DAF leaders talk budget, reoptimizing the force

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. William A. O’Brien
  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

Just days before releasing the proposed defense budget for fiscal year 2025, Department of the Air Force senior leaders emphasized the need for on-time appropriations and provided their perspective on the priorities and needs current and future budgets must fulfill during the 15th Annual McAleese Defense Programs Conference on March 7.

While the soon-to-be-released FY25 budget proposal is the first step in a long, uncertain process, senior leaders pointed out that the Department of Defense still awaits final passage of the 2024 budget. Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall said he is optimistic the spending plan for a fiscal year that began Oct. 1, 2023, will be passed soon. Filling the budget gap since then have been a series of temporary budgets known as continuing resolutions.

I'm feeling a little more optimistic today,” he said. I was up on the [Capitol] Hill yesterday when the House voted on two appropriations bills and it looks like we're in a better posture to get some appropriations out. But we've had to wait a very long time, the [continuing resolution] for several months, obviously, this year, even more than usual. So, hopefully we'll get those resources [and] we'll be able to move forward,” he said.

The McAleese Conference provides a full day of in-person, interactive briefings by senior DoD principals, administration officials and key members of Congress to address critical defense challenges and priorities. On the heels of the DAFs publication of 24 key changes needed to ready the force for Great Power Competition, Kendall said that, while this budget doesn’t include funding specifically for the newly-announced reoptimization efforts, those costs are a reality his service chiefs will have to account for moving forward.

I'd like to say theres going to be zero cost changes, but theres not,” Kendall said. “There will be some costs associated with some of the things we're going to do. We're going to take active steps to minimize those costs and the disruption for people, but theyre changes we need, and these changes put us in a much better posture.”

The annual conference affords an opportunity for senior military leaders to meet with and have deeper conversations with defense experts, leaders from the industrial base, and congressional members about threat-driven budget requirements.

Growing threats to space security, particularly from China and Russia, were highlighted by U.S. Space Force Vice Chief of Space Operations, Gen. Michael A. Guetlein. He emphasized the significance of space superiority and stressed the need for the Space Force to be resourced and postured for perpetual competition.

“The threat is the why; it is why we stood up the Space Force in 2019, it is why you all are here today,” he said. Over the past decade, the People's Republic of China and, to some extent, the Russian Federation, have significantly increased their ability to directly challenge us and allied space capabilities. Not only have they demonstrated the intent to deny our use of space for peace and defense, but in many instances, they have also proven the capability to do so.”

To address potential threats, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Allvin spoke on the need to transform procurement. He said weapons were previously judged on endurance; however, maintaining them comes with upkeep costs and a larger footprint. In an ever-changing battlespace, the mark of an enduring advantage will be capabilities and weapon sets that are capable of changing quickly to meet evolving requirements.

We want an enduring advantage. And the enduring advantage is not going to be a single capability; its going to be the ability for the entire enterprise to adapt and move forward as required,” Allvin said. I think we're talking about agility. I think there's also a case to be made for more agility when it comes to how we allocate and how we update the allocation of resources.”

While speaking on his vision for the future of the Air Force, Allvin emphasized the need for organizational alignment, agility and enterprise solutions to face potential future conflicts, which will look different than what was seen over the past two decades and require maximum investment in modernization. That investment begins with a reevaluation of how acquisitions take place and the lifespan of capabilities.

The idea of being able to integrate from the start is one of those initiatives, and that's the integrated capability,” Allvin said. We have several others, but it's the idea of narrowing in on the commander's focus on one mission, be ruthless about that, hold them accountable on that and have them hold the enterprise accountable for delivering what they require.”

Guetlein discussed efforts to reoptimize for Great Power Competition in the space domain, including capability development, people readiness and power projection, likening his services development to the way the U.S. Navy was derived from a peacetime force to one required to establish sea superiority.

The Space Force was created to respond to an increasingly contested space domain. We are on a journey to forge a purpose-built Space Force to deter and if needed, defeat any rival to maintain control of the space domain.”

He emphasized that accomplishing domain superiority requires swift action and a total effort with strong military and civilian partnerships.

We must invest more in test and training, in space domain awareness, in command and control, and the ability to control the domain,” he said. We must continue to break down the security barriers and build stronger partnerships with our allies and with industry.”

Kendall explained that, just like how enduring advantage and acquisitions will look differently, the operations and deployments of Airmen must also change to face a different challenge than the ones they’ve faced in past decades.

(We came from) an era where those deployments were largely about rotational deployments to the Middle East, and incurred for a structure that does things around the world on a stable, continuous peacetime basis for the most part,” Kendall said. That is not the posture you need to be in if you're going to respond to great power and deter great power acts of aggression like we have now seen in Europe and which we might see at any time in the Pacific.”