Air Force FY 2021 Discretionary and IT Budget Request Observations

Published: March 04, 2020

USAFBudgetInformation Technology

The Air Force has submitted a $207 billion FY 2021 discretionary budget request, with $1.7 billion for unclassified information technology spending.

Last month the White House released its fiscal year (FY) 2021 budget request. The latest budget request sustains priorities for the Air Force that were funded in the FY 2019 and FY 2020 defense appropriations.

Total Discretionary Funding and Priorities

The proposed FY 2021 budget provides $207.1B in total discretionary budget authority to the Air Force, a $1.8B (+0.9%) increase over FY 2020 amount of $205.4B and $14.2B (+7%) above the FY 2019 budget of $192.9B. While the budget trend at the Air Force continues to trend upward the message from Department of Defense (DoD) leadership is that budget growth will moderate as priorities are met. The Air Force’s overall strategy supports personnel and operational readiness and force strength to bolster global capabilities.  

Air Force discretionary funding highlights include:

  • Provides $65.9B for O&M activities, adding $2.1B vs. FY 2020 with increased funding that prioritizes Flying Operations, Space/Combat Forces and Training and Recruiting.
  • Supports research and innovation for operational systems development, engineering and manufacturing through $47.7B in RDT&E funding, $2.3B above FY 2020.
  • Allocates $49.0B for Procurement, $1B below FY 2020. Priorities center on aircraft and weapons systems, but also on support communications systems and electronics.

Air Force FY 2021 IT Budget

Over the last decade or more the DoD has been slowly but consistently decreasing visibility into its IT budget as a growing proportion of this spending has been shifted behind the veil of classified programs and related budgets. Beginning with the FY 2018 budget, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) began masking the investment details of unclassified IT systems categorized as “National Security Systems” from public view. That accounts for approximately $17-20B in IT budget across the DoD with roughly $3-$4B of that within the Air Force.

So far this budget cycle we currently only have visibility into the portion of the Air Force’s IT budget published on OMB’s IT Dashboard, which does not include details for NSS and other classified systems. OMB’s data shows that the Air Force is requesting nearly $1.7B for non-classified, non-NSS IT investments, which is down $441M (-21%) from the FY 2020 enacted level of $2.1B but is $200M (+14%) above the FY 2019 budget level. So after a large 40+% bump from FY 2019 to FY 2020 the FY 2021 request is more in line with historical AF IT budgets.

Further, the portion of Air Force’s IT budget allocated to new Development/Modernization/Enhancement (DME) spending for this subset of investments is set for $399M in FY 2021, a decrease of more than 25% from FY 2020 and down -4% from FY 2019. (See table below.)

Noteworthy IT Programs

Delving into the Air Force’s publically-available IT budget initiatives among non-classified, non-national security systems provides some insight into their current Enterprise IT priorities as well as a glimpse into potential future investments. Below are a handful of initiatives that stand out among the publicly-released IT budget due to their relative size, budget growth, and/or proportion of new development spending. For FY 2021, Air Force IT funding highlights include:

  • B-52 Defense Research and Engineering Network - Tinker – This initiative will provide a high-speed, high-capacity, low-latency network connection to a B-52 engineering virtual desktop environment to help streamline the acquisition engineering process. The Air Force’s single largest unclassified IT investment line for FY 2020 receives $135M in funding, down $35M (-21%) from FY 2020. The investment is categorized as 100% DME.
  • Defense Enterprise Accounting and Management System – DEAMS drives improved information technology management through integrated financial information to enable accurate budget forecasting and the retirement of some legacy systems. DEAMS receives $128M for FY 2021, of which 37% ($48M) is DME. This initiative declines by $1M (-1%) from FY 2020.
  • Mission Partner Environment – MPE enables secure sharing of operational information for collaboration between and among the U.S. and mission partners. At $107M for FY 2021, this investment sees a $9M increase from FY 2020. DME makes up $10M of the overall FY 2021 budget.
  • Enterprise License Agreements – This line item bins all funding for Microsoft and Adobe licensing agreements to show funding just for licensing in IT budget reporting. At $77M for FY 2021 this investment incurs a $37M decrease from FY 2020. Historically the Air Force’s single largest unclassified IT investment line, ELA has moved down in ranking for FY 2021, suggesting the Air Force is realizing some cost savings. This investment is designated as 100% O&M spending.
  • WMA Corporate Management and Support Development Test and Evaluation (11) – This AFMC investment provides Corporate Management and Support capabilities in the Warfighter Mission Area. At $71M for FY 2021 the initiative declines by $16M from FY 2020. DME accounts for $2.6M (4%) of the total FY 2021 budget.

The DoD has yet to release updated total FY 2021 IT budget details that include subtotals for NSS and other classified systems that will provide a more complete perspective on overall IT budget growth across Defense and at the Air Force. More analysis will follow once those details are made public.