As lawmakers on the Hill sound alarms about the possibility of entering fiscal year 2020 with a continuing resolution – or worse, sequestration – Air Force leadership said April 4 that $29 billion is at stake should the 2011 Budget Control Act spending cap levels return.

A return to sequestration levels would cause four times the amount of damage to the Air Force as in fiscal year 2013, Secretary Heather Wilson told the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Thursday on Capitol Hill.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee April 4, 2019. Screenshot: Defense Department

It would mean cutting back on all of the service’s major procurement programs, including the Lockheed Martin [LMT]-made F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the Boeing [BA]-built KC-46A aerial refuelers, and halting the B-21 next-generation bomber program, in development by Northrop Grumman [NOC], she said. It would also mean “no ground-based strategic deterrent, no research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) for any space system, most of the fourth- and fifth-gen [aircraft] modifications, and all of science and technology” funding, she added.

Conversely, cutting $29 billion from Air Force would remove all of its weapon systems sustainment efforts, defund all flying hours and base operations as well as munitions, Wilson said. “I think you can see that that would be absolutely devastating in scope and scale,” she said.

The Air Force continues to recover from the 2013 sequester impact, Wilson noted.

To start the new fiscal year on a continuing resolution and limiting funding to FY ‘19 numbers would immediately impact 16 new military construction projects and 18 current milcon projects, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said. A CR would also affect plans to move ahead on KC-46 and F-35 procurement, as well as the next-generation T-X end-to-end trainer system in development by Boeing, he added. About 89 RDT&E projects would be targeted.

More than six months under a continuing resolution, “would put our end strength growth at risk, because we would not be able to bring on the additional airmen we need .. to fill our formations to do the missions we’re already doing,” he added.

Multiple Republican SASC members, to include Committee Chair Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) expressed concern about the likelihood of a continuing resolution beginning the new fiscal year.

Tillis noted that the Air Force’s FY ’20 budget request is “important to advocate for…but I believe it’s more or less going to be a paper exercise and that we’re going to be looking at a CR.”

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who serves as ranking member of the SASC Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee, criticized his Republican colleagues for having “raised the specter of a CR.”

“I hear that from one side; I don’t know where that’s coming from,” he said. Democrats “don’t want a CR, we want an appropriations bill.”