On its birthday, the Air Force must fight for what it deserves – Breaking Defense Breaking Defense
On September 17, the Air Force celebrated its birthday with pomp, circumstance and cake. Behind the celebration, however, are some dangerous trends seen within the service, including a number of key platforms that are aging and major spending that is about to strike. David Deptula, the Dean of the Mitchell Institute, says the service has to stop being polite and start becoming real if it is to work as it should. As the Air Force Association’s annual conference kicks off this week, Deptula lays out what he wants to hear from key leaders.
As the US Air Force heads into its 75th year of existence as a separate service, it faces daunting challenges, having received more missions than the resources it has to accomplish them. This fact puts the whole nation at risk of not being able to accomplish its national defense strategy.
Consequently, the Department of the Air Force (DAF) demands an increase in the share of the budget of the Department of Defense. Time is no longer to bend around the bush to appease the latest version of joint military political correctness – the threats America faces are too real not to speak clearly and honestly.
The DAF is the smallest and oldest it has ever been. It is in desperate need of modernization and recapitalization as demand for its capabilities skyrockets. Think of the recent evacuation from Afghanistan, a push towards ‘beyond the horizon’ strike capability, rapid response over long distances with high payloads for our strategy in the Pacific and inventories of. Ammunition adequate to fight in scenarios with more than 100,000 points of aim.
The budgetary guidelines of the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) do not reflect these requirements. In fact, the current DoD budget guidance is to reduce, rather than increase, the resources needed to secure the much needed capabilities provided by the DAF. No joint force operation can be conducted without the involvement of an element of the DAF. Accordingly, a fully resourced DAF is required to execute national defense strategy and associated US military operations.
The average age of Air Force aircraft is approaching 30, and most cannot penetrate modern enemy air defenses. Specifically, 80 percent of the Air Force’s fighter force is made up of older 4th generation aircraft – only 20 percent of the Air Force’s fighter force is stealth. If we are to deter conflict or win in case we are forced to fight, this relationship must be reversed. The youngest B-52 bomber is 59 years old, and most in-flight refuellers were purchased almost 60 years ago.
This is not a new problem, of course. Over the past thirty years, the Air Force fighter inventory has fallen by approximately 55% (4,400 to approximately 2,000). Bombers fell 57%, from 327 in 1990 to 140 in 2020. The DAF absorbed the largest budget cuts of any department after the Cold War. Air Force procurement funding has been cut by more than half, losing 52% of its procurement budget. In comparison, the Army and Navy procurement budgets have been cut by about 30%.
In 2018, the DAF reported to Congress that it needed a 24% increase in its operational squadrons to meet the demands of the national defense strategy. This analysis is always correct. In the near future, in FY 23, the wave of nuclear recapitalization bow will hit DAF’s budget like a double tidal wave with budget increases needed for two of the three strands of the US nuclear triad. – the deterrent which has successfully prevented nuclear war for over 75 years. . The B-21 long-range bomber and strategic ground deterrence (the new intercontinental ballistic missile) will dramatically increase the demands of the DAF budget, however critical they may be in the face of China’s rapid nuclear modernization.
The bottom line is that our geriatric air force must be modernized and developed to take advantage of the revolutionary technologies and capabilities needed to compete and win against any adversary.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to achieving the appropriate levels of funding required to maintain, let alone develop, DAF’s capabilities is the continued adherence to an anachronistic practice of trying to hide other agency resources. of DoD in DAF’s budget. As a result, it appears to Congress and the American people that the Air Force is the best funded of any military service – when in fact it has less funding than the military, navy, and collective of other agencies. defense of the DoD. . Only the Marine Corps and the Space Force have smaller budgets. Some arguments against correcting this unnecessary appearance are based on claims that “everyone knows where this money is going”. If so, move that resource allocation to where it belongs – as a separate line in the DoD budget.
Here is what needs to be accomplished and hopefully what we will hear from the DAF leadership at the Air Force Association’s annual conference on air, space and cybernetics:
- Recapitalize the Air Force’s geriatric air combat capability with sufficient funding and complete current benchmark aircraft programs to avoid a new death spiral of modernization. The DAF has significant capacity deficits in virtually all of its highest priority mission areas, compromising the ability to conduct viable joint and coalition force operations.
- Ensure that the Space Force has sufficient funds, manpower and authority to integrate the many disparate organizations and agencies with space roles in the Space Force, in order to fulfill its mandate of providing trained space capabilities and ready to the commanders of the combatants.
- Provide transparency for policymakers to better understand the financial situation facing all departments by moving the $ 38 billion annual transfer funds, over which the Air Force has absolutely no control, to a separate category in the defense budget.
- Advocate for the DoD to adopt and apply a cost-by-effect planning analysis to ensure that it makes the most prudent investment decisions across all services, as other services offer competing solutions to achieve the same mission goals.
- If DoD resources are capped in the future, the only way to get more bang for your buck and to achieve lasting efficiency gains for DoD is to conduct a comprehensive review of the roles and missions of the forces. armies, using cost-per-effect as the baseline measure of merit and allocating funding accordingly. Only in this way can we ensure viable combat options for combatant commanders and eliminate costly and unnecessary duplication of effort.
General Earle Partridge, the 5th Air Force commander at the start of the Korean War, said after that war: “One of my biggest failures… was taking a flea look that I have and say, how can I accomplish mission with what I have? What we should have done was sit back and cry out for more and get what we needed to wage a war and accomplish our mission. “
General Partridge was behind the power curve during the Korean War, with too little of everything. There’s a reason he concluded that speaking candidly was the best choice. This feeling is needed today to ensure that the Air Force Department does not find itself in the same situation at the end of the next major conflict.
David A. Deptula, member of the Breaking Defense Board of Contributors, is a retired Air Force Lieutenant General with more than 3,000 flight hours. He planned the Desert Storm air campaign, orchestrated air operations in the Pacific and during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is now dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies and senior researcher at the US Air Force Academy.