The Air Force of the Future: A Comparison of Alternative Force Structures

Summary of Study

Bottom Line: Three new government-commissioned studies show that the Air Force is at a transitional moment in terms of funding, organization, and aims.

The Air Force is currently spending more and more on less and less.

Though the Air Force’s budget has grown steadily, and is expected to grow again in FY 2020, even though the branch has fewer aircraft and personnel, and lower mission capability than before. This “suggests that the Air Force is facing a set of budgetary and force structure challenges today that are unlike what it has encountered in the past,” and needs to re-evaluate its approach.

The Air Force needs to adapt to the changing threat landscape.

All three studies concur that the resurgence of great power competition with Russia and China means that “the future force structure of the Air Force should be rebalanced in favor of more long-range, long-loiter platforms.” The reports also agree that production of certain technologies, like the B-21 and F-35A should be continued.

Ultimately, these studies raise many questions but don’t provide many answers.

None of the studies laid out a plan to keep the Air Force financially sustainable, with one essentially eschewing budget considerations altogether. Similarly, these studies fail to suggest “the right mix of forces among the active, guard, and reserve components.” And none of the studies suggest a plan for space defense needs, despite the fact that this will likely become a major issue in the near future.

Read the full study here.