President Biden’s defense budget goes heavy on personnel retention, research and weapons procurement, positioning Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the heart of Air Force research and logistics, to play a role.
The Biden administration budget proposal calls for $145 billion in research, development, test and evaluation or “RDT&E,” a 4 % increase over what was spent in fiscal year 2023, an area with which Wright-Patterson missions are concerned daily.
Wright-Patterson, with some 35,000 military and civilian employees, is home to Air Force Materiel Command and the Air Force Research Laboratory, crucial missions that determine how the Air Force will be equipped. The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, also based at Wright-Patt, manages all Air Force weapons systems from cradle to grave.
“At $842 billion, this is the largest defense budget request in nominal terms that the United States has ever put forward,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks said in a press conference Monday.
“First and foremost, this budget is a procurement budget. It puts its thumb on the scale in favor of game-changing capabilities that will deliver not just in out-years, but in the near-term, too,” she said.
However, in a blow to Ohio and Dayton-area employer GE Aerospace, the Pentagon has decided to move ahead with upgrading the existing F-35 engine, the Pratt & Whitney F135, opting for an incremental move forward rather than embracing GE’s new XA100 engine, which GE has touted as being more efficient, flexible and powerful.
“We have decided to move forward to with the engine core upgrade,” said Kristyn Jones, acting undersecretary of the Air Force.
“This budget fails to consider rising geopolitical tensions and the need for revolutionary capabilities that only the XA100 engine can provide by 2028,” a spokesman for GE Aerospace said Monday. “Nearly 50 bipartisan members of Congress wrote in support of advanced engine programs like ours because they recognize these needs, in addition to the role competition can play in reducing past cost overruns. The XA100 engine is ready to power U.S. warfighters today and in the future.”
Increased Air Force spending
The administration’s budget proposal calls for $61.1 billion for air power, with a focus on fighters, including the F-22, F-35, F-15EX; the B-21 bomber, the KC-46A; and unmanned aircraft systems, the department said.
It calls as well for $37.7 billion for modernizing nuclear weapons and systems. The price tag for continued development and procurement of the B-21 is put at $5.3 billion.
Hicks said this budget will focus on acquiring weapons and capabilities the military needs to keep up with the “pacing challenge” of China and the aggression of Russia against Ukraine. The department is also taking advantage of lessons learned from the war in Ukraine in weapons budgeting, she said.
“Ukraine has really informed and highlighted the need to up our game here,” Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller) and Chief Financial Officer Michael McCord said.
In munitions alone, the administration is calling for an investment of $30.6 billion in fiscal year 2024, a nearly 12% increase above FY ’23. Compared to DOD budget requests from five years ago, this budget plan calls for 50% more money on munitions.
The plan calls for an emphasis on long-range fires, including hypersonic missiles, Hicks said.
Air Force and Space Force’s funding would increase from a combined $249.7 billion to $259.4 billion. The Space Force is part of the Department of the Air Force.
The budget calls for continued investment in 72 fighters, said Jones, acting undersecretary of the Air Force. And the B-21 Raider is scheduled to achieve its first flight this calendar year, she added.
The lowest unemployment rate in some 50 years makes military recruiting a challenge, McCord acknowledged. Nonfarm payrolls rose by 311,000 for the month, the Labor Department reported Friday, a distinct sign that businesses are still hiring.
To try to keep people and boost recruiting, the Biden administration plan calls for the largest military pay raise in more than 20 years, and the largest civilian pay raise in over 40 years, both set at 5.2%.
In addition, the budget calls for $193 million to ease military moves, and more than $212 million in additional funding for commissaries.
Also in the budget: $90.4 million would be set aside to expand full-day pre-kindergarten at military Education Activity schools for eligible dependents.
The president’s budget blueprint is the first step in the lengthy federal budget process. Congress typically shapes defense spending as it sees fit.
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