Trump Throws Support Behind Air Force Plan for 386 Squadrons

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President Donald Trump delivers the graduation address to the U.S. Air Force Academy Class of 2019 at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on May 30, 2019. Nine-hundred-eighty-nine cadets graduated to become the newest second lieutenants in the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Darcie L. Ibidapo)
President Donald Trump delivers the graduation address to the U.S. Air Force Academy Class of 2019 at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on May 30, 2019. Nine-hundred-eighty-nine cadets graduated to become the newest second lieutenants in the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Darcie L. Ibidapo)

President Donald Trump on Thursday said he supports the Air Force's goal to build up to 386 squadrons.

"As your commander in chief, I want you to know that we will pursue and maintain the overwhelming strength we need to deter any aggressor and thrash any foe," he said during a speech at the U.S. Air Force Academy's graduation ceremony. "For that reason, I am committed to building 'The Air Force We Need' with the full strength of 386 squadrons."

The president was the keynote speaker honoring the Neil Armstrong Class of 2019, the 61st graduating class, at the academy's Falcon Stadium.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson announced in September that the service wants to add at least 74 additional squadrons over the next decade.

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Dubbed "the Air Force we need," Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein have advocated for adding 74 squadrons to the service's current 312 to confront threats in an era of great power competition.

The service is looking to add:

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

But service officials are still working on how best to fill the proposed units.

In the proposed fiscal 2020 defense budget released in March, the Air Force did not set money aside to directly fund additional squadrons, though officials have said the service wants to reach its 386-squadron goal by 2030.

Officials said a study on the proposal was being crafted at the same time planners were creating the budget proposal.

"It is clearly a priority for our secretary, but the FY20 budget was built off the 312 number," said Maj. Gen. John Pletcher, deputy assistant secretary for budget at the Air Force's Office of the Assistant Secretary for Financial Management and the Comptroller at the Pentagon.

Pletcher said the current fiscal year proposal, however, does support the force by setting "the conditions for success by fielding, faster and smarter, the technology and innovation that will allow us to achieve a strategic advantage over near-peer competitors."

Speaking to the 386 effort, Trump said, "We're getting it done, and it's happening rapidly.

"Because nothing will ever strike more fear in the hearts of our enemies or inspire more confidence in our friends than the roaring engines of American fighter jets flown by the greatest pilots on the planet Earth by far," he added.

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

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