The Department of the Air Force released a $169 billion budget proposal Feb. 10, which for the first time includes funding for the newly created U.S. Space Force while also focusing funds to help both services modernize, address threats from Russia and China, and sustain readiness.
The spending plan for fiscal year 2021 carries a $900 million increase from the previous year. But unlike 2020, funding for 2021 is apportioned differently, with $153.6 billion directed to the Air Force and $15.4 billion for the Space Force.
“Our fiscal year ‘21 budget proposal helps drive irreversible momentum as we implement the National Defense Strategy,” said Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett. “The strategic advantages the Air Force and the Space Force bring to our nation are vital. This budget allows us to meet today’s national security challenges while taking important steps toward the Air and Space Forces we need in 2030.”
The 2018 National Defense Strategy is an overarching blueprint for the entire U.S. military for defending the nation and its interests. At the heart of the Department of the Air Force’s strategy for winning future conflicts is creating a resilient battle network that connects ships, ground forces, planes and satellites to fight together at speeds far surpassing any adversary. This budget provides funds for a rapid experimentation, prototyping and development effort supporting the overall Joint Staff-led initiative to connect every sensor and shooter in land, sea, air, space and cyber.
The budget proposal calls for increased investments in space as well as ensuring sufficient combat power to respond decisively to any attack against the U.S. or allies. The budget proposal also addresses what the service calls “logistics under attack,” ensuring equipment, personnel and supplies are available when and where they are needed to sustain high-tempo actions in combat operations.
Specifically, the budget calls for spending $5.8 billion to purchase 48 F-35A Lightning II aircraft. It provides $3 billion to purchase 15 KC-46A Pegasus tankers and $1.4 billion for 12 F-15EX fighters.
Research and development will grow by $1.5 billion for the Air Force to a total of $26.9 billion, which includes increased investment in the burgeoning battle network — the Advanced Battle Management System — development and capability demonstrations connecting the joint force. Funding for research and development in the Space Force will grow to $10.3 billion from $9.8 billion in fiscal year 2020.
The budget carries $2.8 billion for continued development of the B-21 Raider, the next generation long-range bomber, and $1.5 billion for upgrading and modernizing the ground-based nuclear force. That figure is nearly $1 billion greater than the previous fiscal year, underscoring the priority attached to modernizing the aging ground-based nuclear deterrent.
“This budget moves us forward toward meeting the missions required under the National Defense Strategy while also providing room to innovate and build for the future,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein. “That’s the sweet spot we always want to hit. Like every budget, we didn’t get everything we put on the table, but we got a lot and the reason is our story resonated in terms of the force that we know we need to build to win.”
In order to strike a balance between the capabilities needed to fight today and the capabilities that the two services require for the future, the 2021 spending plan anticipates retiring some planes to free up funding for critical new equipment. The list includes 13 KC-135 Stratotankers and 16 KC-10 Extenders; 24 C-130H Hercules, 17 B-1 Lancers, and 24 RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 20/30 aircraft.
The Space Force portion of the budget reflects a continuing shift to address the challenges and threats posed by potential adversaries.
“Space is now a contested domain which is why it is an imperative that we train and equip our forces to ensure freedom of action in space across all phases of conflict,” said Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond. “This budget provides the resources we need to meet those requirements and to deliver vital space capabilities to our joint and coalition forces.”
Reflecting the importance of space, the budget funds the National Security Space Launch program to ensure access to space and achieve independence from relying on launch vehicles from non-allies.
It also funds, at $2.3 billion, rapid development of Next-Gen Overhead Persistent Infrared Space and Ground systems to provide strategic missile warning.
Threaded throughout the entire budget document is a focus on people and readiness.
Funding to pay for flying hours increases in fiscal year 2021 to $6.6 billion. The budget envisions an increase in the Department’s force of Active Duty, Guard and Reserve by 1,500 personnel. That would bring the uniformed force to 512,100.
Since April 2018, the Air Force has increased overall readiness by 16 percent and increased readiness for frontline units, known as pacing squadrons, by 35 percent.
In response to challenges with military privatized family housing, the budget provides money to hire 218 additional on-site base housing managers to monitor project owner actions, provide quality assurance and advocacy.
The fiscal 2021 proposal also provides funds to expand resiliency resources and fund programs that promote a culture of dignity and respect, including $51 million for the True North initiative, which embeds mental health professionals, physiologists, physical therapists and religious support teams within high-risk groups of a wing.
While Department of the Air Force officials say the 2021 budget request is the result of rigorous analysis and a series of “tough but necessary choices,” it represents only the starting point for the budget process.
The proposal now goes to Congress for its consideration and what is likely to be months of deliberation, debate, and revisions. Under the typical schedule, the budget for the new fiscal year must be approved and signed into law by the president by Oct. 1, when the new fiscal year begins.