WASHINGTON — Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said today that the Air Force will fight differently in the future and that it is time for the service branch to dramatically expand its capability.
Opening the Air Force Association’s three-day annual conference on Monday at National Harbor in Maryland, Wilson said the service needs to grow to 386 operational squadrons by around 2025-2030, compared with the 312 it has today. That is roughly a 25 percent boost.
Wilson said that size would be needed in the event of a conflict with Russia or China — the two primary adversaries of the United States in the 2018 National Defense Strategy document. That strategic document shifts Pentagon focus from battling terrorism to full warfare with peer nations in great power competition.
Specially, Wilson said Monday that the Air Force would use the 74 new squadrons to create, among others, five more bomber squadrons, seven more special operations squadrons, 14 more tanker squadrons, seven more fighter squadrons, two Remotely Piloted Aircraft squadrons, one more airlift squadron and 22 more Command and Control Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance squadrons.
The need is across the board, she said. There are 55 fighter squadrons today, down from 134 during Desert Storm in 1991, for example.
“Sometimes it is hard to see the sweep of history, when we are just trying to get today’s work done,” Wilson said Monday. “Which is why it is important to come together like this, to take stock of where we are, so that we can reaffirm where we need to go.”
Wilson said the larger Air Force will come with a new style. “It’s not just larger; the way we fight will be different,” she said. That new style will be announced later in the conference she said.
The secretary said the Air Force is more prepared for major combat operations today than it was two years ago.
“More than 75 percent of our pacing force is combat-ready today with their lead force packages,” Wilson said. “We’re moving the whole force to higher levels of readiness with actions that will play out over several years, but there are also steps that are making a difference right now.”