Military spending will go heavy on research next year, defense leaders say

Too soon to say how Wright-Patterson AFB will fare as budget comes together

Military spending on research and future weapons will be emphasized in 2022, an approach that may yield dividends for Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the beating heart of Air Force research and logistics missions.

The fiscal year 2022 budget request seeks what the Pentagon calls the “largest ever RDT&E (Research Development Test & Evaluation) request” of $112 billion.

Also sought in the 2022 budget: $14.7 billion for science and technology, $2.3 billion for microelectronics; $874 million for work in artificial intelligence and just under $400 million for increased 5G capabilities.

Requested for 85 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters is $12 billion, with $2.5 billion sought for 14 KC-46 tanker replacements; $1.7 billion sought for 9 CH-53K King Stallion cargo helicopters; $1.5 billion for 12 F-15EX fighters and $825 million for 30 AH-64E Apache attack helicopters.

And according to the administration’s budget request, the Air Force would be slated to divest itself of the A-10, the F-15 C/D, F-16 C/D, KC-135, KC-10, C-130H, E-8, RQ-4 block 20 and 30.

For “Air Force readiness,” $36.5 billion is requested.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense Thursday on the fiscal year budget request.

The budget “invests in hypersonic weapons, artificial intelligence, micro-electronics, 5G technology, cyber-capabilities, ship-building, climate-change resilience and nuclear modernization to name a few,” Austin told the committee. “And it gives us the flexibility to divest ourselves of systems and platforms that do not adequately meet our needs, including older ships, aircraft and ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) platforms that demand more maintenance and upkeep and risk than we can afford.”

ExploreAir Force unveils $38M research chambers at Wright-Patt that tests altitude conditions on humans, equipment

AFRL is building the Air Force’s planes and weapons of the future, including hypersonic weapons, and is also making inroads on artificial intelligence. The base is also the home to the Air Force Materiel Command, which oversees the Air Force’s massive logistics needs.

However, experienced budget observers say it’s too soon to know how all of this might affect Wright-Patterson.

“It’s good that Secretary Austin is talking about some of the skill areas of Wright-Patterson and the Air Force Research Laboratory,” said Michael Gessel, vice president, federal government programs for the Dayton Development Coalition. “And it’s a good sign that he recognizes the importance of RDT&E particularly in the fight against China and our peer and near-peer adversaries.”

But we don’t yet have a “solid read” on how Wright-Patterson will fare in the budget, he added.

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, called Biden’s budget “way late and billions of dollars short.”

“Military leaders repeatedly warned that the U.S. cannot defend against the growing aggression of adversaries like China without adequate defense funding, yet President Biden chose to short-change our armed forces,” Turner said. “Meanwhile, his budget ramps up domestic spending on liberal priorities. President Biden’s budget would further cement America’s dangerous path backward — to the Obama-Biden failed foreign policy that embraces our adversaries and weakens the U.S. and our allies.”

The new budget requests a 2.7-percent pay raise and an extra $200 million in family support programs, according to fiscal 2022 numbers released Friday.

“I believe our budget request will help us match our resources to strategy, strategy to policy and policy to the will of the American people,” Austin said.

The president’s budget draft proposes $715 billion for defense, an $11 billion increase from the previous year’s spending level.

Biden’s $6 trillion budget proposal for would run a $1.8 trillion federal government deficit, the Associated Press reported.

These are early days in the process of crafting a federal budget, and Congress typically sets its own priorities. Thursday’s event was the House appropriators’ final hearing before members start writing the 2022 spending bill.

The new fiscal year starts Oct. 1. While Congress is responsible for funding the federal government, in recent years, Congress and presidents have often fallen back on continuing resolutions to set spending levels.

Continuing resolutions can be challenging for the military because defense funds often can be spent only during the fiscal year in which they were appropriated.

The Pentagon has entered every fiscal year between 2010 and 2018 operating under temporary continuing resolutions, the Heritage Foundation has observed.

The “days of continuing resolutions are hopefully behind us for good,” Milley said at Thursday’s hearing.