Sec. Wilson: Air Force Too Small to Carry Out Missions

By Stew Magnuson
Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson

Photo: Air Force

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — “The Air Force is too small for what the nation expects of us,” Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson said Sept. 17 in a keynote speech kicking off the year’s biggest conference devoted to the service.

There are currently 312 operational squadrons, which is not enough, she said at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber show at National Harbor, Maryland.

The service has spent the previous six months modeling and studying its needs in the 2025 to 2030 timeframe guided by the “best intelligence we have” and the most current concepts of operations derived from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, she said. That was put against the needs spelled out in the latest national security strategy.

The preliminary conclusion: the Air Force needs another 64 operational squadrons, about 25 percent more than current numbers, she said.

That includes: five bomber squadrons, seven space squadrons, 14 tanker squadrons, seven special operations squadrons, nine combat search-and-rescue squadrons, 22 devoted to command and control, intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance, seven fighter squadrons, two remotely piloted aircraft squadrons, and one additional airlift squadron, she said.

Missile and cyber squadrons were the only two categories that did not need an increase, although Wilson said they would be modernized.

This report’s conclusions will be combined with five other congressionally mandated studies over the next six months, she said.

“We are not naive on how long it will take us to build the support and the budget required for the force we need,” she said.

Wilson reported progress on the perennial problem of maintainer shortages. In September 2016, the Air Force was short 4,000 of such personnel. By December of this year, that gap will be closed to zero, she added.

“The Air Force is more ready for major combat operations than we were two years ago,” she added.

Meanwhile, Wilson addressed one of the more controversial topics to emerge over the past year: the creation of a space force. The Air Force on Sept. 15 delivered a report to the Defense Department on the proposed responsibilities and structure of a new space force.

“As airmen, we have a responsibility to develop for the president a proposal that is bold and that carries out his vision,” she said. The president’s fiscal year 2020 budget when it is released in February will contain a proposal for the new military department, she said.

Wilson and other senior service leaders prior to President Donald Trump’s order to create a space force had expressed some skepticism for the idea. At the conference, she said it is moving forward.

“That proposal must contain all of the elements for space to be fully successful as a department. It must maintain the close connection between acquisition and the warfighter. And it must deepen the already close connection between military space and the space elements of the intelligence community,” she said, suggesting that agencies such as the National Reconnaissance Office will remain separate entities.

She noted that the proposal must be approved by Congress. If lawmakers give the green light, it would mean a new service secretary “and all the needed authorities to organize, train, equip and develop space forces as a separate and successful department,” she added.

Whether or not it receives this approval, the Air Force is working toward making a unified combatant command “that puts a warfighter focus on space operations,” she added.


Topics: Air Force News, Air Power

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