Recent increases in U.S. defense spending have bolstered the Air Force’s nuclear modernization efforts, but the possible return of across-the-board budget cuts in FY 2020 looms as a potential threat to those programs, a service official said May 1.

The two-year budget agreement that President Trump signed into law in February provides $700 billion for defense in FY 2018 and $716 billion in FY 2019. Those figures represent increases of $80 billion in FY 2018 and $85 billion in FY 2019 above previously enacted budget caps. 

Lt. Gen. Jack Weinstein, Air Force deputy chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration (Air Force photo)
Lt. Gen. Jack Weinstein, Air Force deputy chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration (Air Force photo)

But without further legislation, deep federal budget cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 will occur in FY 2020 and FY 2021.

“I am concerned with out-year budgets [and making] sure that we have stable funding for the out-years,” said Lt. Gen. Jack Weinstein, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration. “I don’t believe the problem is solely nuclear. I think the problem is resourcing the military for what the Congress is asking us to do.”

Weinstein spoke at a Capitol Hill breakfast organized by the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute.

Air Force nuclear efforts include the development of the B-21 Raider bomber, the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) intercontinental ballistic missile, the Long Range Stand-Off (LRSO) cruise missile and a guided tail kit for the B61-12 gravity bomb.

The Trump administration’s FY 2019 budget request includes $2.3 billion for the B-21, $345 million for GBSD, $615 million for LRSO and $253.9 million for the B61-12 tail kit. All of those figures are higher than what the administration sought in FY 2018.

The B-21 program is heading toward a critical design review, while GBSD and LRSO are both in the technology maturation and risk reduction phase. The B61-12 tail kit is undergoing flight tests.

The Air Force also accounts for 75 percent of the Department of Defense’s nuclear command, control and communications (NC3) system, which is being modernized. The NC3 includes missile-warning satellites and radars; communication satellites, aircraft and ground stations; and command-and-control posts.

According to DoD’s recent nuclear posture review, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was due to provide a report to Defense Secretary James Mattis by May 1 on a plan to update NC3 governance.

Weinstein declined to discuss the governance report, but he said he participated in meetings on the document and is “extremely happy” with the collaboration that occurred among the Joint Staff, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the military services.