The Air Force will not be affected in fiscal year 2021 if Congress approves the White House’s plan to short the Pentagon budget by $2.5 billion to increase the National Nuclear Security Administration civilian nuclear-weapons budgets by 25% year-over-year, the service’s chief of staff said Wednesday.
“The $2.5 [billion] didn’t have an impact on the Air Force, ” Air Force Gen. David Goldfein, the service’s chief of staff, told Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) during a Wednesday hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.
Pressed by Smith, the chair of the Committee, Goldfein said he didn’t have an opinion about the decision to plus-up the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) at the Navy’s expense — a decision that the Air Force staff chief said was made “at the OSD [office of the Secretary of Defense] level.”
“That’s about as much detail as I understand on that,” Goldfein said.
Normally an agency that toils in secrecy and obscurity, the NNSA is in the center of the Armed Services Committee’s spotlight this year, leaking into hearings that ostensibly have nothing to do with civilian nuclear weapons programs.
That is because President Trump in January decided that the NNSA should have a roughly $20 billion in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, and the Pentagon subsequently decided that the Navy would therefore get funding to start building only one Virginia-class attack submarine in 2021, instead of two as previously planned.
The Air Force, on the other hand, was excused from the belt-tightening, Goldstein said. The service’s own nuclear modernization programs are ahead of the Navy’s in the greater strategic forces pipeline, with planned replacements for two of the three legs of the nuclear triad — silo-based intercontinental ballistic missiles and air-launched cruise missiles — slated for deployment starting around 2030.
As previously planned, the Air Force this year seeks $1.5 billion for procurement of Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) intercontinental ballistic missiles; $474 million for the Long Range Standoff Weapon air-launched cruise missile; and $2.8 billion for the Northrop Grumman [NOC]-built B-21 Raider, which eventually will carry all air-based nuclear weapons.
The GBSD budget is the only one rising sharply — the request is more than one-and-a-half times the 2020 appropriation of just over $555 million — but that reflects the program’s expected transition from technology development to a roughly $25 billion engineering and manufacturing development contract that Northrop Grumman looks like a lock to win.
Funding trades between the Pentagon and the NNSA is “always a balancing act,” Goldfein said.