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April, 16
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    Air Force leaders sound alarm over looming yearlong funding delay

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    DENVER, Colo. — A full-year continuing resolution for fiscal 2024 would have “absolutely devastating” effects on the Air Force and Space Force’s ability to make progress on key programs, the Air Force’s head of acquisition said Tuesday.

    “We have this wonderful vision, lots of great programs that we have teed up,” Andrew Hunter told reporters at the Air and Space Forces Association’s Air Warfare Symposium here. “[We] still need that FY24 budget to make it real.”

    The Pentagon is now operating under its third continuing resolution of fiscal 2024 as Congress continues to draft defense spending legislation. The latest stopgap deal, passed in January, funds the government through March 8.

    Like a traditional CR, the measure pauses funding at the prior year’s levels — fiscal 2023, in this case — and prevents the Pentagon from starting new programs and increasing procurement quantities for existing efforts. While the department is accustomed to operating under a continuing resolution for at least a portion of each fiscal year, the 2023 Fiscal Responsibility Act adds a twist.

    The law stipulates that all federal agencies would face a 1% cut from fiscal 2023 funding levels if the government was still operating under a CR on Jan. 1, 2024 — which it was. However, the language includes a four-month grace period, so while that initial deadline has passed, Congress has until April 30 to approve FY24 appropriations and avoid slashing the executive branch’s spending.

    While lawmakers tend to reach an annual appropriations agreement by March or April each year, Air Force officials signaled a growing concern that Congress could miss the late April deadline.

    During this week’s conference, the Department of the Air Force distributed a fact sheet outlining the impact a 1% cut would have on its two services, the Air Force and Space Force. The measure would reduce the service’s buying power by nearly $13 billion and put $2.8 billion in space modernization projects on hold. It would also limit production increases for key programs like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Small Diameter Bomb and Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, and delay seven Space Force launches, according to the department.

    Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said in keynote speech Monday that the congressional funding standoff has caused significant delays to his vision for modernizing the service. When he took on the role in 2021, he revealed seven “operational imperatives” meant to inform Air Force and Space Force budget priorities.

    Initiatives driven by those priorities, 19 of which were included in service’s FY24 budget request, have yet to be fully funded.

    “It would be very disappointing to me to have been in office for an entire administration and have never received any of the needed resources to be competitive — resources that we identified in the first six months I was in office,” he said.

    Key among those efforts, Kendall said, is the Air Force’s Collaborative Combat Aircraft program, which will field fleets of drones powered by autonomous software and designed to fly alongside crewed fighters.

    The service hopes to narrow its pool of potential CCA providers from five companies to two or three in fiscal 2024, but that timeline depends on when funding is available.

    “We’re moving ahead with a sense of urgency on CCAs,” Kendall told reporters Tuesday. “As a preamble, everything depends upon FY24 being appropriated.”

    For the Space Force, which requested $30 billion in FY24, the automatic cuts have an outsized impact. The $2.8 billion in stalled modernization projects represents nearly 10% of the service’s total budget.

    The Space Force’s budget has nearly doubled since it was created in 2019, and Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Saltzman told reporters Feb. 13 that funding delays are having “an acute effect” on the service as it continues to grow.

    “Our ability to do all the missions that are required is being severely impacted by not being able to get the resources that we’ve asked for,” he said.

    Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.

    Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.



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