The U.S. Air Force’s upcoming fiscal 2023 budget submission will be crucial to modernize the service by 2030, Air Force Chief of Staff Charles Q. Brown said on Aug. 6.
“If we’re not able to phase our transition starting with the FY ’23 budget cycle submission, we’ll likely miss the mark, and the consequences will be irreversible, and in 2030 we could have the same force that was largely designed during the Carter and Reagan administrations,” Brown said at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. “We’d be fighting pacing challenges with a force of yesterday and wouldn’t be able to dominate the skies and would face a rate of attrition akin to what we saw during World War II.”
While the Air Force’s fiscal 2022 budget request proposes retiring 201 aircraft, including two squadrons worth of F-15C/Ds, to help pay for a requested $2.2 billion increase in research and development, Brown has pressed his staff to focus on analyzing the mix of capabilities that the service will need to deter China and Russia, not platform numbers (Defense Daily, July 1).
“The Air Force we’re designing for 2030…is based on analysis and data to ensure the resourcing decisions we’ve got to make are grounded in facts and analysis, rather than emotion and a love of yesterday,” Brown said on Aug. 6. “This will make some, if not most, people unhappy, but we will do what is right for the United States Air Force, not for an individual platform or a specific community.”
Brown has said that the service plans to neck down from seven fighter types–Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-16, F-35A, and F-22 and the Boeing [BA] F-15C, F-15D, F-15E and A-10–to “four plus one,” the F-35A, the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) family of systems, the A-10, the F-15EX, and the F-16 or a possible replacement.
In fiscal 2022, the Air Force requests more than $1.5 billion for NGAD–a $623 million increase from the fiscal 2021 enacted amount.
The Air Force and the Pentagon Office of Cost Assessment and Program Assessment (CAPE) have been conducting a tactical aircraft study on the service’s future fighter needs–an undertaking that may recommend a significant reduction in the service’s planned buy of 1,763 F-35As (Defense Daily, Feb. 17).
During his Aug. 6 address to the National Press Club, Brown said that the Air Force needed to modernize the defense of airbases from drones, the ICBM fleet, airlift and tanker aircraft, and cybersecurity. The “right sizing” of new and existing systems is a key challenge for the service.
“When I say ‘right size,’ it’s not just the size. It’s the right mix of capabilities,” Brown said. “I could have a very large Air Force with the wrong set of capabilities which will not be prepared to fight against China, or I could have a large size Air Force that doesn’t have the mission capable rates that I need.”
“You’ve got to change the mix and the numbers,” he said. “I’d rather have a smaller, capable force than a larger, hollow force. That’s the analysis we go through. Regardless of what happens with the budget, I think our United States Air Force has some tough decisions to make as we go forward to make sure we have the capabilities that will be competitive against the threat and, if called upon, to ‘fly, fight, and win.'”