Policy Paper Release: Decades of Air Force Underfunding Threaten America’s Ability to Win

Watch the Mitchell Institute’s rollout for our newest policy paper: Decades of Air Force Underfunding Threaten America’s Ability to Win by Lt Gen David A. Deptula, USAF (Ret.) Dean, and Mark A. Gunzinger, Director of Future Concepts and Capability Assessments at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. Joining the discussion is former Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Lt Gen Joseph T. Guastella Jr, USAF (Ret.).

It’s no secret that America’s Air Force fields the oldest, smallest set of capabilities since its founding in 1947. This is particularly problematic given the scale of threats that define the current national security environment. Without the right mix of modern airpower competencies, core strategies simply will not work. This report explains the factors that have driven this outcome. It’s a complex set of circumstances, but funding is at the heart of the issue.  The Air Force’s budget has been less than the Navy and Army’s for the last 30 years in a row. The Army received over $1.3 trillion more than the Air Force between 2002– 2021, an average of $66 billion more per year than the Air Force. These sorts of realities repeatedly prompted service officials to pursue “divest to invest” modernization strategies that saw significant risk repeatedly taken with too little money available to effectively balance modernization, force size, and readiness. Resetting the Air Force to meet the national security demands of today and tomorrow is possible, but it will take forceful leadership at the highest levels of the Department of Defense. Ultimately, it comes down to the reality that without modernizing our geriatric Air Force and building it to the capacity required by our national defense strategy, the U.S. is a great risk of losing its next major conflict.

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