While the need to expand the Air Force is obvious, the plan will likely hit roadblocks in Congress since the U.S. is already running a massive deficit every year, said Loren Thompson, a senior defense analyst with the Virginia-based Lexington Institute.
Air Force officials have not yet offered an estimate of what the increase to the service would cost but USA Today reported on Monday that it could require an additional $30 billion a year in funding. That would push the Air Force's budget above $200 billion by 2030.
The financial reality, Thompson said, will likely mean Air Force leadership will look to innovators at Wright-Patt for how to do more with less because the base is “the nerve center of Air Force innovation and weapons.”
“Any increase in the size of the Air Force is going to see money and ideas channeling through Wright-Patt,” Thompson said. “And, if there isn’t enough money in the budget then Air Force leaders will be looking to Wright-Patt for ideas about they can increase capabilities without increasing size.”
With more than 27,000 employees, Wright-Patt is the largest single-site employer in Ohio with an annual economic impact of around $4 billion. One reason Wright-Patt would be at the center of an Air Force expansion is because it’s home to the Air Force Research Laboratory and the National Air and Space Intelligence Center.
NASIC employs more than 3,000 military, civilian, reserve, guard and contract personnel and the agency is planning a $182-million expansion of its facilities at Wright-Patt. The intelligence agency analyzes air, space, and cyber threats, such as ballistic missile capabilities, and provides findings to the nation’s political and military leaders.
“If I was looking for job security in the current economy, NASIC would be a good place to start,” Thompson said.
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The analysis of the 386 squadrons needed to support the Air Force’s strategy is based on estimates of the expected threat by 2025 to 2030, Wilson said on Monday. At the end of the Cold War, the Air Force had 401 operational squadrons, she said.
“Today, we are the best Air Force in the world,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein said. “Our adversaries know it. They have been studying our way of war and investing in ways to take away those advantages. This is about how we stay in front.”
Wilson said the Air Force has chosen to focus on operational squadrons — fighter and bomber squadrons, attack and special operations, space, cyber, tanker, airlift and other frontline units — because they’re the core fighting units of the Air Force.
“Our operational squadrons are the clenched fist of American resolve,” she said.
The growth of China’s and Russia’s military capabilities must be watched, Wilson said. China launched an aircraft carrier, conducted long-range bombing missions that could reach the the U.S. and militarized man-made islands in the South China Sea. Russia, Wilson said, recently ran its largest military exercise in four decades, involving 300,000 troops,.
The analysis, according to Air Force senior leaders, presents an honest assessment of the Air Force that the U.S. needs to fight and win in future conflicts. The analysis was driven by strategy and not by budget, they said.
“We usually have the dialogue about the Air Force we can afford,” Goldfein said. “This is different. This is about the Air Force we need to present credible options to compete, deter, and if deterrence fails, win.”
Wilson said she understands it will take time to build the support and budget required for the Air Force.
“We aren’t naïve,” she said. “But we have an obligation to be honest with our countrymen and tell them, as those who came before us have done in their time, what should be done… What we must do.”
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