The U.S. Air Force’s (USAF) budget would rise to $165 billion in fiscal year 2020 under the White House spending plan unveiled on March 12, a $10 billion increase that allows the service to grow, modernize and effectively adapt to an array of changing global threats.
As written, the proposed budget attaches numbers to larger strategic goals that include the need to meet challenges posed by China and a resurgent Russia, provide a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent while continuing to disrupt violent extremists in a cost-effective manner. The spending plan provides funding for the USAF to continue restoring readiness with special attention on training, maintenance, spare parts and flying hours. The proposed budget for fiscal 2020 provides money to modernize nuclear ballistic missile operations, strategic bombers, nuclear air-launched cruise missiles, intercontinental ballistic missiles as well as associated nuclear command, control and communications systems.
One of the more significant additions to this year’s budget is a $14 billion investment in the USAF’s space portfolio, a 17 percent increase over the previous year. This investment includes $72.4 million to establish the headquarters for Space Force, which will be a new service within the Department of the Air Force.
The budget allows the USAF to continue its dominance in space while also providing funding to train 1,480 new pilots, an increase from 1,211 trained this year. Overlaying all of it is funding to continue the progress on improving readiness across the Air Force’s 690,000 total force. Related is a 3.1 percent pay raise for service members as part of the larger Department of Defense budget.
Taken as a whole, the proposed budget for fiscal year 2020, which begins October 1, 2019, continues USAF efforts to add equipment and personnel, training and support to offset an era of lean budgets. As U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson has said, the new budget is crafted to align the USAF closer to the National Defense Strategy.
To get there, the budget calls for purchasing an additional 48 F-35A Lightning II and eight upgraded F-15EX Srike Eagle fighters. It provides funding for 12 KC-46A Pegasus tankers as well as funds for third-generation GPS satellite and money to finance four launches of space vehicles for national security.
Additionally, the budget proposal includes funds for training and for modernizing live and virtual ranges and infrastructure that provide realistic – and crucial – training capabilities against the most advanced threats. The Nevada Test and Training Range, the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, the Utah Test and Training Range, the Space Test and Training Range and several smaller range complexes will receive targeted funding to better replicate the capabilities of peer adversaries.
Related to that focus, the fiscal 2020 budget includes funding to underwrite 1.1 million peacetime flying hours, the maximum amount of sustainable training, to prepare pilots and Airmen to be effective members of joint forces.
While the Air Force budget proposal is carefully crafted and is a proxy for the service’s priorities, the document represents an early, and uncertain, starting point of a months-long process. Congress retains the ultimate authorities on how tax dollars are spent with deliberation expected to stretch until the current fiscal year ends September 30 and possibly beyond.