Wilson sets sights on readiness, modernization at Air Force Association breakfast

Secretary of the Air Force
Public Affairs
Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson speaks about the fiscal year 2018 budget, the Aviation Bonus Program, and an upcoming Air Force fighter jet deployment to Europe during an Air Force Association breakfast event, June 5. — Photo by Wayne A. Clark

WASHINGTON — Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson addressed the Air Force Association’s Air Force Breakfast Series June 5, 2017, at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, D.C.

During her remarks Wilson spoke about the proposed Air Force budget for the fiscal year that starts October 1.
“The fiscal year 17 appropriations stopped the decline,” Wilson said. “This proposed budget for fiscal year 18 starts to restore readiness and modernize the force.”

Wilson also announced changes in aviation bonuses to help retain pilots and announced the next fighter deployment to Europe as part of the European Reassurance Initiative.

To continue to address readiness, the budget proposal includes an increase in active duty manpower to 325,100 Airmen while also adding 800 reservists, 900 guardsmen and 3,000 civilians. The total force will increase by about 9,000 people to 669,611.

The budget also funds flying hours, maintenance and training at or near the maximum executable levels given the size of the force and the overseas commitments in which the Air Force is engaged.

Because the use of munitions in operations against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is out-pacing productions, the Air Force is working with industry to expand weapons production and the budget funds this effort.

The fiscal 2018 budget prioritizes the top three acquisition programs to modernize the force: fighters, tankers and bombers.

The budget funds purchase of 46 F-35A Lightning II fighters and modernizes other fighters.

The budget buys 15 KC-46A Pegasus tankers and expects to sustain steady state production at that level for at least the next five years.

The B-21 Raider bomber development continues to be funded.

The budget supports the continuation and modernization of the nuclear triad with both air and ground based modernization advances.

Over the past several years, the Air Force has been developing new operational concepts to ensure freedom of action in space and to integrate space with the joint force.

“The Air Force has been the leader on space for 54 years,” Wilson said. “The Air Force will continue to integrate, normalize and elevate space as part of the joint warfighting team.”

This year’s budget increases the Air Force’s space funding from $6.5 billion in fiscal 2017 to $7.8 billion in fiscal 2018.

Innovation for the Future
The Air Force is taking advantage of new acquisition authorities. It is sponsoring an experiment in August 2017 to evaluate low-cost, permissive environment attack aircraft. The project has gone from approval by the Chief of Staff to an operational capabilities assessment in five short months. Less than three months from now, the Air Force will flight test the aircraft.

“It’s not a procurement, it is an experiment, but we want to see what the experiment tells us and whether we can move forward with a different way of getting capability from the lab bench to the flightline and the warfighter faster,” Wilson said. “We are going to have to move faster on a lot of things because our adversaries are innovating faster than we are.”

While long-term research on air dominance is increased significantly in this budget, basic and applied research remains flat. Over the next several years, the Air Force will seek to increase research where we need to maintain a competitive advantage – hypersonic vehicles, directed energy, unmanned and autonomous systems.

Retaining Pilots and Aircrews
“Pilot retention right now is at crisis levels when it comes to fighters and we are changing around the way we do incentive pay,” Wilson said. “We have added in significant administrative support to the squadrons which was taken away in the wake of sequester.”

Wilson used the occasion to announce a revised structure for aviation bonuses aimed at retaining more pilots and aircrews. The new structure allows the Air Force greater flexibility to work with Airmen on what might work best for them, and focuses resources against the greatest needs.

“It’s intended to encourage pilots to stay where we need them the most,” Wilson said. “So the bonuses are higher where the need is most critical. It also gives flexibility in lengths of contracts so that pilots have more say about the length of their commitment, and we hope this will help us to keep more pilots in the Air Force.”

Strengthening Alliances
Wilson also announced that, as part of the European Reassurance Initiative, in early 2018 the Air Force will deploy an Air National Guard unit of F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters to Europe for three months to bolster U.S. European Command’s combat capable air forces. The most recent deployment as part of this initiative included the first overseas deployment of the F-35A Lightning II.

“I believe also, as does the Secretary of Defense, that we are stronger together than we are alone and that we work in concert with our allies to defend the national interests of the United States,” Wilson said.

When on active duty in the Air Force, Wilson served as a planner at Headquarters 3rd Air Force at Royal Air Force Mildenhall and at the U.S. mission to NATO in Brussels, Belgium.

“We are committed to defend our allies and ourselves in a concept of collective self-defense which has kept us safe for many decades,” she said.