AIR FORCE NEWS
JUST IN: Air Force Shifting from Platforms to Integration in 2025 Budget
WASHINGTON, D.C. — While the Air Force — like the rest of the federal government — is waiting for Congress to pass a 2024 budget that will allow it to advance new programs and projects, the service is turning its attention to the 2025 budget and new priorities that will move beyond a focus on weapons and platforms to how those systems integrate to generate effects on the battlefield.
Kristyn Jones, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Financial Management and Comptroller, in a preview of what the service will be announcing when it releases its 2025 budget request, said readiness, power, projection, capabilities development and people are the four areas the service is focusing on going forward.
“We need to move from individual platforms to looking more at those integrated missions and the end-to-end effects” to address the pacing threat posed by China, Jones said at a Jan. 24 discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“I think integration is one of the things that has been a focus for ’25. And we'll ramp up even more with our great power competition efforts in ’26 and out as we think about how to be better integrated, less platform focused and more effects focused, and how we integrate these capabilities across air, space and with allies and partners in the joint environment,” she said.
Lt. Gen. Richard Moore, deputy chief of staff for Plans and Programs, said the analysis that went into forming the 2024 budget centered on platforms and weapons. “And both of those are truly important, and without them there's not any ability to create effects.
“However, the analysis that we've been able to do since then has matured,” he said. “And what we now have is the ability to look … from the very first sensing all the way to effects creation and all the things that it takes to link together.”
“As these things become real — and as our as our analysis matures — it gets to be really exciting the kinds of things that we can see from an integration perspective,” he continued. “Unfortunately, it also tells us where the shortfalls are in our budget. And it tells us that we're not as close to that as we would like to be.”
However, the services have achieved their “tightest linkage” in their analysis efforts on transitioning from a platform to an integration focus, he said. That is playing out in the department’s Combined Joint All-Domain Command and Control effort.
“And one of the things that allows is to make sure that there's not redundancy of the [research, development, testing and evaluation] efforts or the procurement efforts between the services,” he said. “One man’s redundancy is another man's resiliency, and so we don't want to completely take resiliency out of the system. But we want to make sure that we're not double developing or double spending.”
Jones noted the change of focus is also a recognition that the future of warfare is much more “intellectual.”
“It's much more software, cyber dependent,” she said. “And so, do we have the right capabilities in our workforce to be able to deal with that, whether it's [command, control, computing, communications, cyber, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting] capabilities or protecting our bases, if there were any cyberattacks at the time of mobilization, or those types of things. We recognize that we just weren't where we need to be in a number of different areas.”
The Air Force has been on a sprint the last few months to examine how it can speed up modernization, achieve mass and scale, address recruiting, training and staffing needs and balance the demands of readiness and modernization, she said.
Moore said Congress’ inability to pass a budget and deliver 2024 funding is a serious impediment to the service making progress on modernization under the seven operational imperatives outlined by the secretary of the Air Force in 2022.
“We've been working on operational imperatives for two years now; we have not spent the first dime of operational imperative money,” he said. “We should be doing that now; we should be in the second quarter of operational imperative funding. But as yet, none of it has arrived.”
As a result, the service is having to make hard choices between modernization efforts and maintaining readiness, Jones said.
“And so how do we think about all of those things? That's been a primary driver and how we've been looking at both the ’24 and ’25 budget,” she said. “In some cases, as we've thought about the budget, we've had to be able to preserve readiness at the expense of modernization.”
For several years, the service has been implementing what has been called a “divest to invest” strategy, which has involved eliminating legacy platforms — some of which still contribute to readiness — to free up funding to invest in new weapons and systems. Moore said “divest to invest” is a second order effect, and the priority is modernization and building relevant capacity after decades of counterinsurgency warfare.
“The purpose is to modernize and pivot toward great power competition and get past the things that are holding us back from being able to compete,” he said. “The fighter enterprise will go from seven fleets down to two, and the bomber enterprise will go from four down to two, and the tanker enterprise will go from three down to two — not with the purpose of getting rid of airplanes, but with a purpose of bringing down the average fleet age, bringing up the capabilities and only fielding things that are relevant.”
It's not just about the money, although there is a lot tied up in maintaining legacy systems, he said. “It's also about the people. There are a lot of airmen in the Air Force, that are not doing things that contribute to what we envision as the future task.
“And that means we've got to get those airmen and those dollars away from things that don't mean anything to this task. And we've got to pivot them to the future.”
One modernization program that is going forward despite the recent announcement of a 37 percent cost overrun is the Sentinel nuclear missile.
“Some of the program is not seeing significant cost growth,” Jones said. “The missile itself is not an area of concern. But if you think about this, a large portion of it is essentially a civil works program. And those are areas that traditionally in government has been challenging and especially the last couple of years given the macroeconomic environment, the labor force, military construction supply chain, those kinds of things are contributing to some of the challenges that we're seeing.”
Jones said the United States hasn’t undertaken a nuclear modernization program like Sentinel in 70 years, “and so some of the assumptions that were made at the beginning of the program, when the initial cost estimates were made, were just not particularly valid. And now we have a lot more information that should allow us to stay much closer to the cost estimates,” going forward.
The service is looking at how to find cost savings in the management of the program and other areas to find cost savings, she added.
Moore said the expectation was that the “bow wave” or peak acquisition costs in the program would hit in 2027. “We now see that that is slipping to the right probably 2028, maybe even 2029.”
The nuclear modernization program, which includes the B-21 Raider and other command and control upgrades, accounts for about a third of the Air Force’s investment portfolio at its peak, he said.
“So, there is a lot of stuff going on in this portfolio. And as they stack up on top of each other, it becomes a daunting task,” he said. “We had hoped to get that peek behind us before the things that we're working on for research and development right now go into procurement — unlikely that that will be the case.”
What is not an option is scrapping Sentinel or extending Minuteman III, he said. “It was fielded in the 70s as a 10-year weapon, and we will do everything we can to keep it in the field. It will remain safe, secure and reliable, but extending it for some lengthy period of time, that's not a viable option.”
Similarly, the Air Force’s collaborative combat aircraft program is facing headwinds as it was to get a boost in authorizations and funding in 2024, Jones said. The program did get five contracts awarded that include traditional and non-traditional vendors, but it is limited in how much it can ramp up without a 2024 budget.
The service was hoping to increase munitions procurement in 2024, and that is also stuck at 2023 levels, Jones added.
Moore emphasized that the service is doing what it can with the funding and authorities it has, but progress is hindered by the continuing resolution.
“The fact of the matter is, all of this is held up by the fact that we were not able to receive an appropriation in normal order,” he said. “We've got to stop giving time away” to adversaries like China and Russia that continue to accelerate their modernization and acquisition programs.
Moore noted that the process of building a budget to executing it takes about 1,200 days.
“The question that we're asking here is how much of that period of 1,200 days is going to be quality work that can get done?” That work includes getting research, development, testing and evaluation, procurement, new starts and building facilities for service members and families, he said. “How much of that time will we be able to use for that?”
Jones said the services has lost about a third of the last 12 years to continuing resolutions.
Regarding the Space Force’s 2025 budget, Jones said there will be more continuity than change since the service is so young and launched in the current threat environment.
“I think that one is more continued movement of where we already were building out our space data network and the transport layer, missile warning missile tracking, the Space Development Agency getting their next tranche up into space later this year,” she said.
“Space control is a significant area that we're looking at, to make sure that we have the capabilities we need — again as not the Space Force as a support to the joint war fight, but as a warfighting domain in itself. So those are some of the areas that we've continued to look at.”