AFA’s Top Issues—2022

At the heart of AFA’s mission is this phrase: “Promote dominant U.S. Air & Space Forces as the foundation of a strong National Defense.”  

Airmen and Guardians face rising challenges around the world at a time when our Air & Space Forces are older, smaller, and less ready than at any point in its history. Over the past two decades, the Air Force’s capability and capacity to fight has declined in significant ways, as planes aged, and readiness eroded. The combination of rising global challenges and declining readiness put our national security at risk.  

The United States must reverse this decline with robust investment in both advanced military capabilities and in increased capacity to wage sustained military operations. Collectively, the solutions outlined here will help our nation remain the world’s leading air & space power for years to come. 

 

Recapitalize the Air Force’s fighter force. 

The National Defense Strategy identifies China as our pacing threat. To deter future conflict, our Air Force must be capable of fighting and winning in a sustained confrontation.  

To achieve that objective, the Air Force must reverse the declines of the past two decades and restore American air superiority.  

AFA is asking Congress to: 

1. Increase F-35 acquisitions from 33 in the budget request to at least 48 in fiscal 2023. 

The issue: Most Air Force fighters are fourth-generation aircraft. Averaging nearly 30 years of age, these aircraft are increasingly vulnerable to advanced air-defense systems. As seen in the skies over Ukraine, even a small force of older fighters and anti-aircraft systems can keep fourth-generation aircraft at bay. While U.S. Air Force capabilities are superior to Russia’s, the fact is that stealthy, fifth-generation aircraft are the most efficient way to overcome advanced integrated air-defense systems. The F-35 is the only fifth-generation fighter still produced in the western world.  

For the past 20 years, the Air Force has held to a requirement of 1,763 F-35As to deter and, if necessary, defeat our adversaries. Yet, for the past several years, Defense Department budgets have looked to reduce the yearly acquisition of the F-35A. In 2020, DOD slashed planned purchases from 80 to 60. In 2021, it cut the annual number further to 48. In 2022, it is seeking just 33 fighters. Such a small buy is not sustainable, and will lead inevitably to a smaller, older fighter force in the future. If approved, 2023 would see the fewest F-35s acquired by the Air Force since fiscal 2016.   

AFA’s proposed solution: Increase F-35A acquisition to 48 in fiscal 2023  

Those who argue the Air Force should wait until the new Block 4 configuration is available, miss the fact that the Tech Refresh 3 F-35, which the FY’23 budget buys, will be built with new hardware, including a new core processor, upgraded radar, and a new cockpit display, all of which enable the later transition to Block 4 standards. While cost-per-flight-hour is still a concern, progress is being made. Flight hour costs declined 40 percent over the past five years and plans underway could reduce that by another 40 percent in coming years. 

America’s allies are already sold on the F-35. Faced with the same threats, Canada, Germany, Finland, and Switzerland all ended long debates and committed to the F-35 for their air forces. The United States cannot continue to put off this requirement.  

2. Cancel the planned retirement of 33 Block 20 F-22s; instead, invest $225 million a year for eight years to upgrade these planes to the Block 30 standard of the most advanced F-22s. 

The issue: The President’s Budget request calls for retiring 33 F-22s—a 17 percent cut to the F-22 inventory, at a time when China is ramping up production of its fifth-generation J-20 fighter. 

AFA’s proposed solution: Congress should instead invest to recapitalize the Block 20 F-22s to meet the modernized Block 30 standard. 

For the modest investment of $1.8 billion over eight years, our Air Force can increase its front-line combat capability and capacity, gaining 33 more of the highest-performing air superiority fighters ever built.  

 
Create strategic objectives and implementation plan for the Space Force. 

The issue: AFA supports the Space Force’s mission to organize, train, and equip Guardians to conduct global space operations that enhance joint and coalition forces’ ability to fight and win. To achieve that mission, the Space Force must publish its strategic objectives and develop a public, comprehensive strategy to achieve those goals. The last known interim space strategy document was published in 2019 by the then-Acting Director of the Space Development Agency. A new space strategy is vital. 

AFA’s proposed solution: The U.S. Space Force should develop a comprehensive strategy to address the vertical integration of space warfighting capability in the 21st century. Congress should direct the Department of Defense to empower the Space Force to produce and publish a strategic objectives plan, with the goal to achieve full operational capability this decade. This report will include specific plans for the Space Force’s budget, organization, infrastructure, and systems to enable the Space Force to achieve its strategic aims. 

 
End “Pass-Through” Confusion. 

The issue: Some 20 percent of the Department of the Air Force’s budget—$39.2 billion in 2020 alone—“passes through” the military department to other government agencies. This deceptive practice effectively inflates the nation’s apparent investment in its Air Force, while shortchanging both the Air Force and the Space Force because so much of its budget is diverted elsewhere. This budgetary irregularity has shadowed the Air Force for six decades. In 2020, this amount totaled $39.2 billion. Experts on both sides of this issue differ on this impact.  

AFA’s proposed solution: AFA believes Congress and the public must be able to make apples-to-apples comparisons of the nation’s investment in its military, and that until the pass-through is eliminated, the Air & Space Forces will suffer because the true size of their services’ investments is not accurately reflected in topline budget totals.  

AFA proposes the Department of Defense commission an independent research organization—not a federally funded research and development center—to perform an analysis of the effect that the Pass-Through has on the Department of the Air Force’s budget. Based upon this analysis, the independent organization should determine if perceptions about Department of the Air Force funding, and whether those perceptions are accurate or suggest a negative impact on resources. The report would examine the effects of Pass-Through funding on all the military departments, as well as among policy makers, Congress, and the public. 

Once complete, Congress and the Pentagon would be equipped to make an informed decision on whether to sustain Pass-Through spending, or instead to apply budgetary discipline to departments by putting expenses where they truly belong.