Keith’s Congressional Corner

February 7, 2019

February 07, 2019

Keith’s Congressional Corner


“We need a frank conversation about what we stand for as that ‘shining city on a hill.’ And that conversation begins by acknowledging that we can’t do it on the cheap.”
– Gen. Colin Powell, Secretary of State

The Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 President’s Budget (PB) was expected to be released last week, however, with the partial government shutdown and the corresponding slip of dates for the State of the Union address, the PB is expected to be released March 12th—six weeks later than expected.

Infrastructure spending and data privacy issues are areas for bipartisan efforts, however, the spending limits will face political headwinds.

Instead of our planned summary detailing how the Air Force fared in the PB, we’ll briefly hit on those programs and issues that will be welcomed in the new budget.

“When I look and I see some of the equipment that they [Russia and China] have compared to ours, you know they’ve been busy.”
– Sen. Jim Inhofe, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee

The new 116th Congress, as well as the Acting Secretary of Defense Shanahan, have the timely opportunity to shape the Defense Department in this budget by providing for the technologies and tools necessary to counteract the rapidly rising capabilities of Russia and China.

The Air Force needs stable and predictable funding at adequate funding levels. The Air Force wants to swell its number of squadrons by 2030, however, with other competing Pentagon interests and budgetary constraints, that will prove challenging—especially since the accompanying analysis was delayed in its delivery to Capitol Hill. The Total Air Force must grow in order to conduct the missions our nation requires.

Absent a new bipartisan agreement from Congress and the President, sequestration is scheduled to return in FY 2020. Some in Congress, and the President, have called for setting defense spending next year at $750 billion. Note: FY 2019’s defense spending was $716 billion. AFA advocates for a spending level that repairs depleted readiness and allows for a timely recapitalization of the Air Force’s aging weapon systems.

The Air Force is old and losing its dominance. The Congressional Budget Office reported that the Air Force’s tanker fleet averages 53.7 years old; the bomber fleet averages 42 years old; the trainer fleet averages 30.3 years old; the fighter fleet averages 26.4 years old; the airlift fleet averages 24.7 years old; and the helicopters and MV-22 fleets average 19.9 years old.

“If the Air Force does not accelerate its buy of F-35s, in the year 2030 half of its fighter fleet will still be non-stealthy planes. That could make victory over a China or Russia hard to achieve.”
– Loren Thompson, Chief Operating Officer, Lexington Institute

We can expect that the defense department will fail to procure enough F-35A fighters for the Air Force again this year with the anticipated buy below 50 aircraft. As a result, it will continue to extend the recapitalization rate over several additional years and risks achieving fewer than the program of record (POR) number of 1,763 aircraft. As evidenced by the final numbers of B-2 bombers and F-22 fighters, when the Air Force budges from its scheduled program numbers, a death spiral ensues. The unit costs per airplane increases, opponents pounce, and the final number ends up below the POR—leaving them short of capability. The Air Force is already 400 to 500 F-35s below their original procurement plan and had expected to receive 110 aircraft per year by now. The Air Force needs to buy 80 to 100 F-35s each year to get back on track.

Last month the Air Force accepted the first four KC-46A tankers and will now begin Initial Operational Testing & Evaluation (IOT). The much-needed refuelers, expected to arrive at Air Force bases at the rate of three per month, will provide a sizable increase in capability to the warfighters. The KC-46As replace Eisenhower-era KC-135 Stratotankers which first entered service in 1956. The program will be nearly three years behind schedule when finally fielded. The Air Force needs to field its KC-46s sooner by procuring more each year.

Ninety percent of the Air Force’s bombers predate stealth, and the B-21 bomber is crucial for continued access into heavily defended airspace. AFA advocates for robust research and development resources to ensure B-21 bombers are delivered as scheduled in the mid-2020s.

The Air Force’s new T-X trainer contract was awarded last year. With the need to replace dated 40-year old plus T-38 Talons, the Air Force must procure the new trainers more quickly to train fifth-generation pilots and to recapitalize their trainers with 351 new aircraft.

Development challenges could impact the Air Force’s next combat rescue helicopter. It is vitally important. AFA supports full research and test and evaluation funding to get the new combat rescue helicopters to the warfighters as soon as possible.

“We can work with it…That’s probably a good template to work off of, and then the devil is in the details. I believe that space needs to be emphasized.”
– Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), Chairman, House Armed Services Committee

The budget is expected to establish the Space Force as a separate branch under the Department of the US Air Force—similar to the Marine Corps inside the Department of the Navy—and under the command of a four-star general. The Space Development Agency would reside within the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The new proposal will likely face less Capitol Hill skepticism using this new model. AFA has advocated against a separate military service for space. This proposal is more digestible, however, the ‘devil is in the details.’

Although the Air Force has yet to slam the door shut on a future light-attack aircraft, the experiment has stalled for the time being. AFA supports continued light-attack experimentation when the Air Force refines its requirements.

The pilot shortage continues to be a concern and a challenge for the Air Force. AFA advocates that Congress continue to provide the targeted pilot retention bonuses to address the issue of losing pilots while ramping up pilot production.

Acquisition and procurement have been the Achilles’ heel for the Air Force. AFA advocates that this Congress provide the authorization to break down barriers to rapid acquisition and access to commercial industries, products, and services.

Our nation took a research holiday, and the private sector is investing more in research than the federal government. AFA advocates for a sizable increase in federal research and development funding.

“Any nation that does not honor its heroes will not long endure.”
– Pres. Abraham Lincoln

Veterans issues must also be addressed. AFA has been working with our partner Military and Veterans Service Organizations on dozens of issues and pieces of legislation. Last week, I met with VA Secretary Mr. Robert Wilkie, an Air Force veteran. He spoke highly of AFA and looked forward to working with us this year.

The President highlighted veterans as well during his State of the Union Address.

We hope to see many of you at AFA’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida February 27 to March 1. Mark Cuban will be one of the judges at the second annual Spark Tank competition which awards Airmen with development capital for innovative ideas. Tony Ambrozie, Senior Vice President of Technology, Engineering Excellence, at The Walt Disney Company, will give the keynote address.

Air Force Highlights

Bunch: Air Force Can Get F-35, F-16, and F-22 Fleets to 80 Percent Mission Capable Rate | 1 Feb 2019 | by John Tirpak

“We’re pushing” for the 80 percent mark, “and … we believe we can make that,” Bunch said. “We’re not going to be 80 percent with everything,” he conceded, but we will achieve that goal “with our combat-coded aircraft” in the F-35 fleet, as well as in the F-16 and F-22 fleets. The DOT&E report gigged the F-35 program’s sluggish improvement in availability, but the Pentagon has acknowledged that newer jets off the line are performing far better than early production models. Read more.


“The best pilots fly more than the others; that’s why they’re the best.”
– Brig. Gen. Charles Yeager

Rebuilding the Forge: Reshaping How the Air Force Trains Fighter Aviators | 28 Jan 2019 | by Gen. Mike Holmes

The U.S. Air Force’s pilot training system has long been the envy of air forces around the world, but for the past several years it has failed to keep pace with increasing production requirements. Furthermore, the current training model is facing a widening gap between the capabilities of our primary training aircraft and the advanced fighter aircraft our pilots now employ. To close this gap, the current system has required the use of retraining programs and extended formal training courses that increase both the duration and cost of a new fighter pilot’s training.

New capabilities, such as the broad proliferation of airborne data links, and dramatic improvements in aircraft sensors, have seen the pilot’s role evolve from that of heavy equipment operator to a system manager, aerial tactician, and team leader. Read more.


“As the U.S. Space Force develops and as required for U.S. national security, it will become necessary to create a separate Department of the Space Force in the future. This Department will take over some or all responsibilities for the U.S. Space Force from the Department of the Air Force.”
– Space Policy Directive-4 (SPD-4) Memo

“I do not agree with a separate space department. And even the White House and Pentagon have backed off of that.”
– Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), Chairman, House Armed Services Committee

White House: Space Force under the Air Force only a ‘first step,’ a separate department not off the table | 28 Jan 2019 | by Sandra Erwin

A draft space policy directive that President Trump is expected to sign in the coming weeks orders the Defense Department to establish a U.S. Space Force as a sixth branch of the U.S. armed forces within the Department of the Air Force.

But the policy memo also states that a separate “Department of the Space Force” will need to be created sometime in the future. Read more.


Air Force secretary confirms key KC-46 milestone won’t occur until 2020 | 25 Jan 2019 | by Valerie Insinna

After about two years of delays, the Air Force on Friday will finally take hold of its first two KC-46 tankers, with many more at Boeing’s production facility ready to go.

About three tankers are set to be delivered to the Air Force every month this year, making it likely that the service could have a force of at least 36 KC-46 Pegasus tankers by the end of the year, Air Force and Boeing officials told reporters after a Jan. 24 ceremony marking the first KC-46 delivery. Read more.

US Air Force’s plan to launch light-attack aircraft competition is now deferred indefinitely | 18 Jan 2019 | by Valerie Insinna

The start of a competition to provide light-attack aircraft for the U.S. Air Force has been postponed for the foreseeable future, as the service decides the way forward for additional experiments, the Air Force’s No. 2 civilian said Friday.

The Air Force started evaluating light-attack plane offerings in 2017 and was set to release a request for proposals in December 2018 to potentially lead to a program of record. But the service is not ready to commit to a program just yet, and wants to continue the experimentation phase, Under Secretary of the Air Force Matt Donovan told reporters after an Air Force Association event. Read more.


Quotes to Note

  • “It was additive. [Light-attack] could not take the place of any of the other missions we have. It would be added on top.”
    – Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, Military Deputy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition
  • We are planning to broaden the [light-attack] experimentation out and carry [it] forward, and I think when our budget hits, you’ll understand more of what we’re doing.”
    – Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, Military Deputy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition
  • “There is no such thing as a natural born pilot. Whatever my aptitudes or talents, becoming a proficient pilot was hard work, really a lifetime’s learning experience. For the best pilots, flying is an obsession, the one thing in life they must do continually. The best pilots fly more than the others; that’s why they’re the best. Experience is everything. The eagerness to learn how and why every piece of equipment works is everything. And luck is everything, too.”
    – Brig. Gen. Charles Yeager
  • “Data will power next-generation combat so we must control and manipulate massive volumes of information to outthink and outmaneuver our opponents. As you’ve heard our chief Gen. Goldfein say many times, we want every system in our Air Force to connect, to share and to learn.”
    – The Honorable Matt Donovan, Under Secretary of the US Air Force

Your Air Force – Did You Know?

“Did you know the Air Force is the largest consumer of fuel in the Department of Defense? In fact, the Air Force consumes approximately 2 billion gallons of aviation fuel annually – which is about 81 percent of the total Air Force energy. Due to an optimization initiative led by Air Force Operational Energy, a policy has been put into place that directs planners to plan airspeeds for fifth-generation fighter Coronet missions at closer to maximum range airspeed. The faster speed decreases overall fuel consumption by about six percent and reduces flight hours by about 10 percent.” [AF News]

Which aircraft fleet is the largest consumer of fuel in DoD?

Key Dates to Watch


  • Oct 1 – FY 2019 Began


  • Feb 5 – State of the Union
  • Feb 14 – Mitchell Institute Study Release: Modernizing U.S. Nuclear Command, Control, and Communications with Gen John Hyten, Commander, US Strategic Command and ADM Edmund Giambastiani, US Navy (Ret.), Capitol Visitor’s Center, SVC 203-02
  • Feb 27-Mar 1 – AFA’s Air Warfare Symposium, Orlando, FL
  • March 12 – Expected release of FY 2020 President’s Budget
  • Sep 16-18 – AFA’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference, Gaylord National Hotel, National Harbor, MD

If you have questions, please contact:

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