Air Force Secretary Prepares to Make Her Case for Expansion

(Bloomberg) -- Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson is preparing to make her case for billions of dollars in funding that she says her service will need to deliver on the U.S.’s national security strategy.

“The Air Force is too small for what the nation is asking us to do,” Wilson said Wednesday in a roundtable with editors and reporters at Bloomberg headquarters in New York. “The difference between what is needed and what is available is measured in risk.”

Air Force Secretary Prepares to Make Her Case for Expansion

She said that in March her service will detail to Congress its plan to increase the Air Force to 386 airplane squadrons by 2030 from 312 today. She said the expansion is necessary under the Trump administration’s national security strategy, which calls for countering major powers such as Russia and China as well as rogue states and terrorists. The comments underscore rising tension as the military services compete for funding.

The Government Accountability Office cautioned last week that Air Force funding must compete with other concerns. Among those is the Navy’s push to expand to expand its fleet by 25 percent to 355 vessels at a cost of about $800 billion, plus the $1.2 trillion proposed to modernize the nation’s nuclear arsenal.

While pushing to expand, Wilson, a former Republican congresswoman from New Mexico and an Air Force veteran, is thinking smaller as well -- looking beyond the big defense contractors in an effort to “buy things faster and smarter” under new authorities from Congress, she said.

Same-Day Awards

The Air Force set up the Space Enterprise Consortium in January to reach nontraditional contractors, an initiative that has already yielded 32 contracts totaling $100 million. Later this month, the Air Force plans to award 50 contracts to new suppliers in a 50-hour span.

Entrepreneurs have been asked to submit proposals to address certain problems facing the service. If the Air Force likes the idea, it will offer a one-page contract and transfer money on the spot through PayPal, Wilson said.

The event is “a little gimmicky,” Wilson said, but it’s intended to send a message that the Air Force wants to reform its acquisition process.

“Small companies with innovative ideas can’t wait around for our contracting process,” she said. “We are trying to change the paradigm to drive innovation and work with businesses.”

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