Kendall, Brown, Raymond tell Congress $194 billion budget request balances risks, quickens transformation

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Invoking Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s observation that militaries fail when they are slow and “too late” to change, Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall urged Congress April 27 to embrace a $194 billion budget request specifically tailored to “transform” and modernize the Air and Space Forces to meet growing challenges from China.

“We’re comfortable with the balance we have struck in this budget submission, but we also want to ensure that the Committee understands that hard choices do lie ahead, at any conceivable budget level,” Kendall told the House Armed Services Committee in the first of a series of hearings to examine the Department’s priorities, plans and budget request for the next fiscal year.

“Change is hard, but losing is unacceptable,” Kendall told lawmakers in a three-hour session that also featured Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr., and Chief of Space Operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond.

“What my colleagues and I are trying to do, and what we need your help with, is to ensure that American Air and Space Forces are never ‘too late’ in meeting our pacing challenge, which is China,” Kendall said. “We are also concerned about the now obvious and acute threat of Russian aggression.”

Anticipating questions that emerged during questions from lawmakers spanning two hours, Kendall portrayed the budget request as sufficient to provide “the capabilities we need today,” while simultaneously putting both services on a path to develop future needs and capabilities.

“There should be no doubt that great power acts of aggression do occur, and equally no doubt of how devastating they can be for the victims of that aggression,” he said in a direct reference to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

All three senior leaders delivered familiar recommendations and perspectives – the need to modernize the forces; make the hardware and operations in space more “resilient,” modern and robust; continuing to refine “multi-domain” operations and communications; upgrading the nuclear deterrent; and ensuring that bases are protected, and personnel and equipment can be delivered to wherever they are needed without delay.

All of those elements – and others – are essential parts of “Integrated Deterrence,” the overarching philosophy developed by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for protecting the nation’s security and interests.

The roles played by the Air and Space Forces in that effort are embodied in the Department’s official “posture statement,” a document that explains how they fit into the nation’s larger national security strategy for the 2023 fiscal year.

“The Air Force we are building is critical to integrated deterrence, campaigning, and building enduring advantages,” Brown told the Committee, citing three major components in the updated National Defense Strategy.

Brown, like Kendall and Raymond, was blunt about both the promise of what might be and the risk if that vision is not realized.

“A world class Air Force requires world class Airmen who are organized, trained, and equipped to remain the world’s most respected Air Force,” he told the Committee, which is the primary source of setting defense policy that later becomes law.

“But, if we do not continue to transform, this may no longer be the case. … We must modernize to counter strategic competitors. (China) remains our pacing challenge and Russia remains an acute threat so we must balance between the demands of today and requirements for tomorrow,” Brown said.

Raymond offered a similar assessment for space and the Space Force, telling the committee: “We find ourselves at a hinge of history, where the rules-based order established after World War II, is under an acute threat from Russia. In the meantime, we continue to face a pacing challenge in the Indo-Pacific from China.”

Space he said is a new and indisputable “warfighting domain” which is why the United States and its allies are focusing heavily on space and adapting to the new conditions.

“We cannot allow potential adversaries to gain an unchallenged ability to conduct space-enabled attacks,” Raymond said, who is the senior military leader of a service born on Dec. 20, 2019. “Our joint forces will remain at risk until we can complete the transformation to a resilient architecture and protect the joint force from space-enabled attacks. This is critical to supporting all aspects of the National Defense Strategy.”

But space today is different and more dangerous, no longer the “benign” environment that many of the satellites operated today were designed for. That is an untenable condition, Raymond said, because “space power provides a series of foundational capabilities upon which our joint forces depend.

The Space Force’s $24.5 billion budget request includes higher levels of spending on “weapon system sustainment, a more resilient Global Positioning System, and next generation satellite communications,” Raymond said. The biggest chunk of the budget – $15.8 billion – is devoted to research, development, test and evaluation.

This will allow the U.S. military presence in space to modernize and “begin the pivot to a more resilient and mission capable missile warning and missile tracking force design,” Raymond said.

Lawmakers generally accepted the funding and priorities in space and directed most of their questions to Kendall and Brown about more traditional topics such as plans for modernizing the Air Force’s fleet and plans for divesting older aircraft. They also wanted to know how the Air Force will drive down the cost of operating and maintaining F-35 fighters, details about the transition to the new ‘Sentinel’ intercontinental ballistic missile weapon system, the continuing development of the new B-21 long-range bomber and more prosaic topics such as basing and cyber security, among other diverse topics.

As in past years, lawmakers had multiple questions – mostly directed to Brown this time – about how decisions were made to retire aircraft and if those decisions created vulnerability or operational gaps.

Brown acknowledged that transitions are difficult but said he was comfortable with the Air Force’s direction and the mix of aircraft the budget proposal supports.

“When I talk about balancing risk over time, there’s a balance between the operational risk we will see today as we make that transition versus the risk we’ll have in the future if we don’t start to modernize,” Brown said in response to a question suggesting the Air Force was retiring too many planes.

“We do have to make some tough choices. I don’t just look at the numbers. I look at the overall capabilities and capacity; not just the airplanes but what goes with the airplanes. … It’s a complete package. There is some risk there but I’d rather take a little bit of risk now than a lot of risk later in a future conflict,” he said.

In dollar terms, the proposed Air and Space Forces budget for the next fiscal year that was submitted to Congress in March provides $169.5 billion for the Air Force and $24.5 billion for the Space Force. If approved as written, it would boost funding by $1.1 billion to modernize the nation’s aging, ground-based nuclear deterrent ($3.6 billion compared to $2.5 billion in the 2022 proposal). It adds $320 million in additional funding for continued development and nuclear certification of the B-21 long-range bomber ($3.25 billion from $2.87 billion). It increases the budget for hypersonic weapons by $138 million ($577 million from $438 million).

The proposed budget calls on the Space Force to spend an additional $1 billion on “resilient missile warning/missile tracking to address hypersonic and maneuverable RVs (re-entry vehicles).”

In a portion of the request known as ‘procurement funds,’ the fiscal 2023 proposal provides funding to purchase 33 F-35A Lightning II fighters, 15 KC-46A Pegasus tankers, 24 F-15EX Eagle II fighters, among other hardware procurements. It provides funding to the Space Force for three National Security Space launches, three additional launches by the Space Development Agency and two launches that will put into orbit crucial GPS III satellites to enhance the resiliency of the positioning, navigation and timing constellation accessed by billions of users daily.

More broadly, the request calls for spending $7.9 billion (an increase of $300 million) to boost flying hours to 1.1 million, a level officials said is the “maximum executable level.” It increases spending for “weapons system sustainment” to $16.6 billion from $15.4 billion and carries funding to increase pay for civilians and active-duty personnel by 4.6%. It also has $77 million for the Air Force to address climate change requirements. The budget also proposes funding for 501,800 Total Force Airmen and 8,600 Guardians.