Keith’s Congressional Corner

The U.S. Air Force is our nation’s first responder around the globe, however, it now has the smallest, oldest, and least ready force in its history. It operates an aging and increasingly costly force of refueling tankers over 50 years old; bombers, trainers and helicopters over 40; and fighters over 30 years old. The Air Force, in particular, has a growing strategy-resource mismatch--it is too small for its growing missions and too big for its budget. Since 1991, the end strength decreased by 38 percent and the force structure drew down from 8,600 to 5,500 aircraft. Their aircraft average 27 years old. They downsized from 134 to now only 55 fighter squadrons. The service needs 1,500 pilots and 3,400 maintainers and needs to grow to 350,000 active duty personnel to perform all their missions. In the meantime, America’s potential adversaries are rapidly closing the technological superiority gap. The Air Force needs to grow its force and recapitalize its aging force structure to ensure continued core mission capabilities. Air and Space superiority are not American birthrights and need to be fought for and won.

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Federal Update

Some of the Congressional committee rosters have yet to be finalized, and Senate confirmation hearings continue at a slow pace. Secretary of Defense General James Mattis is in place, however, there are still several vacancies on his staff. President Trump’s Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work will remain in place for several months to ease the transition. The president has nominated former Congresswoman, veteran, and Air Force Academy graduate, Ms. Heather Wilson for Secretary of the Air Force. Mattis released a memo on February 1st stating that his 2019-2023 defense program will “contain an ambitious reform agenda, which will include horizontal integration across DoD components to improve efficiency and take advantage of economies of scale.” House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Mac Thornberry (R-TX) told reporters this week that he will leverage change in the Defense Department by implementing incremental acquisitions and organizational reforms this year. The idea of another Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round was floated by the Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and the Ranking Member, Senator Jack Reed (D-RI). The House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member, Rep Adam Smith (D-WA) also pledged to introduce House legislation for another BRAC round.

This week, the services vice chiefs appeared before the House Armed Services Committee and the Senate Armed Services Readiness Subcommittees. Air Force Vice Chief Gen. Stephen W. Wilson said the Air Force is the smallest it has ever been.

Aircraft numbers have fallen from 8,600 in 1991 to 5,500, and their average age is 27 years. There are 55 fighter squadrons, down from 134. Fewer than 50 percent of the Air Force’s combat forces are “sufficiently ready for a highly contested fight against peer adversaries — creating unacceptable risk for our airmen, our joint partners, and our nation.”

“At the very bottom of what we call the hollow force in the 1970s, pilots were flying 15 sorties a month, about 20 hours,” Wilson said. “Today we’re flying less hours and less sorties than the 1970s.”

Cybersecurity has been a focus with questions about a possible presidential executive order or expanded plan, and the Senate Armed Services Committee created a new Subcommittee on Cybersecurity chaired by Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD).

The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee is scheduled this week to vote on the nomination of David Shulkin to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.  

President’s Fiscal Year 2018 (FY2018) Budget

Budget law directs the president to release the next year’s fiscal year budget on the first Monday in February. President Trump, like his recent predecessors, missed the date and expects to release his budget in May or early June. President Trump has ordered Defense Secretary Mattis to conduct a “readiness review” and is expected to prepare his supplemental budget request by March 1st and his department’s fiscal year 2018 budget is due to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) by May 1st. As a result, budget posture hearings may be pushed into the Summer with mark-ups happening later than usual. Last year, the annual National Defense Authorization Act policy bill was passed by the full House in May.

Rebuilding the U.S. Military

President Trump has signed an Executive Order (EO) prioritizing rebuilding the U.S. military and to increase resources for improved readiness. The president also wants to end the defense sequester. Cyberwarfare is one of his priorities along with medical care, education and support to military service members and their families. He cited the need to improve health care for veterans and vowed to “Begin with firing the corrupt and incompetent VA executives who let our veterans down." The president also plans to modernize the nuclear triad and review the fight against the Islamic State. The president acknowledged that our Air Force is roughly one third smaller than in 1991 and “…is committed to reversing this trend because he knows that our military dominance must be unquestioned.”

Defense Appropriations

The federal government is currently funded by a continuing resolution (CR) that runs through April 28, 2017. By that date, we can expect either a new fiscal year 2017 appropriations bill (less likely), a short term CR (likely) or even a year-long CR that funds the government through September 30, 2017. Typically, under a CR, funding continues at the previous year’s (fiscal year 2016) spending rate and new program starts are on hold. This could be a concern for the Air Force’s new B-21 bomber program as there is development money needed this fiscal year to get the program on track. Even if a new FY2017 defense appropriations bill is completed, only seven months remain this fiscal year to get money directed into new contracts.

In next month’s budget supplemental request, HASC Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) has urged the Pentagon to include $18 billion in jets, ships and manpower that was not included in the 2017 defense appropriations. “You do not balance the budget by cutting defense,” Thornberry said. Thornberry agrees that Congress must address the federal deficit, however, the military needs the money now. “We cannot wait to fix our airplanes until we get all of our budget problems solved," he added.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) and HASC Chairman Thornberry both are calling for the end of defense sequestration and are seeking $640 billion dollars in national defense spending—an increase of approximately $54 billion for fiscal year 2018, which starts on October 1st.

Last month, the Air Force sent to Congress its $10.6 billion updated "wish list" known as the Unfunded Priorities List (UPL). It included funding for five F-35 fighters, A-10 modernization, and light attack aircraft experiments. The list included operations and equipment that did not make it into the Air Force’s fiscal year 2017 budget request.

Defense Hawks will face opposition from Fiscal Hawks. Representative Mick Mulvaney, the president’s nominee to lead OMB, has been an advocate for cuts in defense budgets, continued sequestration, and reduced federal spending.

Federal Hiring Freeze

President Trump signed a January 23, 2017 Memorandum to freeze hiring in the federal agencies. “Within 90 days of the date of this memorandum, the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in consultation with the director of OPM, shall recommend a long-term plan to reduce the size of the federal government’s workforce through attrition.” The Department of Defense has carved out some hiring freeze exceptions including contingency operations, cybersecurity, space operations, and work at our nation’s depots.


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