Joint Chiefs Wary on New Money

Though Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein is optimistic about the prospect of new monies flowing into the services, as directed by President Donald Trump and Defense Secretary James Mattis, he said Tuesday he’s cautious about building a new spending plan. “I don’t want to find myself in a position where I’ve made wildly optimistic predictions” about a new infusion of funds, only to have it vanish and leave “a bunch of broken programs later.” Speaking with defense reporters in Washington, D.C., Goldfein said all the service Chiefs are taking this wait-and-see approach. He’s concerned that “there may be some … ‘great expectations’” being set that could lead to planning by “a strategy of hope,” which would be counterproductive. What the services really need, he asserted, is a reliable budget that goes well beyond the one-year-at-a-time model they have been struggling with, which “wreaks havoc” on service plans.

All that said, Goldfein agreed that the F-35 “will be” among his recommendations for new spending if the money appears. “The more F-35s we can … procure in the shortest period of time” the more it will enhance the capability of the force, add capacity, and reduce the average age of the inventory, all of which are essential, he said. But the F-35 will compete with the nuclear enterprise, cyber, bombers, munitions, infrastructure, and other priorities, he said. “Is it the No. 1 place I would spend dollars? That’s going to be a department-level discussion,” he noted. Goldfein also said that the F-35 buy objective of 1,763 airplanes is still the service’s goal, despite the many conflicts that have erupted worldwide since that figure was set. “While we have to look at the endgame numbers,” Goldfein observed, “We don’t have to make that decision” on the final number “for several years, given the buy rate” on the F-35. “What we don’t need right now is a lot of … turbulence and uncertainty,” in the program, which Goldfein suggested a change would cause. Such a move “would not be helpful” to the Air Force or international partners.