Air Force Plan to Add 74 Squadrons Lacks Critical Details

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson delivers her the “Air Force We Need,” address during the Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, Sept. 17, 2018 (U.S. Air Force/Wayne Clark)
Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson delivers her the “Air Force We Need,” address during the Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, Sept. 17, 2018 (U.S. Air Force/Wayne Clark)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- The U.S. Air Force is only beginning to answer the who, what and where behind its immense proposal to create 74 new squadrons by 2030, the service's top leaders said Tuesday.

Addressing reporters here at the annual Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber conference, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said the service is not blind to the many barriers it's likely to face when implementing the 12-year structured plan.

In the recent fiscal budget rollout, lawmakers asked, " 'What do you need to execute the National Defense Strategy?' And we should know the answer to that question," Wilson said. "We all recognize, we're not naive, to the financial constraints within which we make decisions. We make them all the time."

But she said the service has a duty to tell the American public what it and the Defense Department as a whole need to meet threats from countries such as Russia and China.

"That should be what the country wants their leadership of the Air Force to do," she said. "This is a forward looking document … it's looking forward for where the adversary is developing capability."

She continued, "We're giving people the opportunity to think about this. We have an obligation to explain to the country what we need."

Wilson announced Monday that the service intends to add 74 operational squadrons, increasing from 312 to 386, with the bulk conducting command and control; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; and tanker refueling operations.

The breakdown would include the following:

  • 5 additional bomber squadrons
  • 7 more fighter squadrons
  • 7 additional space squadrons
  • 14 more tanker squadrons
  • 7 special operations squadrons
  • 9 nine combat search-and-rescue squadrons
  • 22 squadrons that conduct command and control and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance
  • 2 remotely piloted aircraft squadrons
  • 1 more airlift squadron

Some took to social media asking how the Air Force plans to do all this, especially with an uncertain financial future. The service says it will need roughly 40,000 airmen and personnel to achieve these goals by the 2030 timeframe, but has not provided details on equipment, aircraft, additional bases, and other issues.

"Right now, we have not gotten the exact mix of tails," Goldfein said. "The follow-up work is part of the dialogue [about] the costing out, the number of tails, the number of pilots, maintainers ... but we made a conscious decision to roll this out now to begin that dialogue."

Rep. Adam Smith, a Democrat from Washington who has been floated as the next House Armed Services Committee chairman, sounded dubious upon learning of the Air Force's 386-squadron plan.

"It's reasonable that the Air Force is doing studies about its future," he said, as reported by Flightglobal. "But they are only concepts and, at some point, the Air Force will have to deal with budgetary realities as well."

Some leaders here at the conference acknowledged similar thoughts -- that for now, the proposed expansion needs more studies and discussion.

Gen. Timothy Ray, the new head of Air Force Global Strike Command, said that regardless of the proposed additional bomber squadrons, the service is sticking to its Bomber Vector road map, which was unveiled during the fiscal 2019 budget rollout. The plan calls for the retirement of the B-1B Lancer, known as the "Bone," and the B-2 Spirit by the mid-2030s, to make way for the new B-21 Raider.

"There is still a dialogue with Congress that needs to happen. There are five other studies, I believe, that need to come together to have that discussion," Ray told reporters Monday. "There are a lot of moving parts here. There will be a dialogue, of course, after [the conference] as we go into the next calendar year and with Congress about how will this play out."

Ray added, "But I think this was the secretary giving her best military advice."

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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