Air Force Bid for More Squadrons Must Vie for Funds, GAO Says

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Air Force wants a surge in squadrons by 2030, but it will have to compete with other Pentagon priorities -- including an increase in Navy shipbuilding and upgrades to the nuclear arsenal -- in a time of rising federal deficits, according to Congress’s watchdog agency.

The planned increase to 386 airplane squadrons by 2030 from 312 today also will have to be balanced against improvements to the current force, which has numerous personnel, training, equipment and organizational challenges that impede readiness, a Government Accountability Office official said in testimony prepared for a hearing Wednesday of the Senate Armed Services panel on readiness.

A squadron typically has as many as 24 aircraft as well as the equipment and personnel needed to support them.

The Air Force will “have to compete with other military services looking to increase their force structure and major defense capabilities that require” major funding, such as the Navy’s push to increase its fleet by 25 percent to 355 vessels at a cost of about $800 billion, John Pendleton, the GAO’s director for defense capabilities, said in a statement for the hearing.

That’s on top of a potential $1.2 trillion cost -- part of which the Air Force may bear -- to modernize and maintain the nation’s nuclear arsenal, he said. “All of these investments would need to be made amid a deteriorating national fiscal picture,” Pendleton said.

Secretary’s Vision

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said last month in offering her vision for the service that it lacked detail on cost and feasibility but was meant to compel a national discussion as to what size Air Force the nation needs and can afford. She said it will be up to her successors to further the debate.

The Air Force “will need to stay focused on readiness,” including ensuring that its aging F-22 fighters stays ready through 2060 and its pilots are trained to the highest levels, Pendleton said.

The F-22 has been beset with unexpected replacement of parts, delays in depot maintenance, shortage of maintainer personnel and either the loss or impending loss of unique manufacturers, the GAO said in a chart included in his testimony.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.