nine months. There is heightened focus – and results – from using prototypes, tailored acquisition strategies and agile software development, they said.