Air Force officials released force structure changes resulting from the president’s fiscal year 2017 budget Feb. 12.
This year’s budget request continues the momentum gained from the recovery provided by the 2015 Bipartisan Budget Act, but still reflects the tough choices the Air Force was forced to make as the demand for Air Force capability continues to increase as the Budget Control Act looms in fiscal 2018. The fiscal 2017 budget leverages the total force active duty, Guard and Reserve to maintain the service’s ability to support ongoing operations while ensuring the service is ready to face future threats. The budget keeps the active-duty force at 317,000 while posturing the force for future growth. Guard and Reserve manning will remain constant, but the Air Force will continue plans to transfer aircraft and flying missions to Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve locations that would otherwise have no mission due to fleet divestments. “We are using the strengths of our total force team while we continue to balance readiness today and tomorrow,” said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. “In this budget, we will transfer some strategic airlift capability from active-duty to Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve locations, maintaining critical surge capability in the Reserve component.” The budget rephases divestment of the A-10 Thunderbolt II to coincide with fielding of follow-on capabilities and will delay retirement of the first A-10s until fiscal 2018 to align with F-35 Lightning II bed down, keeping the A-10 in the inventory until fiscal 2022. “Rephasing the retirement of the weapons system until later in the Future Years Defense Program ensures critical capability is retained in the near term to support ongoing operations, as well as any potential changes in the geopolitical environment,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III. “This plan will allow us to maintain vital fighter capacity as we transition to the F-35 and deal with a resurgent Russia and a protracted counterterrorism war in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.” The Air Force also plans to grow the tanker force over the next several years to the required 479 tanker aircraft before it considers divesting tankers as it receives KC-46A Pegasus aircraft to replace them. The fiscal 2017 plan also maintains all 14 of the current EC-130H Compass Call fleet through fiscal 2018, while retiring 28 C-130H Hercules aircraft between fiscal 2017 and fiscal 2019 to reduce excess capacity and free up resources to invest in enterprise requirements. Additionally, a small number of F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft will be transferred to formal training units to help increase the rate of pilot production to help fill critical fighter pilot shortages. “The actions in this budget represent our best plan to balance readiness for the warfighter today and into the future, but we need to ensure our Air Force stands ready for any unseen challenge of tomorrow,” James said. “Our (fiscal 2017) budget continues the recovery and gives us a larger and better equipped force. However, we still had to make tough choices in modernization, infrastructure and people to live within Bipartisan Budget Act limits. We need to continue the recovery, repeal sequestration in FY18, and give America the Air Force it deserves … now and in the future.”