USAF to Unveil Future Force Structure Plans, Squadron Levels at AFA’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson addresses airmen at Kadena AB, Japan. Air Force photo by SrA. Quay Drawdy.

The Air Force has undergone an intense review of its force structure, using wargames, modelling and simulation, to determine the number of squadrons it needs to fight future wars and address great power competition.

The results of this “huge amount of work” will be unveiled at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space & Cyber conference on Sept. 17, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said.

“America is going to need more from the Air Force” to address the “rise of great power competition,” Wilson said Wednesday at a Defense News conference in Arlington, Va. The future shape of the force will be based on the Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy, not on a “budget line,” said Wilson.

The service currently has 312 operational squadrons, including 55 fighter squadrons. This number is historically low. The bipartisan budget deal this year has given the service an influx of funding that has helped address shortfalls, such as in the total number of maintainers, and now the Air Force needs to thoroughly review future priorities.

“Squadrons are how we compete, deter, and win,” Wilson said. “Today, in total, we have 312 operational squadrons in the United States Air Force. But how many do we need to implement the National Defense Strategy?”

The Air Force, and the country, needs to move beyond sizing its strength in the number of assets that are available. The analysis sizes Air Force capability in squadrons, rather than tails, to determine what growth must be prioritized.

The analysis follows Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein’s push to “revitalize” the service’s squadrons, which was first outlined in his first keynote address as Chief at AFA’s 2016 Air, Space & Cyber Conference. The initiative has led to an in-depth review at the grassroots level, a squadron “innovation fund,” changes in military education, and a new squadron structure being tested by Air Combat Command.

“The Air Force squadron is our basic unit of power, and it is the strength upon which we will build,” Wilson said Wednesday.