President’s Budget Falls Short of Needs for Air & Space Forces and National Defense Strategy

March 28, 2022


ARLINGTON, Va. (March 28, 2022) – The President’s fiscal 2023 budget request falls far short of national defense strategy requirements and will force the Air Force to surrender critical capability while foregoing new weapons purchases. This is particularly precarious as China rapidly increases both capability and capacity, the Air Force Association said after reviewing public budget documents.

AFA called for bipartisan support for increased investment in the Air and Space Forces to ensure the two most indispensable, flexible, and lethal elements of U.S. military force are strengthened in the face of growing threats from China and increasing risk in Europe to our NATO allies in the face of Russian aggression in Ukraine.

“Last year the leaders of the armed services and appropriations committees came together in a bipartisan manner to make critical increases in our defense spending. This year, we must ask these leaders for their help again to ensure our Air and Space Forces have the equipment they need to guarantee America has the military power to deter and defeat the growing threats around the world,” said AFA President Lt. Gen. Bruce “Orville” Wright, USAF (Ret.). “International security demands, the aging of our air fleet and command and control systems, the increasing risk in a contested space domain, and the need to sustain the Air Force’s capacity, even as we modernize capability, make this a national imperative. 

Wright added: “This budget trades today’s combat force structure for future capabilities. But the fact is the force is already too small to meet the requirements of the national defense strategy, and cutting the force further is not sustainable.”

The Air Force budget cuts 33 F-22 stealth air superiority fighters and would retire all but two AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) aircraft—a system for which the Air Force has no ready replacement. While giving up aging and unreliable aircraft will save money, the planned replacements aren’t even on order, meaning a mid-term capability gap that would last five and perhaps 10 years or more. The United States has no ready solution to this requirement.

The President’s budget request does include some encouraging elements, especially long-delayed funding for strategic nuclear modernization, including the first procurement funding for B-21 bombers and the new Ground Based Strategic Deterrent intercontinental ballistic missiles, which will replace 50-year-old Minuteman IIIs. This modernization is essential. AFA also applauds the request for what amounts to the Pentagon’s largest-ever procurement and research and development budgets.

However, Air Force investment is insufficient to the need. After accounting for new investment in the Space Force and a growing pass-through investment that actually funds other agencies, the U.S. Air Force’s portion of the budget is roughly flat. Given inflation of 7 percent or more, this represents a cut in spending power rather than an increase.

“The Air Force budget remains flat at a time when it is shouldering costs for two legs of the nuclear triad and three decades of deferred modernization,” Wright said. “The United States justifiably surged investment in our land components funding to deal with Afghanistan and Iraq; to do that, the nation took risk and deferred investment in air and space. Now it is time to surge air and space to solve today’s threat-based demands.

Likewise, new investment in the Space Force is less than it appears, as much of its apparent increase represents funds that move with the Space Development Agency, which is transferring from the Office of the Secretary of Defense to the Space Force.

To ensure a robust and sustainable U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force, AFA calls on Congress to:

  • Continue to reverse the erosion of USAF force structure resulting from 28 consecutive years of neglect. The Air Force is now the smallest, oldest, and least ready it has ever been in its 75-year history. USAF force structure must be rebuilt to meet the requirements of the National Security Strategy. It is 24 percent below the capacity to do that today.
  • Rebuild U.S. air dominance. In the 21 years since 9/11, the nation invested more than $1 trillion more in the Army than the Air Force. That equates to an average of over $53 billion per year; to restore lost capability and capacity, Congress must increase Department of the Air Force spending by at least $30 billion in fiscal 2023, building to $50 billion annually in the years ahead. Rival nations see this decline as an invitation toward increasingly aggressive postures overseas, as evidenced by Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine. Continued neglect will put U.S. interests and allies further at risk around the world.
  • Invest in fully funding the growth and development of a robust, resilient Space Force infrastructure. Continued growth in real terms is necessary to build the Space Force as an armed service capable of fighting from, in, and through space, which is now a contested domain, as demonstrated earlier this year when Russia destroyed a satellite with a ground-launched weapon.
  • Continue to modernize all aspects of the nation’s critical nuclear triad, the backbone of nuclear deterrence for the United States and all of our allies.

“The Air Force is seeking to retire F-22 fighters from the inventory, while cutting its purchase of new F-35s from 48 to 33—the smallest number in years,” said the Dean of AFA’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies Lt. Gen. David Deptula, USAF (Ret.). “Given an F-35A production line that today can build 80 F-35As annually, this is truly high-risk to a vital program. The choice to accelerate purchases of the F-15EX—a valuable, but technologically inferior airplane—is helpful, but not adequate to shore up the Air Force’s declining combat capacity. USAF’s FY23 budget request results in numbers less than those required to sustain existing force structure. Congress should not allow that to happen.”

About AFA

An independent non-profit association, AFA is the single-largest professional military association dedicated to air and space power and to the advancement of aerospace education at every level. Founded in 1946, AFA is dedicated to promoting dominant U.S. Air and Space Forces as the foundation of a strong National Defense; honoring and supporting Airmen, Guardians, and their Families; and remembering and respecting the enduring heritage of the Air and Space Forces.