Lawmakers' inability to pass a fiscal 2018 budget for the military and their use of another stopgap budget measure has become the "greatest risk" to the service, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said Monday.
A decade of stopgap continuing resolutions, including the most recent one passed this month, has hamstrung the service and allowed foreign adversaries to edge closer to challenging U.S. air dominance, Wilson warned during a speech to an Air Force Association conference in Maryland.
"Honestly, the greatest risk we are facing right now here at home is not hurricanes in the Atlantic, it is the risk of not having a budget," she said. "Little by little, over 31 continuing resolutions, our adversaries outpace us."
Congress will miss the deadline to pass a new Air Force and defense budget when the new 2018 fiscal year starts Oct. 1. Instead, it passed another continuing resolution to give lawmakers a three-month extension in the hope they can broker a budget agreement.
"Operating under a continuing resolution means we can't start any new programs, we can't fund new innovation, we can't fund new investments in modernization," Wilson said.
Wilson said the service "has to get larger to be ready" and is pursuing more airmen and modern aircraft such as the B-21 Raider heavy bomber by Northrop Grumman, KC-46 Pegasus tanker by Boeing, and the F-35A strike fighter by Lockheed Martin.
But Congress still faces a vexing political landscape for passing a budget for the service in December. President Trump, the House and Senate have all proposed defense budgets that would bust through spending caps in federal law.
Any budget with increases for the Air Force would require an overarching agreement in Congress to lift the caps. Without a deal, the existing bills could trigger sequestration, the across-the-board cuts mandated under the Budget Control Act of 2011.
"A return to Budget Control Act funding levels would destroy the small gains we've made in readiness over the last three years, it would degrade infrastructure, and throw contract negotiations into turmoil," Wilson said. "This is how we lose the war-fighting advantage for the citizens we seek to protect. The United States must get beyond the Budget Control Act in order to protect the country."