The Air Force is ringing the alarm bells over a yearlong continuing resolution, estimating that the service would lose as much as $13 billion in buying power before adjusting for inflation, the Air Force’s top official said Wednesday.
“[Some of the details] of that are really pretty catastrophic. And I don’t think there’s been enough discussion about some of those impacts,” Kristyn Jones, who is currently performing the duties of the Air Force under secretary, said during the Center for Strategic and International Studies event Wednesday.
Under a full-year continuing resolution, the Space Force would face the largest funding gap, losing nearly $2.6 billion in research dollars. The Air Force would lose up to $1.4 billion in research, test, development and evaluation dollars. It would have to cancel 34 construction projects, and the measure would impact seven national security space launches.
Lt. Gen. Rick Moore, Air Force deputy chief of staff for plans and programs, said that this year reminds him of the circumstances of 2013 when the Pentagon reduced its maintenance budgets — a decision that has had lasting effects on the department even a decade later.
“By the time this is implemented, we’ll be halfway through the fiscal year, but the number doesn’t change. So that means the last two quarters of this fiscal year, we’ll have to find $4.4 billion, a quarter of things that we thought we were going to be able to do that we now can’t,” Moore said.
“Military construction impacts the places where airmen work, the places where they live, it impacts families, it’s really difficult to quantify some of those things. But I think anybody that you ask about what they think about 2013 and how their workforce continues to feel about 2013, it’s a decade later. And we’re still not past that.”
Last week, Congress passed a stopgap bill to keep the federal government open until March. While the measure buys more time for the two chambers to negotiate, it leaves the federal government operating at the 2023 budget levels, and the continued dependence on multiple stopgap measures increases the chances of a yearlong continuing resolution.
In the last 12 years, the federal government has collectively spent over four years under a continuing resolution. On average, the department operates under a continuing resolution for 117 days, nearly one-third of the year.
Additionally, if Congress is unable to pass the 2024 budget, it will trigger a 1% cut in fiscal 2024. The cuts will become permanent in April, meaning the federal government will operate at the fiscal 2023 budget levels minus 1%.
Jones said her office will protect some of the department’s spending, but some programs across the department will face funding gaps.
“Because of the fact that we’ve had a really historic increase in our pay for this year, both military and civilian. We’ve had to absorb that already, starting at the beginning of this calendar year. And so that requires us to make even bigger impacts in the non-pay areas,” Jones said.
One of the areas that will be affected by operating under continuing resolutions is the Collaborative Combat Aircraft Program, or CCA, which lets the service test and implement new concepts around autonomous and manned-unmanned aircraft teaming. The program aligns with Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall’s series of priorities, or operational imperatives, to better position the Air Force for a modern conflict.
“That’s one of the areas that we’re particularly excited about to add additional mass to our force at lower prices than our current aircraft; we now have five performers who are on contract. Being able to move forward with that effort and moving into the next stages of production are going to be slowed because of this,” Jones said.
Additionally, the Air Force’s Agile Combat Employment, aimed at improving the service’s ability to operate in the Indo-Pacific region, got a significant boost in the 2024 budget request. But budget uncertainty will have an impact on this effort as well.
“We’re not able to bring our investments up to those levels that we had planned. So we’re continuing to cede time to our adversaries. And that’s causing significant impacts,” Jones said.