Senate lawmakers on Wednesday pressed the nominees to serve as the next Air Force and Army Secretaries on a range of issues from modernizing force structure for potential future fights, the creation of a Space Force and impacts from recent transition of billions of dollars from military construction projects to the border wall.

During the Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing, Air Force Secretary nominee Barbara Barrett affirmed plans to lower flight costs for the F-35 and place fleet modernization among her top priorities while Army Secretary nominee Ryan McCarthy detailed the progress of the service’s modernization reform effort to acquire new weapons platforms.

Army secretary nominee Ryan McCarthy and Air Force secretary nominee Barbara Barrett testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee

“The Air Force must not only retain its technical edge over potential adversaries, but we must expand it. If confirmed, I will continue investments in modernization and advanced capabilities to better equip our airmen to prevail in the high-end fight,” Barrett said during her opening remarks.

Barrett, a former U.S. ambassador to Finland, agreed with many of the calls from lawmakers to bring down the cost of flying the F-35, prioritize space capability investment and finalize a path for next-generation aircraft, while noting since she is not currently a part of the Air Force she’ll work to provide the panel with further details if confirmed.

“While I’m on the outside and don’t have inside knowledge about it, from the briefings I’ve received the F-35 is our future and we need it. And we need it sustainably. So getting more of the F-35 has been something that the Air Force has been working hard to do and I would look to continue that push,” Barrett said. “The F-35 is an important element of the arsenal and we need the capability, but the costs for flight hours seems extremely high” 

Lawmakers asked Barrett’s opinion on both the creation of a Space Force, which may be stood up as a new military branch under the Air Force, and her thoughts on previous secretary Heather Wilson’s goal to grow the service to 386 squadrons.

“I would look forward to participating, if confirmed, in developing a [Space Force] that’s focused on capability in space, not on building structural bureaucracy,” Barrett said. “A great deal of effort was put into an analysis of what is the Air Force we need by my predecessor. I would think that’s not something that’s destined for the shelf, but instead destined for implementation. Whether it’s exactly 386 squadrons, I don’t know. But it would be something that, if confirmed, I would pay a great deal of attention to so that we can have the force structure that we need.”

McCarthy, who most recently served as the Army under secretary, detailed his role leading the Army’s modernization reform effort that focused on standing up the new Futures Command and establishing cross-functional teams to go after six priorities, ranging from Next Generation Combat Vehicle to Future Vertical Lift. 

“The prototypes are delivering and we’re starting to yield results. Reducing the time span for requirements is everything. We’ve gone from five to seven years down to 18 months. The true litmus test is if the prototypes actually are the ones that we want to go and scale out, and then buy [initial] tronches of capability,” McCarthy said. “We’re not out of the woods yet, but there’s great progress in the way we’ve gone about requirements process.”

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) specifically pressed McCarthy on how the Army is posturing capability development to deal with China’s technology investment in long-range fires and the administration’s decision to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty this August.

McCarthy noted the Army has adjusted its investment strategy to place $9 billion toward long-range precision fires development over the next five years, including over $1 billion for hypersonics. 

Lawmakers also asked the nominees their thoughts on the recent announcement that DoD planned to move an additional $3.6 billion from 127 military construction projects to build portions of the administration’s proposed border wall.

“It has presented some turbulence, but we’re trying to manage our way through this,” McCarthy said.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) called the reprogramming decision a “gross violation of the constitution,” while Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) said his state would lose $85 million to repair the only MQ-9 formal training facility. Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) also said the Army won’t have the funds for a “critical maintenance project” at the Anniston Army Depot in Alabama.

 “I understand that the funding has been deferred and I would hope that appropriate funding is achieved,” Barrett said.