Wilson: Air Force Needs 386 Squadrons to Meet Operational Needs

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Air Force plans to boost its number of operational squadrons by nearly 25 percent by 2030 to meet requirements set in the 2018 National Defense Strategy, service Secretary Heather Wilson said Monday.

The service must have 386 squadrons to meet that goal, she said in her keynote speech at the Air Force Association’s annual Air, Space and Cyber Conference here. It currently operates 312 squadrons.

A U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress bomber takes off from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, on a higher headquarters-directed Continuous Bomber Presence mission in support of exercise Pitch Black 18 in Australia's Northern Territory Aug. 6, 2018 (HST). Bilateral training between the United States and allies like Australia increases interoperability and strengthens our long-standing military-to-military partnerships. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Christopher Quail)

A U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress bomber takes off from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, on a higher headquarters-directed Continuous Bomber Presence mission in support of exercise Pitch Black 18 in Australia's Northern Territory Aug. 6, 2018 (HST). (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Christopher Quail)

In more detail, the Air Force proposes five additional bomber squadrons — the largest percentage increase — nine more combat search-and-rescue squadrons, 14 additional tanker squadrons, seven more special operations squadrons, and 22 command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) squadrons. The service also requires seven space squadrons “so that we can dominate in space where we have not been threatened in the past,” seven more fighter squadrons, two remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) squadrons and one additional airlift squadron, she said.

The service does not plan to increase its nuclear or cyber-related squadrons, but will continue to modernize its arsenals and develop new tools “for the squadrons we have,” she added.

This proposed increase comes after the Air Force has conducted months of modeling and analysis, based on current concepts of operations and intelligence for the 2025-2030 timeframe. That work will be combined with five additional congressionally mandated studies over the next six months, Wilson added.

“But we know now from analysis what everyone in this room knows from experience: The Air Force is too small for what the nation expects of us. Three hundred and twelve operational squadrons is not enough,” she said.

It remains to be seen how the Air Force will pay for the additional squadrons. Todd Harrison, director of the Aerospace Security Project at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that while the acquisition costs of adding more squadrons depends upon what type of aircraft are procured, a 24 percent increase could add another $13 billion in operating costs. The service currently spends about $53 billion per year on aircraft operations, training and recruiting, he added on Twitter.

The Air Force proposes 386 operational squadrons to meet requirements set forth by the 2018 National Defense Strategy. (Source: Air Force)

The Air Force proposes 386 operational squadrons to meet requirements set forth by the 2018 National Defense Strategy. (Source: Air Force)

 Air Force leadership has also been working to carve out irrelevant or outdated regulations at it works to move more quickly and efficiently to meet growing threats from peer adversaries, Wilson said. She has been working with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein to identify which instructions and regulations can be rescinded, she added, noting, “About half of our instructions were out of date and many weren’t needed at all.”

In the last 12 months, 246 such instructions and regulations have been rescinded, and leadership is about halfway through its review of all service regulations, Wilson said. Removing “out-of-date bureaucratic micromanagement” during peacetime will enable warfighters to perform their missions more efficiently during a high-end conflict, she noted.

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