JUST IN: Air Force Planning for Future Short of 386-Squadron Goal

By Mandy Mayfield
Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown

Air Force photo by Andy Morataya

The Air Force is contemplating ways to compensate for capacity shortfalls if it does not receive enough funding to meet its goal of having 386 squadrons by the end of the decade, the service's top officer said Oct 21.

The Air Force conducted a study in 2018 to determine its force structure and modernization needs for the 2020s. Officials concluded that 386 squadrons would be needed by 2030 to fulfill the requirements of the latest National Defense Strategy, which was also released in 2018. That would be an increase of about 25 percent over current levels.

The study, titled the “Air Force We Need,” proposed a detailed blueprint to help the service successfully compete against peer adversaries such as China or Russia. The additional units envisioned included: five bomber squadrons, seven space squadrons, 14 tanker squadrons, seven special operations squadrons, nine combat search-and-rescue squadrons, 22 squadrons for command-and-control, intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance, seven fighter squadrons, two remotely piloted aircraft squadrons, and one airlift squadron.

Now, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown — who stepped into the job in August — is looking for ways to bolster capabilities to meet the service’s needs in other ways.

“That was a study done a year-plus ago and based on some current capabilities," Brown noted during an event hosted by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. "I think about ... what's the capability that would give me the equivalent of 386" squadrons?

Such capabilities may not be “expensive and exquisite” weapons systems, he said. Solutions could include rethinking how systems are used.

“I just met with some of our [intelligence] community and cyber community yesterday to talk about information operations. And it may be just information and moving of data that helps increase our capability,” Brown said. “We have a good understanding of what that [386] number really was designed to do, and anything less than that — or less capability wise — incurs some level of risk based on the facts and assumptions of when this study was done," he added.

Defense budgets are expected to remain flat or decline in coming years, which could present challenges for the service to reach its capacity targets. Some observers are skeptical that it will be able to do so.

Brown noted that the 386-squadron goal was an answer to the question of "how big the Air Force needs to be to execute the National Defense Strategy," not how big of an Air Force the Defense Department can afford.

The 386 number is a “metric for planning,” Brown said. “What I'm really trying to do [now] is maximize my capabilities" with the funding available, he added.

Topics: Air Force News

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