Acting Air Force Secretary John Roth, joined by the Air and Space Forces’ highest-ranking officers, told a Senate subcommittee June 8 the department’s budget proposal recognizes challenges posed by China and Russia while also laying the groundwork for the forces needed in 2030 and beyond.
“The long-term strategic competition with China and Russia demands we focus on the capabilities we need today to win tomorrow,” Roth told the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee. “Our nation’s competitive strategic advantage relies on air and space superiority, which is underpinned by rapid technological advancement and the extension of space as a warfighting domain.”
Roth appeared with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr., and Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond for a session that marked the starting point of the process by which Congress considers, and finalizes, the Department of the Air Force’s budget request for the next fiscal year.
The Air and Space Forces released their combined budget proposal on May 28 as part of the Biden administration’s overall spending request for the 2022 fiscal year. The Department of the Air Force’s request calls for $173.7 billion, a 3% increase over the current budget. The Air Force’s budget of $156.3 billion represents a 2.3% increase, and the Space Force’s budget of $17.4 billion is a 13.1% increase from FY 2021.
In broad strokes, the three officials said the proposed budget is designed to be a catalyst to modernize the Air Force and continue the evolution of the Space Force.
It calls for investing in the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, which will replace the aging Minuteman III; Next-Generation Air Dominance, envisioned as the Air Force’s next state-of-the-art aircraft; space-based capabilities such as the Next-Gen Overhead Persistent Infrared missile warning system; and pushes forward the Advanced Battle Management System, the Department’s contribution to Joint All Domain Command and Control.
The Space Force’s procurement budget, meanwhile, would grow by $456 million to acquire National Security Space Launch Vehicles needed to assure access to space for the anticipated launch of national security and intelligence satellites. It also plans to procure GPS III Follow-on Space Vehicles that provide new capabilities, including a spot beam that offers an anti-jam improvement 100 times greater than current encrypted military code.
Additionally, the proposed budget includes funding to better address sexual assault, suicide, and disparate treatment of Airmen and Guardians. The proposal includes $6 million for diversity and inclusion initiatives to include new training and recruiting scholarships.
All of those programs and funding priorities, the three leaders told the subcommittee, are necessary to meet the demands of the Interim National Security Strategic Guidance and the priorities established by President Joe Biden and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, as well as ensuring readiness, retention and the development of new technologies.
Much of it, they said, requires difficult – but necessary – choices.
“Our future Air Force must be agile, resilient, and connected, with the ability to generate near-instantaneous effects anytime, anywhere, not just sometimes, in some places, but anytime, anywhere,” Brown told the subcommittee, echoing his frequent call for the service to move faster and in a different, more creative and innovative way.
“Now, to fulfill our responsibility to ensure our national security, we must be willing to change to make the tough choices required to deliberately transform our Air Force to the future force we need to compete, deter, and win,” he said.
Raymond presented a similar case and call for the nation’s newest, independent branch of the military.
“The Space Force cannot and will not tolerate business as usual,” he said of the service that was created Dec. 20, 2019.
“Our 24/7 mission and lean force demand nothing less than a new standard of efficiency. This budget reflects the shift of many Department of Defense space activities into the Space Force, yet we remain only about 2.5% of the overall Department of Defense budget. We are committed to stretching every dollar to its limit to buy as much capability as possible for our nation.”
The hearing, which spanned 90 minutes, was cordial and broad-based, with questions ranging from the threat China poses to U.S. operations to plans for reducing the cost of maintaining and operating F-35s. There were location-oriented questions as well, such as how Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida is coping with climate change. Others focused on the delivery date for MH-139 helicopters at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana and the Air Force’s plans for improving housing and childcare at Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington.
Throughout the hearing, all three Department of the Air Force officials emphasized the need for the Air and Space Forces to continue breaking free from an entrenched culture, the need to move faster and to try new methods and approaches. Roth underscored that point by noting in response to a question that the Air Force had approved 1,500 contracts with new and non-traditional businesses to provide goods and services faster while also injecting innovation and competition.
The Air Force, Roth said, “is leveraging commercial capabilities in a major way.” He also noted that the services are using digital engineering to speed – and lower the cost of – designing planes, parts and other equipment.
On the growing challenge in space, Raymond repeatedly noted that every branch of the military relies heavily on space. “We cannot afford to lose space,” Raymond said, adding that the nascent Space Force is being built with a different philosophy to cut bureaucracy and remain “lean and agile.”
Brown made clear why the spending and investments are necessary.
“The strategic environment has rapidly evolved, and we haven’t changed fast enough to keep pace,” Brown told senators while mentioning China and Russia as the leading threats.
“We must transform our force and our operational concepts, and we have to do it much faster,” he said.
“If we continue on a path of incremental change, our advantage erodes, and losing becomes a distinct possibility. … The bottom line is simple, we must modernize for the future and focus on capabilities that maintain our advantage–both today and tomorrow. … We’ve done it before, and I’m confident together, we can do it again,” Brown said.