Defense Budget Smoke and Mirrors Keep America’s Air and Space Power Grossly Underfunded

Ever wonder why the Department of the Air Force has the oldest, smallest aircraft fleet in service history and space assets are stretched far too thin?

Here’s a major reason: nearly 20% of what appears in its budget—almost $40B—doesn’t actually go to Air Force or Space Force. It’s passed through to other government entities.

That’s enough to buy over 400 F-35s a year, not to mention a tremendous about of space capabilities!

So while the Department of the Air Force may appear well funded, it’s not. Overwhelming mission demand, not enough resources, and misleading budget accounting is a recipe for a disaster. It’s time to pull the pass-through out of the Department of the Air Force budget and let the fiscal facts speak for themselves. 

What the Experts Have to Say


Lt Gen (Ret.) David Deptula, dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, addressed the effect of the pass-through in a recent interview. Solving this problem requires moving the pass-through funds to the defense-wide budget accounts. Only then will Americans clearly understand the resources available for Airmen and Guardians at a time when demand for their engagement is on the rise.


Mitchell’s Director of Future Aerospace Concepts and Capability Assessments, Col (Ret.) Mark Gunzinger, and Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments Non-Resident Senior Fellow Col (Ret.) Carl Rehberg assess this issue in their Policy Paper, Moving Toward the Air Force We Need?

The U.S. Air force needs to re-baseline the debate surrounding its resourcing to ensure the service has enough capacity and requisite capabilities to meet current and future demands. Pass-through is one budget trend that illustrates why the Air Force has been under-resourced for decades. The paper challenges service top-line funding equity budget myths and lays out a path for successfully modernizing American airpower. Building an Air Force needed to meet the goals of the new national security strategy will require the executive branch and the U.S. Congress to work together to increase the service’s budget and allocate dollars towards procuring new aircraft and other next-generation weapon systems needed for future combat environments. 

Expert Editorials:

Misleading Budget Accounting In The Department Of Defense Needs Correction 
Forbes | Lt Gen (ret.) Dave Deptula

What’s All the Fuss Over the Air Force’s ‘Pass-Through’ Funding?
The Hill | Hon Matthew Donovan 

For more expert analysis on this and other topics, browse ISSUES.

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