April 11, 2014, WASHINGTON (AFNS) – The fiscal and security challenges triggered by budgetary constraints are posing problems for Air Force strategy, the service’s secretary told the Senate Armed Services Committee April 10.
Deborah Lee James said tomorrow’s Air Force requires investing in the right technologies and platforms to be prepared to operate in a volatile and unpredictable world, “in which we cannot take for granted that we will continue to command the skies and … space.”
The fiscal year 2015 budget request calls for fully funding flying hours and other high-priority readiness issues, she said, adding that Air Force readiness has “taken a hit over time,” and today is not where it should be.
“If our proposal is approved, we will see gradual improvements in full-spectrum readiness over time,” she said. “This will put us on the right path, particularly to … operate in a contested environment.”
At the same time, James said, the service must invest now so it isn’t beaten by potential adversaries 10 to 15 years from now, and that every dollar is critical.
“We’ve got to keep acquisition programs on budget and on schedule, (with) no more terrible cost overruns like we’ve seen in the past,” she said.
With the department in the midst of reducing service headquarters by 20 percent over the next five years, James said the Air Force would make those cuts in one year.
“And we’re looking to do better than 20 percent,” she said, adding, “I do have to join with Secretary of Defense (Chuck) Hagel and ask that you consider another round of (Base Realignment and Closure) in 2017.”
If there is a return to sequestration-level budgeting in fiscal 2016, the Air Force would have to retire about 80 more aircraft, including the KC-10 Extender tanker fleet in addition to what is now proposed, she said.
James said her vision of the Air Force 10 years from now is a smaller but very capable force.
“It will be a good value for the taxpayers and it will be recognized as such,” she added. “Most importantly, we will be powered by the best Airmen on the planet who live our core values of integrity, service and excellence, and cultivate a culture of dignity and respect for all.”
Testifying at the same hearing, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III called the Air Force the finest in the world and said it must remain that way.
“We built this budget to ensure that Air Force combat power remains unequaled, but that does not mean it will remain unaffected,” he said. “Every major decision reflected in our (fiscal) ’15 budget proposal hurts. Each of them reduces capability that our combatant commanders would love to have and believe they need.”
Additional “easy cuts” do not exist, Welsh said.
“And we simply can’t ignore the fact that the law as currently written returns us to sequestered funding levels in (fiscal) ’16,” he said. “To prepare for that, the Air Force must cut people and force structure now to create a balanced force that we can afford to train and operate in ’16 and beyond.”
Air Force budget planning began by making two significant assumptions, Welsh noted.
“First … the Air Force must be capable of winning a full-spectrum fight against a well armed, well trained enemy. Second, ‘ready today’ versus ‘modern tomorrow’ cannot be an either-or decision. We must be both,” he said.
“We also knew the overwhelming majority of reductions in our budget would have to come from readiness, force structure and modernization,” Welsh added.
“The funding levels we can reasonably expect over the next 10 years dictate that for America to have a capable, credible and viable Air Force in the mid-2020s, we must get smaller, now,” he said. “We must modernize parts of our force, but we can’t modernize as much as we planned, and we must maintain the proper balance across our five mission areas.”
Using standard Defense Department planning scenarios, results from an operational perspective showed “cutting the A-10 Thunderbolt II fleet was clearly the lowest-risk option,” Welsh said.
“Even if an additional $4 billion became available, I believe the combatant commanders would all tell you that they’d rather have us fund more (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) and airborne command-and-control capability than retain the A-10 fleet,” he said.