NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Air Force has yet to determine the cost of boosting its 312 operational squadrons to 386, and the breakdown of aircraft in each proposed squadron, service leadership said Tuesday.

Service Secretary Heather Wilson revealed Monday that the service required nearly a 25 percent increase in operational squadrons by 2030 in order to meet all of the mission requirements laid out in the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS) (Defense Daily, Sept. 17). That number was determined as a result of a congressionally mandated study, and any determination of cost estimate or aircraft numbers will come from several additional studies set to occur over the next two months, she told reporters during a roundtable at the Air Force Association’s annual Air, Space and Cyber Conference here.

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson delivers her ÒAir Force We NeedÓ speech during the Air Force AssociationÕs Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, Sept. 17, 2018. Wilson stressed the Air Force will need more active, guard and reserve Airmen to fully enable the serviceÕs operational squadrons. The Air, Space and Cyber Conference is a professional development conference that offers an opportunity for Department of Defense personnel to participate in forums, speeches, seminars and workshops. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. DeAndre Curtiss)
Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson delivers her ‘Air Force We Need’ speech during the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, Sept. 17, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. DeAndre Curtiss)

Service leadership is “engaged in that conversation, and we don’t have all of the answers yet for what these particular airframes will be,” she said. Those results will be shared with the Department of Defense and members of Congress, she added.

The Air Force will likely need to convince legislators of the operational needs for these additional squadrons. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), said in an emailed statement that “It’s reasonable that the Air Force is doing studies about its future, but they are only concepts and at some point the Air Force will have to deal with budgetary realities as well.”

Analysts estimated that the Air Force could spend $13 billion to boost the numebr of operational squadrons by nearly 25 percent.

The service understands the “financial constraints within which we operate,” Wilson said to reporters.

“We also need and have an obligation, I think, to tell our countrymen what is required to implement the national defense strategy,” she added. “This is a forward-looking document. … While it’s applicable for today, it is also looking forward for where the adversary is developing capability, and particularly in that 2025-2030 timeframe.”

The additional squadrons will not include any aircraft currently included in a program of record, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein told reporters.

Even though the service does not currently possess a breakdown of specific capabilities within each proposed squadron or an estimated cost for 386 squadrons, Wilson said there is a benefit to opening the dialogue early about what the Air Force needs to meet all the threats laid out in the NDS.

“That should be what the country wants their leadership of the air service to do, is to show them what is required,” she said. “Then there is a conversation and choices that are made about what America can afford. But otherwise, we just go from year to year and we don’t really tell people what we need.”