2018 Budget Shows Shift to High-End Threats

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson addresses airmen of the 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit from Hill AFB, Utah, Feb. 1, 2018, at Kadena AB, Japan. Air Force photo by SrA Quay Drawdy.

The recently passed Fiscal 2018 budget lets the Air Force begin the difficult task of rebuilding the strength of the force, Secretary Heather Wilson said Friday morning at an AFA-sponsored Capitol Hill breakfast.

The budget, finally passed this week—midway through the fiscal year—adds 9,000 airmen to USAF’s end strength. “We’re going to use those positions to try to restore the strength of our squadrons,” she said, “particularly those that are preparing for the high-end fight.”

It also increases the Air Force’s purchases of “preferred” (read: precision) munitions to the maximum manufacturable levels, while 56 stealthy F-35A strike fighters—10 more than USAF actually requested—will be bought for the force. The budget also added three KC-46 tankers to the Air Force’s request, for a total of 18.

In reference to ongoing differences of opinion between the Air Force and KC-46 contractor Boeing about when the next-generation aerial refueling tankers are likely to be ready for delivery, Wilson joked that, “I already talked to Boeing this morning to see if we can get them.”

Last year’s budget “kind of stopped the slide,” Wilson said, while FY‘18 has the Air Force “turning the corner.”

Overall, the 2018 budget and new national defense strategy are “high protein, low carbs,” she said. For example, the new National Defense Strategy “explicitly acknowledges that Russia and China are developing capabilities to disable our satellites,” part of what DOD’s leadership says is the reemergence of great power competition after 25 years during which the US faced primarily low-intensity threats such as terrorism and violent extremism.

The United States “will defend” its space assets in the face of the advancing Russian and Chinese threats, she made clear. “The budget we presented for Fiscal 2019 accelerates defendable space, and [the Air Force is] responding across the board,” Wilson said. “We will deter, defend, and prevail against any adversary who threatens us in space.”