Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson on Monday called for a significant increase in the service’s size, as it prepares for the possibility of war against a major nation such as China or Russia, in the next decade.
Under the expansion plan outlined by Wilson, the Air Force needs to grow by 74 additional squadrons, a 25% increase, by 2030. She said the number was based on internal reports, using intelligence estimates of what the service would need as far as manpower to be victorious in the next conflict.
"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, Maryland.
Wilson, the Air Force's top civilian official, said the increase is essential to the service's current mission of upholding the new national defense strategy, as well as combating the evolving threats from China and Russia.
"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.
Wilson said the service has approximately 312 operational squadrons but needs 386.
"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 explained that the 74 additional squadrons, 14 would be dedicated to aerial refueling. Seven of them would be assigned to space squadrons, and five would be bomber squadrons. She said seven new operations squadrons, nine combat search and rescue squadrons, 22 command and control squadrons, seven more fighter squadrons, two drone squadrons, and one airlift squadron.
She added that the Air Force does not anticipate more nuclear or cyber squadrons, and while she conceded that it would take years to build these new squadrons, she did not give an estimate of how much the program 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.
Todd Harrison, a defense budget analyst for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, pointed out that a 24 percent growth in Air Force squadrons would require an additional $13 billion per year.
"The cost of pay and benefits for 40,000 airmen is about $5.2B per year (give or take)," he wrote in a Tweet on Friday. "Right now the Air Force spends about $53B per year on aircraft operations, training, and recruiting. Increasing the number of squadrons by ~24% would probably add another $13B per year in these operating costs."
War is big business. Decades-long wars have enriched the shareholders of Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman. As for the foreseeable future, America's military-industrial-complex will continue to expand. For those asking why, the chart below shows the answer: