BUDGET 2023: Air Force, Space Force Asking for Big Budget Boost in 2023 Proposal

By Mikayla Easley

Air Force photo by Senior Airman Devante Williams

The Department of the Air Force’s 2023 budget proposal includes large increases for much-anticipated new technologies — including its Minuteman III missile replacement and next-generation aircraft programs — as well as continued divestments in some platforms to make way for more funding.

At the same time, the nascent Space Force is submitting a proposal much larger than in years past as it continues to expand and develop key technologies — such as its missile warning and missile tracking system.

Overall, the Biden administration’s budget request for the fiscal year 2023, released March 28, asks for $194 billion total to fund the Air and Space forces. The request is almost $20 billion, or 12 percent, higher than the $173.7 billion requested in the 2022 budget. Whereas last year’s budget proposal did not address inflation, 2023’s will include about $6.3 billion for that purpose.

Between the two services, The Air Force received $169 billion, a $13.2 billion or 8.1 percent increase from last year. The Space Force received $24.5 billion, a $7 billion or 40.8 percent increase from 2022.

The budget does include $40 billion in what is called “non-blue” funding for intelligence community programs that are incorporated into the Air Force’s budget request but not used to fund service programs. When that funding is included, the proposed Department of the Air Force budget totals to $234 billion.

Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall told reporters that the 2023 budget reflects an Air Force that is trying to transform and modernize, adding that they need to “move aggressively more rapidly.”

Kendall also said a major theme of the budget is striking a balance between sustainment and modernization.

“Getting the current forces that we have, sustaining that capability, making it as capable as possible for current threats, while modernizing to deal with the threats we see coming,” he said. “We’re shifting that balance more towards the future, and we’ll probably be doing more of that in future budgets.”

If the budget is approved, the Air Force’s secretive B-21 Raider program would receive a significant amount of funding for procurement and continued development. After announcing it had six of the stealth bombers under production in February, the service is asking for $1.7 billion more in 2023 to procure additional B-21s.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Financial Management and Comptroller Maj. Gen. James D. Peccia III would not comment on how many the service hopes to procure this year, other than to say the intent is to eventually obtain a minimum of 100 Raiders.

The Air Force also proposed to add $381 million to the B-21 program for engineering, manufacturing and design initiatives, Peccia said.
Research, development, test and evaluation for the Air Force’s other modernization efforts will receive funding boosts if the budget is approved, he noted.

This includes the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, or GBSD. The system is intended to replace the Air Force’s Minuteman III missile. Although the replacement has come under criticism from those saying the program can wait and others who believe the ground component of the nuclear strategic triad should be removed entirely, the Air Force is asking the program’s funding to be increased by $1.1 billion, Peccia said.

The proposal also asked for nearly $1.7 billion for its next-generation air dominance concept. NGAD would not be a next-generation fighter aircraft, such as a replacement for the F-22, but a family of systems. Peccia said the service is also asking for $133 million for the research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) that would primarily be for “advanced sensors, resilient comms and the air vehicle.”

Taking another hit from the budget is the F-35A joint strike fighter. The Air Force is asking for just 33 of aircraft — 15 fewer than what was requested last year. Although Peccia called the Lockheed Martin-built aircraft the “cornerstone of our future fighter fleet,” the F-35 has faced bad publicity the last few years due to low readiness rates and slow progress on upgrades.

The proposal does include 24 more Boeing-built F-15EX jet fighters, adding to the previous 24 the service procured in 2021 and 2022. Peccia said the Air Force would likely to continue acceleration of F-15EX procurement over the next few years in order to move it out to the field and into the Pacific area of operations as quickly as possible, while also retiring the F-15CD by 2026.

In addition, the request asks for funds to procure more KC-46 Pegasus aerial refuelers despite ongoing problems with the Boeing-built aircraft’s refueling boom. The Air Force is asking to boost its budget from last year by $222 million to acquire 15 more aircraft, which would bring the service’s total to 87.

The service hopes to begin procurement again for the MH-139 Grey Wolf, a helicopter designed for security in nuclear missile fields and other missions. The Air Force has added $167 million to procure five of the Boeing-made helicopters in 2023 after removing them from the 2022 budget due to certification issues with the Federal Aviation Administration, Peccia noted.

The Air Force is asking to divest in several its aircraft to make room for modernization growth, Peccia noted. If the budget is approved, for example, the service will divest in 21 single-role A-10 Thunderbolt II close-air support aircraft, also known as the Warthog.

It is also asking to divest 33 of 36 Block 20 F-22 aircraft. If approved, the divestment will bring the service’s current fleet of 186 to 153. The money saved from the divestment would be applied directly to the NGAD family of systems, according to the service.

Peccia noted that the F-22 is “not operationally capable. We can’t take them into the fight. To do that would take $1.8 billion in eight years, so there’s no sense in keeping the Block 20.”

In the meantime, the Space Force has received a $7 billion boost in funding to continue its growth. Under Secretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones said the service hopes to significantly invest in its pivot to architecture that is more resilient, survivable and defendable.

The Space Force has asked for $1 billion to be added for the development ground and the geosynchronous orbit segments of the Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared missile warning and tracking system — bringing the proposed funding to $3.4 billion. Planned for launch in 2025, the system is a network of infrared, satellite-based sensors that provide global initial warning of ballistic missile attacks.

Another $1 billion has been requested for the Resilient Missile Warning and Tracking system to address hypersonic weapons.

Kendall emphasized that the boost in funding for missile warning and tracking will help move the Space Force to a more resilient architecture as United States adversaries like China and Russia continue to advance their own militaries.

“Our general posture has been to assume, essentially, impunity in space. We could put up expensive systems and small numbers and not worry too much about them being attacked — that era is over,” he said. “This is a move towards systems that can continue to provide the services we depend on.”

The request includes $1.1 billion in funding to contract for three national security launches, two fewer than what the service asked to enact in 2022.

Topics: Air Force News, Air Power, Budget, Defense Department, Space

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