Department of the Air Force budget proposal focuses on transformation, modernization

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  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

The $194 billion combined budget proposal unveiled March 28 for the Air Force and Space Force carries a significant boost in spending that senior leaders say is essential to modernizing the services to better confront China and an array of national security threats worldwide.

While transformation and modernization are needed in real time, Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall also emphasized the 2023 fiscal year proposal is designed to build momentum for additional transformation in future budgets. 

“The Department of the Air Force’s fiscal year 2023 budget request provides a sound balance between meeting combatant commanders’ immediate needs today while investing in the modernized capabilities the Air and Space Forces require to deter and, if necessary, defeat aggression by China or Russia in the future,” Kendall said.  

This is not the end of a process; rather, this is accelerating a necessary and on-going transformation. We will need Congress’ continuing support for this budget and for the hard choices to come as we address our pacing challenge,” he said. 

In dollar terms, the proposed Air and Space Forces budget that the White House submitted to Congress for the next fiscal year, which begins October 1, is $20.3 billion larger than the budget submitted for the Department of the Air Force last year. Under the proposal, the Air Force would receive $169.5 billion and the Space Force $24.5 billion. If approved as written, which is unlikely since Congress will spend months analyzing and debating the budget request, the increase reflects an 8% growth, not including inflation. 

The proposed budget boosts funding by $1.1 billion in research, development, test and evaluation to modernize the nation’s aging, ground-based nuclear deterrent ($3.6 billion compared to $2.5 billion in the 2022 proposal). It adds $320 million in additional funding for continued development and nuclear certification of the B-21 Raider long-range bomber ($3.25 billion from $2.87 billion). It also increases the budget for hypersonic weapons by $138 million ($577 million from $438 million).  

The proposed budget also calls on the Space Force to spend an additional $1 billion on “resilient missile warning/missile tracking to address hypersonic and maneuverable RVs (re-entry vehicles).” 

In a portion of the request known as ‘procurement funds,’ the fiscal 2023 proposal provides funding to purchase 33 F-35A Lightning II fighters, 15 KC-46A Pegasus tankers, 24 F-15EX Eagle II fighters, among other hardware procurements. It provides funding to the Space Force for three National Security Space launches, three additional launches by the Space Development Agency and two launches that will put into orbit crucial GPS III satellites to enhance the resiliency of the positioning, navigation and timing constellation accessed by billions of users daily. 

More broadly, the request calls for spending $7.9 billion (an increase of $300 million) to boost flying hours to 1.1 million, a level officials said is the “maximum executable level.” It increases spending for “weapons system sustainment” to $16.6 billion from $15.4 billion and carries funding to increase pay for civilians and active duty personnel by 4.6 percent. It also has $77 million for the Air Force to address climate change requirements. The budget also proposes funding for 501,800 Total Force Airmen and 8,600 Guardians.  

Yet while the proposal will change before it is finalized, it serves as an important – and granular – expression of the services’ most pressing priorities. It represents the consensus by Department officials, the White House and senior Pentagon leaders on what is required to achieve the goals necessary to protect the nation and its interests. 

There are many goals and priorities, which Kendall and other senior leaders capture with the word, “transformation.”  

“We have prioritized investments across the Department of the Air Force, which will accelerate the transformation of our Air and Space Forces,” Undersecretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones said. “The Air Force and Space Force have outsized roles in today's military operations and the challenges we anticipate in the future. Our Airmen and Guardians must be equipped to win.” 

The fiscal 2023 budget request, she said, “balances maintaining capabilities to address near-term threats, while accelerating vital modernization efforts necessary for success in a high-end fight.” 

The budget provides a significant spike in spending for the Space Force as it enters its third year in existence. Among the more notable Space Force line-items are the transfer of the Space Development Agency and budget into the Space Force, $987 million to space technology development and prototyping missile warning/tracking, and $1 billion for ground and space segments of the Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared missile warning system.  

As Kendall outlined the Department’s budget request for 2023, he also hinted toward the Department’s mindset looking ahead to 2024 while discussing the balance between current-day readiness and the need to modernize for the threats posed by China while keeping an eye toward Russia. 

“We're shifting that balance more towards the future. The transformation is not complete with this budget; it’s moving us forward, but it's not complete,” he said. “Looking ahead, I think there are, again, going to be a lot of decisions made as we get into [fiscal year] 24 and as we learn more about what our requirements are, and we assess our priorities for modernization. So, I anticipate some hard choices ahead.” 

Factoring into how those “hard choices” are made, Jones said, is the need to ensure that the U.S. and the Air and Space Forces are properly equipped and positioned to meet the growing challenge from China as well as other security concerns. 

Secretary Austin and Deputy Secretary Hicks have been clear that our pacing challenge is China, while Russia remains an acute threat,” she said.Our budget request balances maintaining capabilities to address near-term threats and accelerates modernization efforts necessary for success in a high-end fight.