- Barrie Barber Staff Writer
Wright-Patterson scored “a huge win” when the Pentagon announced Monday its proposed budget contains an $116.1 million expansion at the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, an official said.
The construction project was included in a new $716 billion fiscal year 2019 defense budget rolled out that increased $16 billion from the previous year and one defense leaders pointed to as a return of “great power” military rivalry with China and Russia and threats from North Korea and Iran
“This is one of the single biggest construction projects in Wright-Patt’s history,” said Michael Gessel, Dayton Development Coalition vice president of federal programs, one of the largest since construction of the Maj. Gen. Harry G. Armstrong complex that houses the Air Force School of Aerospace Space Medicine.
Under the budget proposal, the Air Force would add dozens of new planes, boost depleted readiness, give military personnel a 2.6 percent pay hike, and by 2020 add 4,000 more airmen to active duty ranks and 700 to the Air National Guard and reserve.
The $156.3 billion Air Force budget request for 2019 is 6.6 percent higher than the current fiscal year.
The increase would boost Wright-Patterson’s work in acquisitions, research, and intelligence, and mean more troops, planes and ships throughout the military, documents show.
NASIC has cited overcrowded and outdated spaces. The size of the workforce has grown nearly 90 percent since 2000. The need for space hasn’t kept pace with the growth, said Michelle Martz, a NASIC spokeswoman.
The intelligence production complex addition could be tied to renovations on NASIC’s campus, she added.
In October, the secretive intelligence agency had a ceremonial ribbon-cutting for a $29.5 million foreign materials exploitation facility for a 58,000-square-foot building to dissect adversaries weapons technology.
On Monday, U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, praised the decision to build a new NASIC facility.
Brown included the project in a list of Ohio military construction priorities sent to Secretary of Defense James Mattis in January and raised the issue with Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, his office said.
U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement the budget was “a good starting point for funding American priorities in the coming year.”
With a new influx of billions in additional spending, the defense budget notably does not include a push to close or realign military bases. Congress agreed to a two-year budget deal last week spanning this fiscal year and the next.
“What we do know is that this budget deal overall was a big win for defense,” Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis, said recently in an email. “This is the highest level of spending anyone had proposed or talked about.”
He said the spending plan “places a high priority on modernizing weapon systems and relatively less priority on growing the size of the force to the levels President Trump campaigned on in 2016.”
Loren B. Thompson, a senior defense analyst at the Virginia-based Lexington Institute, said the budget will make it “much easier for the Air Force to sustain a high rate of readiness while replacing Cold War fighters, bombers and tankers. It is the best news Wright Patterson has gotten since Congress capped defense budgets in 2011.”
Still, he noted in an email with the national debt at a record and growing $20 trillion, rising interest rates could make ongoing jumps in defense spending unsustainable beyond 2019.
Air Force research, development test and evaluation spending would rise to $30.4 billion in 2019, up from $25.6 billion today. Major research priorities target hypersonics, artificial intelligence, unmanned autonomy and nanotechnology, the Air Force said.
The Air Force Research Laboratory, which has about a $5 billion annual budget, is headquartered at Wright-Patterson.
The Air Force has targeted modernization of its aging nuclear force with development of a replacement for land-based nuclear-tipped missiles and more money for space-based systems.
Procurement would jump to $16.2 billion next year from $15.3 billion, including money for 48 F-35A stealth fighters, 15 KC-46 tankers, a new combat rescue helicopter and funds to re-engine more than half-century old B-52 bombers that are part of the nuclear bomber force.
Spending on development of the next generation B-21 Raider bomber would rise to $2.3 billion, from $2 billion this year.