Air Force Association building. Image from the AFA 2019 Annual report.
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The Air Force Association’s Top Issues

Jan. 25, 2021

The Most Important Air Force and Space Force Issues for 2021

The annual release of the Air Force Association’s Top Issues establishes the policy positions the Association and its members will advocate for in the year ahead. AFA advocates for policies that support our mission: to ensure America retains dominant U.S. Air and Space Forces as the foundation of a strong National Defense, and that the nation honors and supports our Airmen, Guardians, Veterans, and their Families. 

“The United States faces unprecedented threats in an increasingly complex world,” said AFA Chairman Gerald R. Murray, the 14th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force. “Everyone who supports our Association and our mission—everyone who believes in a strong national defense and the fighting and deterrent power of effective Air and Space Forces—should familiarize themselves with the points outlined here and the specific issues on this list. This is how each of us can do our part to educate the public and our elected leaders on the importance of this critical agenda.”  

America’s dominance in air, space, and cyber domains is critical to defending U.S. national interests. The realities of a new strategic environment defined by threats from peer competitors like China and Russia require us to focus on a Joint Warfighting Concept in defending our homeland, while protecting American interests abroad as outlined in the National Defense Strategy.  

The U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Space Force face daunting demands. In coming decades, the two services, within the budget of a single military department, must recapitalize forces that are the oldest and fewest in its history; invest in smarter capabilities; invest in people and families; connect, command, and control their forces in a robust and reliable way as the indispensable member of the joint community—all while growing and fortifying the Space Force.

The Department of the Air Force (DAF) provides strategic and tactical airlift, precision strike, air superiority, precision navigation, global communications, and air- and space-based intelligence and surveillance as an integral element of joint and coalition force operations. The Air Force operates two legs of the nuclear triad—intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear-capable bomber aircraft. The Space Force provides space dominance through space launch, missile warning, protected satellite communications, weather, and remote sensing, surveillance, reconnaissance, precision global positioning, and timing (via GPS).

Without an understanding of the dire condition of the Department of the Air Force in the Pentagon and Congress, leading to modernization and growth, the U.S. will be hard-pressed to deter or defeat a peer enemy in the next decade.

The Space Force was created to ensure that U.S. national interests are protected and defended in the warfighting domain of space. In addition to dominating this warfighting domain, Space Force assets provide key civilian support functions such as accurate timing and location data, secure financial networks, safe worldwide navigation, and assured command, control, and communications. Yet the new Space Force is underfunded, undermanned, and not in control of dozens of organizations that affect U.S. operations in space that should be under the purview of the Space Force.

In its current state, the Air Force is experiencing immense pressure. The average age of Air Force aircraft is 28 years, and most cannot penetrate modern enemy air defenses. B-52 bombers average 58 years old, and most air refueling tankers were purchased nearly 60 years ago. Nevertheless, the Air Force absorbed the largest budget cuts of all the branches following the Cold War. The Air Force’s procurement funding was cut by over half, losing 52 percent of its acquisition budget. In comparison, the Army and Navy procurement budgets were cut by roughly 30 percent. 

Over the past 30 years, the Air Force fighter inventory dropped roughly 55 percent (4,400 to around 2,000). Bomber aircraft fell 57 percent from 327 in 1990 to 140 in 2020. Our geriatric Air Force must be modernized and grown in order to leverage game-changing technologies and capabilities—as well as capacity—to compete, deter, and, if necessary, win against peer and near-peer competitors. 

Without an understanding of the dire condition of the Air Force by the Department of Defense and Congress leading to modernization and growth of the Air Force, the U.S. will be hard-pressed to deter or defeat a peer enemy in the next decade.

AFA’s mission is to promote dominant U.S. Air and Space Forces as the foundation of a strong National Defense; to honor and support our Airmen, Guardians, and their Families; and to remember and respect our enduring Heritage.

AFA Supports the Following:


The United States must retain its long-held strategic position as the global leader in outer space.

AFA Top Issues
  • Organize, train, and equip the United States Space Force to deter, compete, and win in the space domain while assuring our Nation’s military advantage in space.
  • The following three critical issues are required to build the world’s greatest Space Force:
  • The Space Force will require resource allocation growth to design, develop, and build the capabilities to defend, and if necessary, defeat any aggression against U.S. space-based systems.
  • To develop the Space Force, as well as adequately support USSPACECOM, the U.S. must grow the number of personnel assigned to the Space Force to ensure a larger, deeper, and more flexible stable of space talent.
  • The U.S. must consolidate the nation’s fragmented multitude of over 60 separate space organizations into the Space Force.


America must not allow its air and space capabilities to age and atrophy any longer.

AFA Top Issues
  • Accelerate change or lose. Promote a competitive  mindset, underscored by the urgency to innovate across industry, academia, and government to modernize and grow Active, Guard and Reserve force capacity necessary to meet the needs of the National Defense Strategy.
  • Educate the public, Congress, and the Pentagon that the most cost-effective means to project combat power are with aerospace forces, and additionally, that the DAF is the most  lethal arm of the Department of Defense.
  • Promote the need for a thorough, honest, and comprehensive review of service roles and missions as a prerequisite for optimizing Department of Defense resource allocation in an era of growing pressures to reduce defense budgets.
  • Because Airmen and Guardians give U.S. taxpayers the most bang for the buck across America’s military, the Department of Defense must begin evaluating programs in a “cost-per-effect” assessment manner. This means judging programs based on how they achieve mission objectives, not simply unit and sustainment costs.
  • Money over which the Air Force has no control must be separated from its budget to ensure accurate understanding of its actual budget. This money is called “pass-through,” and amounts to about 20 percent of the total Air Force budget ($39.2 billion in 2020), and takes 45 percent of Air Force procurement accounts. The negative effect of pass-through funding is real and must be stopped.
  • Prioritize readiness and modernization to ensure winning during joint force operations, including new capabilities and capacity in joint all-domain command and control (JADC2); space dominance; a new generation of combat power; and effective logistics under attack.
  • Pursue and transition to game-changing technologies that ensure our Air and Space Forces remain strong and recognized as indispensable in the conduct of joint force operations.
  • Enact timely appropriations and authorizations to enable responsible funding to the DAF.


Our armed forces are only as good as the people that fill their ranks, so our Air and Space Forces must attract the best talent our nation has to offer.

AFA Top Issues
  • Recruit and retain skilled military and civilian personnel. Tie military and civilian pay raises to Employment Cost Index. Implement selective bonuses for depleted career fields.
  • Ensure pay, entitlements, and skills have parity with the marketplace or industry sectors to attract and retain the right people with in-demand skills.
  • Treat health care as a readiness issue:
  • Fully fund TRICARE to provide proper care for military members, retirees, and families.
  • Prohibit realigning or reducing military medical positions until analyses are conducted.
  • Develop tomorrow’s leaders through STEM education at all grade levels. Actively support and promote participation in high school and university ROTC programs and Civil Air Patrol.  
  • Enhance Airmen’s ability to transition between services and in and out of civilian life and expand the use of telework and remote hiring—all aimed toward better recruitment, quality of life, talent management, and retention.
  • Advocate for revolutionary training methods to revamp technical training via new technologies.
  • Bring awareness to, and mitigate factors that negatively affect, readiness and retention for military members and their families as they transition from one duty location to the next, including licensing reciprocity among states.


Those who commit to serve their country deserve an equal commitment from their country, that promises made will not be broken later in life.

AFA Top Issues
  • Support Cost of  Living Allowances (COLAs) to ensure a promise kept.
  • Eliminate 180-day freeze before Military retirees can be hired to DOD Government positions.
  • Honor our nation’s health care promise to veterans.
  • Assure TRICARE Prime or Standard health care benefits to the “gray area”—AF Reserve and Air National Guard retirees who are not eligible for these benefits below age 60. 
  • Advocate for grandfathered eligibility for burial at Arlington National Cemetery (ANC). Expand ANC to ensure operations with full military honors, well into the future.  
  • Support concurrent receipt for Chapter 61 military retirees; those medically retired for ailment or injuries before they could serve 20 years and qualify for regular retirement.