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Air Force Fiscal Year 2019 budget addresses great power competition

The Air Force budget request of $156.3 billion for fiscal year 2019 builds on the progress made in 2018 to restore the readiness of the force, increase lethality, and cost-effectively modernize.

Secretary of the Air Force Dr. Heather Wilson said the budget request is aligned with the National Defense Strategy, prioritizing long-term competition with China and Russia.

“The Air Force needs the right size and mix of capabilities to compete, deter and win in this environment, brought to bear by well-trained, resilient and competent Airmen steeped in the business of joint and combined warfare,” said Wilson.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said the budget also moves the Air Force in the direction of multi-domain operations.

“Future wars will be won by those who observe, orient, decide and act faster than adversaries in an integrated way across domains—land, sea, air, space and cyberspace,” said Goldfein.

Key areas addressed by this budget include readiness, people, nuclear deterrence, modernization, space and air superiority, multi-domain command and control, and science and technology development.


According to Wilson and Goldfein, restoring readiness to win any fight, any time remains a primary objective in FY19. It funds 1.5 million flying hours at a cost of $8.7 billion. The budget proposes the purchase of 54,443 preferred munitions to reverse previous declining inventories at a cost of $1.8 billion.

The budget request continues to address the aircrew shortage through a multi-pronged approach. It boosts pipeline capacity, expands pilot training and addresses experience shortfalls, continues incentive pay and bonuses, improves administrative support at the squadron level, and funds flying hours to executable levels. It also addresses gaps in space, nuclear, cyber, and intelligence career fields.

Additionally, the budget funds aircraft depot maintenance, parts, logistics support, training ranges, simulators, instructors and key infrastructure required to improve the quality of training in alignment with the National Defense Strategy prioritization of peer competition.


The FY19 budget proposal represents an increase in the size of the Air Force by 4,700 Active Duty, Guard and Reserve Airmen. It funds important support to Airmen and their families with a 2.6 percent military pay raise, increased housing and subsistence allowances and family support programs.

“The Air Force recruits Airmen, but we retain families,” Goldfein said. He explained that the FY19 proposal funds expanded childcare hours, increases off-base child care support, and funds more respite care and support coordinators for special needs families.

Goldfein also said the Air Force will invest in purposeful development of Airmen to strengthen joint warfighting excellence by integrating education, training and experience for Air Force leaders and teams. 

Nuclear Deterrence

The FY19 budget proposal supports the Department of Defense’s principal priority to maintain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent that safeguards the homeland, assures allies, and deters adversaries.

The Air Force stewards two legs of the nuclear triad and operates 75 percent of the Defense Department’s nuclear command, control, and communication capabilities. The budget proposal improves nuclear command, control and communication systems as directed in the Nuclear Posture Review.

“Deterrence works if our adversaries know that we can hold at risk things they value. We must concurrently modernize the entire nuclear triad and the command and control systems that enable its effectiveness,” said Wilson.

The FY19 proposal initiates development of B-52 replacement engines and continues development of the Long Range Stand Off missiles and the replacement of the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile. The budget also targets investments to modernize the integrated land, air, and space-based systems to ensure secure, survivable connectivity with the President and national command leadership.


Wilson said the budget proposal funds the Air Force’s priority modernization initiatives to increase the lethality of the force. The FY19 request supports the purchase of 48 F-35A Lightning II fighters, 15 KC-46 Pegasus tankers, and continued development of the B-21 Raider.

“We have to accelerate programs and get good value for every dollar we spend. There is a bow wave of modernization over the next 10 years. It's bombers, fighters, tankers, satellites, helicopters and our nuclear deterrent – they are all going to be modernized,” she said. “At the same time, we are driving forward with the next generation of technology focused on families of systems that connect and communicate across all domains: air, land, sea, space, cyber and subsurface.”

The budget also supports the selection of the T-X advanced trainer aircraft and the replacement of the UH-1N helicopter.

Space Superiority

Wilson and Goldfein explained the FY19 budget represents a 33 percent increase in the research, development, test, and experimentation budget for Air Force Space, a substantial increase to meet the threat from China and Russia.

“The nation expects us to own the ultimate high ground,” Goldfein said. “Our space capabilities must be resilient and defendable. This budget moves us forward as space becomes more contested in the future.”

Foregoing the continued buy of today’s Space Based Infrared System satellites 7 and 8, the Air Force is transitioning to rapidly developing the next-generation Overhead Persistent Infrared System, which will detect and report on current, emerging, and anticipated threats, and will be designed for survivability.

Additionally, the space budget focuses on building more jam-resistant GPS satellites, improving missile warning, improving space situational awareness and increasing the nation’s ability to defend its most vital assets on orbit. It adds additional resilience features and user protection to existing satellite communication systems.

“We are taking advantage of Congressional authorities to return program decision authorities back to the Air Force, including 14 of the 19 Major Defense Acquisition Programs within the space portfolio,” said Wilson. “Using tools such as the Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Fund, we are investing in our people, ensuring they have the right skills and training to succeed.”

Multi-Domain Command and Control

The Air Force FY19 budget request reflects the need to address how technological advances are changing the character of warfare.
The FY19 budget proposes the modernization of seven E-3 Airborne Warning Command and Control aircraft (AWACS) and keeps the current E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar Systems (JSTARS) operational through the mid-2020s as the service develops and transitions to an advanced battle management system.

“This approach will integrate space, air, and ground based sensors on manned and unmanned platforms and satellites to meet more combatant commander requirements in both contested and non-contested environments,” said Goldfein.

Air Superiority

Central to the Air Force’s lethality is the ability to gain and maintain air superiority when and where needed against potential adversaries in 2030 and beyond.

Wilson highlighted that over the next five years the Air Force will develop an integrated family of systems that can establish and maintain air superiority in a contested environment. The FY19 budget includes $11 billion as part of a $63.8 billion effort over the current five-year plan. She emphasized this will be a multi-domain effort with a renewed emphasis on electronic warfare, networked capabilities, and control of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Light Attack

Retaining irregular warfare as a core competency at a lower cost and strengthening alliances is a key element of the National Defense Strategy. The Air Force proposes to continue the FY18 light attack experiment by developing concepts of operation and further defining requirements for fielding a force of U.S. light attack aircraft across the five-year budget plan.

Goldfein said the service is focusing on rapid procurement and fielding strategies for the light attack experiment that leverage existing capabilities with little or no development. He said it is designed to be coalition at the core, affording the Air Force a chance to invite and lead allies and partners to train in the U.S., buy common equipment for their own affordable light attack squadrons, and build those international squadrons on a network that shares.

Strengthening Alliances

Also aligned with the National Defense Strategy’s emphasis on fostering mutually beneficial alliances and partnerships, the FY19 budget request reinforces the Air Force’s commitment to our allies and international partners through programs such as the European Deterrence Initiative and Indo-Pacific security initiatives.

Science and Technology

The budget proposal increases emphasis on basic and applied research to drive long-term dominance in air and space power. Focus areas will be further refined following the review of the Air Force’s science and technology strategy later this year. The budget continues to invest in game-changing technologies that, when fielded, will increase lethality and provide the joint force a technological advantage.

Wilson pointed out sustaining the efforts laid out in FY17, FY18 and FY19 requires predictable, sufficient and flexible budgets.

For more information about the Air Force’s fiscal 2019 budget request, click here.


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