By Dan Rhoades

The President’s proposal for the budget is out. The budget is flat with $753 billion for National Security, of that $715 is for the Department of Defense. The Air Force’s portion is $173 billion and includes funds for the Space Force. Although flat, when inflation is considered, this is a slight decrease in defense funding.

Of note for the budget this year, the administration is not projecting forward for five years as usually happens, called the Future Years Defense Program (FYDP). This is due per the administration because they are conducting high-level global force posture reviews that could change the worldwide laydown of U.S. forces. This makes it more difficult to see the path each service is proposing, but we would expect to see a return to the FYDP next year.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III has stated this proposed budget invests in people, supports readiness and modernization, combats threats posed by climate change, and provides capabilities needed to meet the pacing threat from Beijing. The focus is on support for the President’s Interim National Security Strategic Guidance with increased funding for research and development and retirement of assets to enable the advent of new technology. The overall budget proposal includes a 2.7 percent increase in both military and civilian pay.

As we discussed last quarter, the administration appears focused on new technologies and rapid innovation, and that is reflected in the budget. They would like to modernize the military “at a speed and scale that matches a dynamic threat landscape,” and Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks has stated DoD is committed to “rapid experimentation” with new technologies.

The budget looks to fund innovative technologies that deliver new, more fighting advantages to our forces, including artificial intelligence, hypersonic technology, and cyber capabilities among others to facilitate our investments in innovation. This shifts resources away from older platforms and systems that are ill-suited to the current and future threat environments in their view.
For the Air Force, this means divesting “legacy” systems including 201 aircraft while buying 91 aircraft. The Next-Generation Air Dominance system, the new fighter to replace the F-22 in the near future, received support, as did the purchase of more F-15EX aircraft and other high-end technologies such as hypersonic missiles and the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS). Of course, for Middle Georgia, funding for ABMS is important, and the funding for that program increased $46 million to a total of $204 million.

For the most part, the divestment impacts to the Air Force have a limited direct impact on Robins Air Force Base. The biggest impact is the proposal to retire 4 JSTARS aircraft this year with an expectation of retiring the fleet by 2027. This is not a surprise and is good news in that the Air Force has also announced four new missions coming toRobins Air Force Base. The JSTARS airframes are reaching the end of their life, and this will allow a transition for our service members as the new missions come online.

What are the new missions? The first two are an air control squadron, the 727th Expeditionary Air Control Squadron called Kingpin, and a classified mission supporting Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) and ABMS, both of which will be manned by the Georgia Air National Guard. There are two missions supported by the active duty, a squadron of E-11 Battlefield Airborne Communication Node (BACN) aircraft flying modified Bombardier BD-700 business jets and a Spectrum Warfare Group that will take advantage of the skills in the region, such as software and hardware experts, to focus on the electromagnetic spectrum.
These are excellent missions and an important first step in ensuring the future of Robins Air Force Base. There was a great collaboration with the Georgia Congressional Delegation with a joint announcement by Senators Raphael Warnock, John Ossoff, and Representative Austin Scott participating. During the announcement, the Air Force re-committed to making Robins Air Force Base the home for ABMS in the future. These are excellent missions and reflect the recognition by the Air Force for the working Middle Georgia has done in building an innovative and technology-forward community.

Of course, the 21st Century Partnership will continue to watch these developments. First, the budget was proposed by the President, but it has not been approved by Congress. Congress always gets a vote and could change things. Testimony in Congress is ongoing and we are expecting negotiations and floor votes to begin in July in the House and Senate, but current legislative actions could delay those efforts. The timelines are already tight, and the new Fiscal Year is coming fast.

Also, your 21st Century Partnership will work to ensure the Air Force is meeting their commitments and that we are protecting the assets at Robins Air Force Base. Our primary concern as always is protecting the long-term viability of Robins, and Air Force strategy is a key component of that effort.