Air Force officials unveil strategic choices and budget priorities in briefing at Pentagon

WASHINGTON, 7 Feb. 2012. Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley held a briefing at the Pentagon to outline U.S. Air Force priorities and choices in response to the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DOD’s) strategic guidance, as well as the Air Force's pieces of the Budget Control Act. “Air Force Priorities for a New Strategy with Constrained Budgets,” the organization’s fiscal 2013 budget submission, identifies for elimination more than 280 aircraft over the next five years.  

Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley says:

“We have made some hard choices to closely align ourselves with the new strategic guidance in our FY '13 budget submission. Our decision for the Air Force was that we were better off, and the best choice -- course of action for us is to become smaller in order to protect a high-quality and ready force that will continue to modernize and grow more capable in the future. So we had to balance force structure, readiness, modernization and certainly our support for Airmen in that mix. And that was the balancing that we did, the choices that we made.

“We have taken, along the way, a number of steps to protect the distinctive capabilities that the Air Force brings to the table, consistent with the strategic guidance we received, capabilities that joint and coalition partners have come to depend upon from the Air Force: air and space control in particular, global intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, global mobility, global strike, all enabled by effective C2, and of course recognition of the growing importance of cyber.

“Now, we've also protected along the way the bomber force. Our remotely-piloted aircraft plans are now set at 65 CAPs with the capability to surge to 85.

“We've resized our mobility forces to match up with the changes in the overall size of the joint force. We've protected space. We've protected cyber capabilities, also nuclear forces along the way.

“The president has noted that there is a possibility--the potential for being able to fulfill our nuclear deterrent mission at smaller numbers. But those issues are still pending at the White House, so we've made no changes in the nuclear forces. We'll let the president decide the way forward in that area later.

“Our force structure changes include the reduction of 286 aircraft over the future years' defense plan, including 123 fighters, 133 mobility aircraft, 30 ISR platforms. Our smaller force structure has led us to favor divesting niche fleets, smaller fleets that involved specialized training and sustainment or costly, in some cases, sustainment; retaining and emphasizing multirole capabilities that will provide for operational flexibility across the spectrum of conflict; and for those remaining forces, also additional emphasis on common configurations for remaining fleets, which will again give us operational flexibility.

“All of those force structure changes yield a reduction of 9,900 personnel. That's 3,900 active duty, 5,100 Guard personnel and 900 Reserve personnel.

“We've carefully balanced our active and Reserve component changes to make sure that we can meet the demanding and sustainable OPTEMPOs that are part of the strategic environment going forward, so we can meet the surge capabilities in the new strategic guidance and we can also meet the sustained operations at a deployment rate that will not overstress the active force, will not overstress the Reserve components as we go forward. 

“We're fully committed to our total force capability. We can't do what we do without our Guard and Reserve and active components all working together. So we will get smaller together. But as we get smaller, we will get more integrated together. And the number of associations between the active and the Reserve components will go up from about a hundred to 115. And we expect that number to grow higher as we get into FY '14 and beyond.

“In the context of these force structure changes, there are multiple units affected, and just about every state will be affected by the aircraft and/or the manpower adjustments that go with these changes.

“In a number of cases, we've taken mitigating action by remissioning units--from aircraft to remotely piloted aircraft, or ISR missions, for example. We've moved some aircraft from the active forces into the Guard or Reserve. And in some cases unit size will increase in the Reserve component as well.

“But, in general, we're getting smaller. So these mitigations and backfills will not cover all units at all locations.

“Our intention is to protect readiness at any force level. We're still working through the negative effects of over a decade of sustained high-operational tempo and that's--and its impact on the force in terms of the aging equipment, lost training opportunities and the stress on our personnel. So we are still working through those issues and recovering through that.

“We put the funds where we think they're necessary in our flying hour programs, of course, and weapons systems sustainment, but this bears watching going forward. And we're committed--I think all the service secretaries, chiefs, the entire Defense leadership is committed not to allow this force to go hollow.

“We are slowing modernization, but we are protecting programs that are critical to future Air Force capabilities, and you've heard the deputy secretary address some of those. We've protected the long- range strike family of systems and particularly the bomber program, obviously the tanker program; SBIRS; AEHF, the follow-on GPS; and other programs as well.

“As part of a management decision on the F-35 program, we have determined that we are not ready to ramp up to full rate production. So we've depressed the rate of procurement for a few years while we work through the concurrency issues still present in that program. But we remain fully committed to the F-35, as the deputy has outlined, all three variants. This is a "must do" for our armed forces.

“It's the future of the fighter force, not only for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, but also about 12 other international partners as well.

“We continue to support our Airmen in this endeavor, and I won't go into detail on the personnel adjustments. I think the deputy and the vice chairman have already covered those matters adequately at the DOD level.

“But we do rely on our ability to recruit and retain a high-quality force, and this is extremely important to the Air Force. Because of the technical nature of the work that our Airmen do, we need an experienced force to do what we do, and we need to remember that they're the ones that bring all this together for us and make it all happen for our Air Force and for our nation's defense.

“So, tough choices in the middle of this. This is hard but manageable. There's increased risk, as the chief can better articulate than me. But this is manageable, provided there are no further reductions. And I think the deputy has been articulate, the secretary as well, that further reductions beyond what the department is facing currently and has addressed here, the $487 billion from previously planned levels, would cause us to have to go back and revisit the strategy. We would not be able to execute the new strategic guidance at levels lower than are now programmed.

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