The Department of the Air Force unveiled a $259.3 billion budget request March 13, 2023, designed to continue modernizing the Air Force and Space Force to meet evolving threats while also nourishing current needs that include training, readiness and fostering new technology.
Broken apart, the $259.3 billion proposal that Congress will now consider for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, includes $215.1 billion for the Air Force and $30 billion for the Space Force. If enacted into law as proposed, the department’s overall budget would grow by $9.3 billion beyond last year’s enacted budget.
“The increase is necessary,” Department of the Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said, “to continue modernizing and transforming both services to meet an array of new threats from adversaries and challenges emanating from China as well as those from Russia, North Korea, Iran and other nations.”
The budget request includes notable increases for upgrading the ground-based nuclear deterrent known as Sentinel; increasing the number of military space launches to 15 from 10, which underscores the importance of space; and a $5 billion increase in research and development necessary to bring “the force of the future” into reality. The proposed budget also accounts for inflation and rising fuel costs as well as boosting funds for recruiting and retention.
“We are united in our commitment to modernizing the Air and Space Forces and in achieving the transformation we must have to be competitive with our pacing challenge – China, China, China,” Kendall said, noting that the proposed budget marks a significant step in meeting that goal.
While the budget proposal is unlikely to be adopted without changes from Congress, the document represents the department’s priorities for maintaining the nation’s security and interests. Kendall and other senior leaders acknowledged that the request is the result of difficult trade-offs but also reflects a consensus on how to achieve the department’s mission and the larger operational priorities of the Department of Defense.
In addition to funding for large, overarching efforts to train and equip the force and modernize the way bases are arrayed and managed, the budget proposal includes a multitude of specific line items.
Among them are $4.8 billion in new funding for Kendall’s seven Operational Imperatives. That effort is the blueprint for modernizing and reshaping the Air and Space Forces to accelerate capabilities and position themselves more closely to meet the security threats – and adversaries – of today and in the future.
Underneath that effort is funding that modernizes the Air Force’s fighter fleet, adding 72 fighters (F-35 Lightning II and F-15EX Eagle II), another that provides early-stage funding for the next generation of aerial refueling tankers, and funds for updating crucial command and control functions, among others.
The budget proposal also:
• Invests in further development of the new and next-in-line fighter aircraft known as “Next Generation Air Dominance” and its powerplant known as Next Generation Adaptive Propulsion;
• Pays attention to fiscal discipline by divesting platforms (310 aircraft) that “do not address our most concerning national security challenges;”
• If approved as written, the budget proposal supplies a $1 billion increase to purchase 48 top-of-the-line F-35 fighters, an increase of five over the previous fiscal year;
• It carries $3 billion to support ongoing development and production of the B-21 Raider long-range bomber, which is scheduled to achieve its first flight this year; The B-21 will become the backbone of the Air Force’s long-range strike force;
• The proposal would deliver $2.6 billion to the Space Force for 15 launches in the fiscal year which is an increase of five launches;
• It designated $4.4 billion to continue developing and testing the Sentinel ground-based nuclear deterrent, as well as $500 million for procurement. It also includes $1.1 billion for upgraded and resilient missile warning and tracking.
Echoing comments he made March 7 in a major address, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr., said the budget proposal is highly focused on delivering not only a more modern Air Force, but one that has the right combination of hardware, people and “capabilities.”
“We must make sure we have the right mix of capabilities and capacity as an Air Force and as a joint team to be successful,” Brown said.
U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations Gen. B. Chance Saltzman made a similar point.
“We must field combat-ready forces, so the Space Force has the personnel, expertise, weapon systems and equipment required to protect U.S. interests in space,” he said, adding that the proposed budget balances those requirements for the nation’s newest military service.
In the documentation accompanying the release of the budget, the department said that the proposal “further accelerates the transformation of our Air Force and Space Force and prioritizes investments that will deliver meaningful operational capabilities to our warfighters. This request balances maintaining capabilities to address near-term threats, while accelerating vital modernization efforts necessary for success in a high-end fight.”
The budget includes as well smaller, but still significant, increases for pilot training and for bonuses to increase the chances that personnel performing critical and highly sought functions will remain in the service.
Taken as a whole, Kendall, Brown, Saltzman as well as other leaders, say the budget proposal represents a significant moment in the services’ “essential transformation.” It also advances the Operational Imperatives driving the efforts.
Finally, senior leaders collectively warned that delay is dangerous and that “standing still is falling behind.” That is why each has beseeched Congress to complete the appropriations process on time to ensure that “the Air Force and Space Force remain dominant.”