The Air Force must grow its air power substantially by 2030 to meet rapidly evolving threats from China and Russia, senior officials say.
A new internal study found that the service needs to increase the number of operational squadrons by about 25 percent by 2030, from 312 today to 386.
The proposed changes, which have not been worked into Pentagon budget plans, would require Air Force personnel levels to grow by about 40,000 service members on top of current growth projections, officials said.
Air Force officials have not yet completed an estimate of what the increase would cost.
It is unclear how President Donald Trump’s requested space force would fit into the study’s findings. Portions of the separate service would be carved out of the Air Force.
If approved, the addition of more than 70 new squadrons would bring the Air Force to a size not seen since the height of the Cold War, when there were 401 operational squadrons.
“Over the last 17 years, we have had the luxury of being the dominant power focused on violent extremism,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said Friday during a preview of the study. “We have to be clear-eyed about the world in which we live.”
“The Air Force is too small for what the nation is asking us to do,” she said.
Wilson and Gen. David Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff, described a complex array of challenges, including extremist movements, cyberthreats, a resurgent Russia and, most important, China’s rapidly improving air capacity. Beijing has made massive military investments.
To meet that challenge, the Air Force must increase the number of bomber squadrons from nine to 14 and tanker squadrons from 40 to 54, the study found.
Operational squadrons include bombers, airlift, cyber and combat search and rescue. Squadrons vary in size but range from about 100 to 1,200 people. A fighter squadron, for example, includes about 24 aircraft.
The study described by Wilson and Goldfein remains a work in progress. A more exhaustive version will be presented to Congress in March, they said.