The Air Force Wants More Planes - and a Lot More Money

Dr. Heather Wilson

Space: The Final Frontier for War?

That competition is set to grow if President Donald Trump succeeds in creating a new "Space Force" as the sixth branch of the military, something he hopes to do by 2020. She told those in attendance that "to face the world as it is, with a rapidly innovating adversary, the Air Force we need should have about 25 percent more operational squadrons in the 2025 to 2030 timeframe than the Air Force we have". The Air Force Association's Air, Space & Cyber Conference held this week in Maryland brought together top leadership from the Air Force and defense industry to "discuss challenges facing the Air Force and aerospace community today and in the future".

Todd Harrison, a defense expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said last week that adding 40,000 people to the Air Force payroll would cost about $5.2 billion a year based on current costs, and the increased operational costs would add another $13 billion per year.

Pushback continues to build against the idea of a Space Force, with the Air Force Association, or AFA, being the latest to disparage the proposal.

At a meeting of the National Space Council on June 18, however, Trump made clear that he means business, directing Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to "carry out that assignment". They say the force is needed because Russia, China and other US adversaries are building anti-satellite and other weapons that could threaten the USA military's dominance in space.

Instead, they believe the president should pour more money into the existing defense infrastructure, bolstering space operations and creating new ones without establishing an entire force. The Air Force, which now handles space-related issues at the Pentagon, could see its budget and responsibilities sharply cut by creating a separate space force.

Air Force photograph by Tech.

Only Congress can create a new military service alongside the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. Wilson's proposal is insistent the NRO and a new Space Development Agency should be in the Space Force to ensure acquisition is closely connected to space operators. Muck also highlighted the need to consider small businesses for subcontracting opportunities while Darlene Costello, the Air Force's principal deputy assistant secretary for acquisition, pushed for looser past performance requirements in contracts, quick contracting such as other transaction authorities for fixed amounts and using small businesses over prime companies for quick innovative work. The NRO is believed to have the largest budget of the 17 US intelligence agencies.

Vice President Mike Pence released a report spearheaded by Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan on August 9 that outlined the steps toward a Space Force. From the bombers of World War II to developing and training test pilots and astronauts, the Air Force is the "techie" of the military family.

"Our proposal avoids detours that do not support the president's policy position", Wilson wrote in the memo.

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