Keith’s Congressional Corner

January 18, 2019

January 18, 2019

Keith’s Congressional Corner


Happy New Year. We hope you had a great holiday season and are energized to help support the Air Force, Airmen, their families, and veterans in 2019.

“After the Cold War, Americans assumed that no other country could match the United States in its military might and technological leadership. The reality, long known in the military, is that defense-modernization programs in Russia and China, as well as advances in Iran and North Korea, threaten to leapfrog U.S. capabilities…”
– Robert Samuelson, Washington Post Columnist

The December break was far from quiet.

General Jim Mattis is out as Secretary of Defense. Deputy Secretary Patrick Michael Shanahan, a former top Boeing executive, took over as the Acting Secretary of Defense on January 1, 2019. Pentagon Comptroller David Norquist is filling in as Deputy Defense Secretary.

In his new role, Shanahan told Defense leaders to focus on “China, China, China”.

The 116th Congress, 1st Session, began January 3rd, 2019 marking the return of a divided federal government. The Democrats now have the majority in the House of Representatives, and the Republicans have a slightly larger majority in the Senate.

Representative Adam Smith (D-WA) will take-over as Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and has promised increased oversight. His priorities differ from that of his counterpart, Senator Jim Inhofe, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Smith has not been convinced of the need for the president’s expected $750 billion defense budget, new nuclear weapons, or a separate Space Force.

The partial government shutdown is in its fourth week and affects approximately 25 percent of the federal government; the Departments of Defense (DOD) and Veterans affairs (VA) are funded for the entire fiscal year (FY).

The Air Force has several issues to address in 2019.

“I am excited for our Air Force as we move closer to having this [KC-46 air refueling] aircraft in the hands of our warfighters who will unleash its demonstrated capabilities in support of the Joint fight.”
– Gen. David Goldfein, Chief of Staff, US Air Force

Contracts are moving. After a year of delays, the Air Force has started to receive shipments of the KC-46A refueling tanker with many in the queue at Boeing’s factory.

“We are currently 80 percent fourth-generation aircraft and 20 percent fifth-generation aircraft. In any of the fights that we have been asked to plan for, more fifth-gen aircraft make a huge difference, and we think that getting to 50-50 means not buying new fourth-gen aircraft, it means continuing to increase the fifth generation.”
– The Honorable Heather Wilson, Secretary of the Air Force

Since the late 1990s, Air Force Chiefs of Staff have repeatedly testified that their 27 to 40-year-old 4th-generation fighter aircraft need to be recapitalized with 5th-generation fighters. Surprisingly, the Defense Department is planning to meet fifth-generation threats by purchasing 12 fourth-generation F-15X fighters for $1.2 billion.

Although the proposed F-15X would help recapitalize legacy aircraft that would ultimately need investments to extend their service lives, they are still a 20th century fighter without stealth and unable to survive 5th-generation threats.

Our next legislative update will focus on the release of the Fiscal Year 2020 President’s Budget in February. We can expect the Defense Department to pivot by investing in new technology development to meet the increasing challenges of great power competition with Russia and China. Space will also be highlighted this year.

AFA’s Government Relations team has spent a great deal of time on Capitol Hill meeting the 116th Congress. We delivered Air Force Magazine’s Almanac to freshman members and to select members of the Defense and Veterans Affairs committees, so that they would better understand the Air Force and its budgets, leaders, programs, and bases.

AFA, along with other military and veterans service organizations, received an update from the Defense Department’s Acting Deputy Chief Management Officer and the lead of the Task Force for Enterprise Management of Community Services. The Task Force is proposing back-office consolidation and other efficiencies for the Defense Commissaries (DeCA) and the exchanges. AFA has continually made it clear in our advocacy that the Department must enhance and preserve the shopping benefits while protecting the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) dividend for the services. Congress has agreed with us.

AFA has a full range of issues to advocate for in 2019. For your help with messaging to external audiences, please see ‘AFA’s Legislative Issues – 2019here.

Air Force Highlights

“The most uncovered story in Washington these days is the loss of U.S. military power…”
– Robert Samuelson, Washington Post Columnist

Pegasus arrives: KC-46 tanker makes America more effective in era of growing Threats | 6 Jan 2019 | by Lt. Gen. David Deptula (ret.)

This was a milestone week in Air Force history. The U.S. Air Force and Boeing found agreement on the terms for the KC-46 air-refueling aircraft to enter the active inventory. The long-sought goal of recapitalizing the KC-135 air-refueling force is set to begin.

The ability to manifest that vision — for air power to reach anywhere on the globe in a matter of hours — is fundamentally dependent upon aerial refueling. In any air campaign, the factor limiting sortie generation has less to do with the number of fighters, bombers, or airlifters available than the number of air-refueling booms in the air.

Today, that air-refueling boom demand is predominantly met by a fleet of approximately 400 KC-135s, whose average age is nearing 60 years. Even the Air Force’s “young” fleet of tankers, 59 KC-10s, averages over 30 years old. Read more.

Boeing delivers first KC-46, but fixes to technical problems still years | 10 Jan 2019 | by Valerie Insinna

After more than a year of delays, the U.S. Air Force took hold of its first KC-46 tanker on Jan. 10, but it will take several years for the service and manufacturer Boeing to reconcile major technical problems, and the company will not be receiving the full amount of money due upon delivery.

How the Air Force Lost Its Way | 10 Jan 2019 | by Jerry Hendrix

The United States Air Force has lost its way. It has forgotten what business it’s in, mistakenly believing that its raison d’être is air supremacy while forgetting that the core of its mission is long-range strike. If the nation is to be successful in the great-power competition it finds itself in, the Air Force will need to find its way home and regain its strategic relevance in an environment dominated by anti-access/area-denial systems employed by China and Russia. Read more.

More Than 17,000 Uniformed Medical Jobs Eyed for Elimination | 10 Jan 2019 | by Tom Philpott

The Army, Navy and Air Force are finalizing plans to eliminate over the next few years more than 17,000 uniformed medical billets – physicians, dentists, nurses, technicians, medics and support personnel. Read more.

Thornberry predicts Space Force will have bipartisan support in the House | 8 Jan 2019 | by Sandra Erwin

The outgoing chairman of the House Armed Services Committee predicts there will be bipartisan support for a new military branch for space even in a Democratic-led House of Representatives. But the Trump administration should expect its Space Force proposal to be thoroughly vetted and challenged. Read more.

New in 2019: Here’s what the Air Force is doing about aviation mishaps | 5 Jan 2019 | by Kyle Rempfer

A Military Times in-depth review of 5,500 aviation accidents that have occurred since 2013 found that accidents among the nation’s manned fighters, bombers, tankers, tilt-rotor and helicopter aircraft has increased 39 percent.

In the Air Force, the most serious Class A mishaps have declined, but the number of non-fatal Class C mishaps is increasing, causing some experts to warn that future problems could be on the horizon if the issue is not dealt with. Read more.

Four big questions for the Air Force in 2019 | 28 Dec 2018 | by Valerie Insinna

– What’s going on with that F-15X buy? On Dec. 21, Bloomberg reported that the Air Force will request 12 F-15Xs for about $1.2 billion as part of the FY20 budget request.

– Does the Air Force buy light attack aircraft? The Air Force was supposed to put out a final request for proposals this year for new light attack aircraft. That has officially been pushed back until 2019, leaving two competitors in a state of purgatory.

– How do Air Force space operations change with the addition of a Space Force? The Pentagon’s latest draft proposal would funnel the new military branch for space operations under the Department of the Air Force, a decision that would give the Air Force a continued voice on national security space pursuits.

The service would be led by a Space Force chief of staff and an undersecretary of the Air Force for the Space Force, who would report to the Air Force secretary. This seemingly gives the service’s top civilian a considerable amount of authority over the Space Force.

– Will there be some restructuring of Air Force headquarters at the Pentagon? Earlier this month, Heidi Grant, the outgoing deputy secretary of the Air Force for international affairs, confirmed that the service is considering transferring some of her office’s strategy development functions to the Air Staff’s office for plans and requirements, also known as the A5. Read more.

Wake up. America’s military isn’t invincible. | 23 Dec 2018 | by Robert J. Samuelson

The most uncovered story in Washington these days is the loss of U.S. military power — a lesson particularly important in light of recent events: the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis; President Trump’s rash decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria; North Korea’s announcement that it will keep nuclear weapons after all; and alleged massive computer hacking by Chinese nationals.

After the Cold War, Americans assumed that no other country could match the United States in its military might and technological leadership. The reality, long known in the military, is that defense-modernization programs in Russia and China, as well as advances in Iran and North Korea, threaten to leapfrog U.S. capabilities. Read more.

Quotes to Note

  • “Today I had the chance to sit at the controls of our next training jet & meet with the dedicated team building the T-X for our US Air Force. This capability is essential for future war fighting. The T-X program is all about joint warfighting excellence — we need this aircraft to properly train our pilots to fly fifth-gen aircraft. The T-X will enable pilot training in a system similar to our fielded fighters, ultimately enhancing joint lethality.”
    – Gen. David Goldfein, Chief of Staff, US Air Force

  • “Air superiority, which the United States has taken for granted since World War II, is no longer assured. And, without control of the skies, U.S. ships and soldiers would be [highly] vulnerable.”
    – Max Boot, Washington Post Columnist

Your Air Force – Did You Know?

A government shutdown takes place when Congress fails to pass sufficient spending appropriation bills or continuing resolutions to fund federal government departments or agencies, and/or the President refuses to sign into law the spending bills or resolutions. The 1884 Anti-Deficiency Act mandates that departments and agencies shut down during a funding gap. The first federal government shutdown in the US occurred on May 1, 1980, lasted one day, and affected only the Federal Trade Commission.

The USAF History and Museums program is charged with the mission of preserving USAF history.

  • The Air Force Historical Research Agency, AFHRA – located at Maxwell AFB, AL, is an archive and repository for Air Force historical documents. It consists today of over 70,000,000 pages devoted to the history of the service and represents the world’s largest and most valuable organized collection of documents on U.S. military aviation.
  • The National Museum of the USAF, NMUSAF – located at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton Ohio, is the oldest and largest military aviation museum in the world. The museum showcases USAF history through its exhibits and special events to more than one million visitors each year.

Key Dates to Watch


  • Oct 1 – FY 2019 Began
  • Dec 21 – Partial Government Shutdown began


If you have questions, please contact:

Keith Zuegel, (Ret.), USAF
Senior Director, Government Relations
Air Force Association (AFA)