The Air Force has conducted a thorough examination of its current capabilities and programs, with the intent of freeing up funds from programs that won’t contribute to future conflicts and reallocating them for next-generation technology investment, the service’s chief of staff Gen. David Goldfein said Nov. 6.
The “night court” process found $30 billion over the five-year Future Years Defense Plan (FYDP) that will help fund elements that fall into four bins of capability priorities, Goldfein said at an Air Force Association breakfast event on Capitol Hill. Those include: building out the Air Force’s digital architecture, investing in space capabilities, generating combat power and ensuring access to logistics.
“We had to go through our version of night court to free up the money to be able to buy this Air Force of the future,” Goldfein said. The service took a look at every legacy program and considered whether it would truly contribute to the kind of fight the service expects to see in the 2030 timeframe. If the answer was no, an accelerated retirement timeline would be considered, he added.
Goldfein did not go into detail about funding allocations for next-generation technology, citing ongoing discussions regarding the fiscal year 2021 program objective memorandum (POM). But he did share that the Air Force plans to spend about $9 billion on developing its digital architecture and connecting the joint force, emphasizing to industry that the service is simply not interested in buying any more platforms that can’t easily network with other assets.
“I need you to understand this loud and clear, … If it doesn’t connect in all domains, if it doesn’t share information – not only with our joint teammates but equally with our allies and partners – if we haven’t built artificial intelligence at the tactical edge… then it’s no longer of interest to me as chief,” he said. The age of a platform, on the other hand, was less of a concern: Goldfein noted that the service expects to keep the B-52 Stratofortress flying into the 2050s, alongside F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and new bombers.
About $9 billion will be spread across the FYDP to increase offensive and defensive space capabilities, Goldfein said. He acknowledged that, historically, much of the service’s space programs have been classified, and committed to working harder to brief lawmakers and staffers on the Hill about these assets.
“We are going to be upping the ante in getting into classified space and talking to members and staffers to make sure there is a thorough understanding,” he said.
Goldfein warned that the Air Force is running out of time to make significant headway on its plans to build the Air Force of the future, as analysts have long predicted defense spending to begin flattening out over the FYDP.
Fiscal year 2021 “may very well be the last good year” of funding, and the Air Force’s FY ’21 POM budget will be necessary to build the “digital foundation” required to pursue multi-domain operations, he said.
As Congress struggles to pass its FY ’20 defense authorization and appropriations bills and analysts warn that a full-year continuing resolution grows more and more likely, nearly $12 billion in Air Force new starts, production increases and military construction projects would be stymied, Goldfein said. That includes over $4.5 billion worth of lost buying power for research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) funds.
According to data provided by the Air Force, a six-month CR would delay 26 new start projects, seven production increases and eight MILCON projects, to include postponing the procurement of Boeing’s [BA] F-15EX aircraft, reducing munitions procurement and deferring reliability and maintainability projects for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, made by Lockheed Martin [LMT].
A year-long CR would drive a contract breach for the Air Force’s procurement of the GPS III Follow-On satellite, also to be made by Lockheed Martin, and would delay new weapon systems beddowns for assets including the F-35, the Boeing-made KC-46A Pegasus tanker and T-7A trainer, and the Lockheed Martin Sikorsky-made Combat Rescue Helicopter.
Lawmakers are expected to resume authorization and appropriation talks next week. Senate Appropriations Committee and Defense Subcommittee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) told reporters Wednesday that he plans to meet Nov. 12 with SAC Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), as well as House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Ranking Member Kay Granger (R-Texas) to work through areas of contention and find a new deadline for a continuing resolution after the current CR runs out Nov. 21, preferably before the end of the calendar year.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters Tuesday he expects a meeting between the “Big Four” defense authorizers to take place next week to hash out a FY ’20 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) conference report (Defense Daily, Nov. 5).