Secretary of the US Air Force Heather Wilson says she wants to increase the service’s number of operational squadrons by 24% to 386 by 2025 to 2030.
Citing several studies, as well as feedback from service personnel, the USAF is too small to fulfil its mission as outlined in the Department of Defense’s National Defense Strategy, Wilson says at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference taking place this week in National Harbor, Maryland.
“We know now from analysis what everyone in this room knows from experience: The Air Force is too small for what the nation expects of us. 312 operational squadrons is not enough,” she says. “The air force we need to implement the National Defense Strategy has 386 operational squadrons.”
The USAF’s number of aircraft has fallen from 401 operational squadrons at the end of the Cold War, according to Wilson. Depending on its mission, a squadron can have between 12 to 24 aircraft.
Wilson says she believes the USAF needs five more bomber squadrons, seven more space squadrons, 14 more air tanker squadrons, seven more special operations squadrons, nine more combat search and rescue squadrons, 22 more squadrons of command and control intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, seven fighter squadrons, two remotely piloted aircraft squadrons, and one more airman squadron.
Not all sections of the service will increase, however, she says.
“We will modernise our nuclear deterrent, but we don’t see an increase in the number of missile squadrons,” says Wilson. “Cyber will also not see an increase in squadrons, though we will develop new tools for the squadrons we have.”
Wilson’s ask comes after several years of increased funding for the USAF and ahead of another increase in appropriations that the Department of Defense plans to ask Congress to fund the newly proposed branch of the military, the Space Force. Moreover, with Democrats likely to win control of the US House of Representatives this fall and their defense appropriation committee members skeptical that recent levels of defence spending can be sustained over the long term, Secretary Wilson’s vision for a larger air force may be a difficult sell.
Wilson appears to acknowledge those difficulties.
“We are not naive about how long it will take us to build the support and budget required for the force we need. It is a choice. But we have an obligation to our countrymen to tell them what should be done to face the world as it is,” says Wilson. “The Defense Strategy tells us that we need to be able to defend the homeland, provide a nuclear deterrent, win against a major power, while countering a rogue nation, all while managing violent extremists with lower levels of effort.”