Air Force secretary: More squadrons needed 'to face the world as it is'

Air Force secretary: More squadrons needed 'to face the world as it is'
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Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson on Monday said the service needs to grow by 74 additional squadrons, a nearly 25 percent increase, by 2030.

"To face the world as it is, with a rapidly innovating adversary, the Air Force we need should have about 25 percent more operational squadrons in the 2025 to 2030 time frame than the Air Force we have," Wilson told attendees at an Air Force Association conference in National Harbor, Md. 

Wilson, the service’s top civilian official, said the significant increase is needed because the Air Force is currently too small to meet its missions under the national defense strategy, with encroaching threats from Russia and China.

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“The defense strategy tells us that we need to be able to defend the homeland, provide a credible nuclear deterrent and win against a major power while encountering a rogue nation, all while managing violent extremists with lower levels of effort,” she said.

The service currently has 312 operational squadrons but needs 386, she said.

“Three hundred and twelve operational squadrons is not enough. It takes all of us to get that combat power ready and able to fight. A fist is nothing without the weight of the body behind it.”

Wilson also outlined the plan for how the Air Force would grow and said the 386 figure was based on internal studies conducted over the past six months.

She allowed that it would take time and significant funds to build up the force, but did not give an estimate for how much money such an increase would cost.

“We aren't naive about how long it will take us to build the support and budget required for the force we need. It is a choice,” Wilson said.

The extra squadrons would likely cost another $13 billion per year for the service, according to Todd Harrison, a defense budget expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“Right now the Air Force spends about $53 [billion] per year on aircraft operations, training, and recruiting. Increasing the number of squadrons by [about] 24 [percent] would probably add another $13 [billion] per year in these operating costs,” Harrison wrote on Twitter last week.

Of the 74 additional squadrons, 22 would conduct command and control, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; 14 would be for aerial refueling; nine combat search-and-rescue squadrons; seven each of fighter, space, and special operations squadrons; and five bomber squadrons.

Wilson added that the service does not plan to add additional squadrons for its nuclear and cyber missions.