U.S. Air Force officials Schwartz, Donley discuss impact of potential budget cuts, reductions in personnel and aircraft fleet
WASHINGTON, 7 Feb. 2012. U.S. Air Force officials look to cut 280 aircraft and 9,900 airmen under guidance from U.S. Department of Defense officials and their defense budget priorities and choices for fiscal year 2013. In a question-and-answer session, Air Force officials—including Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz--reveal that all 50 U.S. states will be affected by the suggested cuts.
Q: You mentioned this is going to affect all 50 states. Are you worried about hitting resistance in Congress, in the case of Guard and Reserve, state governments? And if so, what are y'all going to do about it?
SECRETARY OF THE AIR FORCE MICHAEL DONLEY: Well, we'll certainly work through those issues with each of the affected delegations. The chief and I and--along with other service secretaries and chiefs, but the Air Force team has been up speaking to congressional staff today. We'll be talking with affected delegations in the weeks ahead.
Today General McKinley and our director of the Air National Guard, General Wyatt, were briefing the state adjutant generals on our plans. So we are being as transparent as we can about all the changes we have made. Our Guard and Reserve partners have been integral to this work. They have helped identify the locations and work through the mitigations and remissioning of units affected by these changes. And we'll all go forward together as one Air Force in this process.
Q: Yeah, so actually, a question for both of you. In terms of the slowdown and how it'll affect the F-35, I notice that you say that you're going to be working on a detailed plan, but you're not--you know, haven't determined a full-rate production yet. Does that mean that you are coming off of the targeted number that you were planning to buy?
AIR FORCE CHIEF OF STAFF GENERAL NORTON SCHWARTZ: Well, first, we're--the key thing is we've committed to do service-life extension on about 350 of our multirole F-16s, some structures in the early-block airplanes, and then more extensive structure and avionics improvements on the more modern airplanes and that those will populate both the active-duty and the Reserve and the Guard components.
And the issue with respect to F-35 is that obviously the planes are not delivering as quickly as we originally anticipated, thus the requirement to posture the legacy force to make sure that we retain the capabilities we need until the F-35 delivers in numbers.
With respect to the question of, you know, total inventory, that is--you know, 1,763 is the program of record. Please recall that, by 2017, we will probably have a delivery of around 160 or 170 F-35s. So that call is well into the future.
Q: General Schwartz, when you talked about how the Air Force plans to trim 10,000 Airmen in fiscal 2013, that's obviously causing a lot of consternation among our readers. I know we're very early in this process, but we owe them an answer as to how these cuts will be made. So I pose the question to you and to the secretary: How do you plan on trimming 10,000 people next year and do you expect involuntary separation measures to be taken?
SEC. DONLEY: I don't think we'll need involuntary separation measures. We--we're in pretty decent shape now in terms of our active duty force management. We'll see what happens, but right now, we don't anticipate RIFs, if that's the nature of your question.
On the Guard side, there are significant reductions involved here, and we will be asking Congress for legislative authorities for force management tools, like those that we used for the active duty, to help the Guard work through the force shaping that's under way inside the Air National Guard as part of this process.
Q: Good afternoon, gentlemen. Every time the Air Force has faced difficult choices like this, you've whacked the A-10s. And I know you've seen all the arguments, heard all the arguments. There they go again.
As you look at the operational need for close air support, can you explain to us how you're going to bridge this and perhaps tell us why you're not going to have to--in 18 months, if some other situation pops up, you're not going to have to roll them out again and move folks back into them.
GEN. SCHWARTZ: We're reducing 102 A-10s, and there's still going to be 246 A-10s left in the inventory. And please recall, we are doing close air support with B-52s, with B-1s, certainly with F-16s and F-15Es and AC-130 gunships. The bottom line is, as remarkable an airplane as the A-10 is, it isn't the only machine that does close air support. And the United States Army and the United States Marine Corps and our own battlefield Airmen can rely on having plenty of close air support provided by the United States Air Force from above.
Q: So are PGMs allowing you in part to get around this?
GEN. SCHWARTZ: Certainly. Certainly precision-guided munitions of all varieties, both GPS-guided and otherwise, enable that, without a doubt.
Q: General Schwartz, I wanted to follow up on that A-10 question in regards to close air support.
The A-10s are--you were--mentioned the B-2s and the B-1s. The A- 10s are one of the most cost-effective measures in which the Air Force can provide CAS, as well as one of the most effective, just generally. Can you talk a little bit about why you did choose the A-10s, just to go along with that, versus a B-2, which is so much more expensive for the Air Force to employ--
GEN. SCHWARTZ: A B-52?
Q:--or a B-52, or the B-1s, for example?
GEN. SCHWARTZ: Yeah, just to clarify. The question is how many roles can a weapon system fulfill, depending on what eventualities unfold, what contingencies we might face. And as you get to a smaller force, one of the imperatives, in our view, was to maintain versatility. And in order to do so, that implied--if you have airplanes with a narrow range of capabilities that you defer toward the more multirole capabilities. And that is what we've done.
I emphasize again that the--that we're not talking about eliminating A-10 capability. There'll still be over--well over 200 aircraft in the inventory.
Q: General Schwartz, there's a big emphasis in the paper on the bomber force, protecting the bomber force. Can you elaborate what that means? Does that mean--how big of a force do you envision for bombers? Does that mean current bombers? And the future bomber, the new one, when will that be started?
GEN. SCHWARTZ: Sure. There are--in this year, in the '13 proposal, there are--there's no reduction in bomber force structure. There were minor reductions in '12, but not in '13. There's a recognition in the strategy that as you make the shift from the focus on the Gulf area and Iraq and Afghanistan to a more maritime focus, to Asia-Pacific requirement, that long-range strike in particular, and legs, become increasingly important.
And so the department came to the conclusion that it was best to retain the existing bomber force structure, and emphasized the new program--the long-range strike--(inaudible)--one component of which is a bomber. And you saw, I think, a very compelling commitment to that capability and one that we intend to fulfill and deliver in the mid '20s.
Q: General Schwartz, if I could just get a quick follow up--and I'm guessing your aides will probably have to help us with this, but if--to Andrea's question, could we get a number associated with the cost to get those F-16s up and running and operating for the number of years that you expect them to have to operate to fill that gaps.
And then, on a larger scale, I interviewed General Breedlove a couple of years ago about the 250 aircraft reduction, and he had said back then that they were going from low to moderate risk, to moderate risk of accomplishing certain missions, such as attacking defended enemy airspace, protecting against incursions into U.S. airspace, and close air support, which we discussed. Has that risk scenario changed? Are we increasing the risk from just two years ago, or can you put a little definition of what that risk means?
GEN. SCHWARTZ: Right. I think that the bottom line is--is that there is some additional risk relative to the 250 aircraft that we retired in 2010. There are also adjustments in the joint force structure broadly that allow you to make some of those reductions. But the--I think the bottom line is, again, that what we have done is responded to a new strategy.
What Phil Breedlove briefed you on two years ago was a QDR footprint. This is a new Defense Strategic Guidance which gives us a different force-sizing construct and a different set of requirements. And so this--what we're doing is not without risk, but I would categorize it as appropriate risk.
SEC. DONLEY: If I could add that this--just to build so there's a sort of a broader sense for this, is the strategy shifts a little bit toward Asia-Pacific. The chief mentioned the long distances, which favor long-range aircraft, bomber-like aircraft, long-range strike capabilities, to be protected; and inside the fighter force structure going forward, the need for more multi- role aircraft as we go forward. So all of these things mix together in helping shape the decisions we made about which kind of aircraft to retire.
Q: So is it still moderate risk, or is it higher than moderate?
GEN. SCHWARTZ: It's marginally higher than it was when we talked.
SEC. DONLEY: But the requirements also changed a bit in the strategy process--
GEN. SCHWARTZ: Yeah. Right, so--
SEC. DONLEY:--in the strategic guidance.
GEN. SCHWARTZ: We'll go here, and then come back.
Q: Sir, with the short-term reduction in the number of F-35s, does that mean you'll have to delay your IOC? And additionally, are you guys going to be getting F-35s at Eglin flying anytime soon?
GEN. SCHWARTZ: We have six airplanes at Eglin as we speak, and we will undertake a decision to start flying. The appropriate authorities in the Air Force will make that call based on a number of factors, including the status of the test program, the reliability of the platform and so on.
The plan will be to start flying--not training, but to start flying with test-qualified aviators initially to do what we call local area orientation, local area operations, and we will build to a threshold which will allow the training leadership in the Air Force to declare ready to train with other than test-qualified aviators.
With respect to F-35, again the situation is that we are managing concurrency on this program and we will bring the birds--we are eager to bring F-35s aboard when they are ready. And clearly the management art in this is hitting the sweet spot which allows you to acquire airplanes, but not so many that you have to go back and modify them because of what you learn in subsequent tests.
Q: The C-130 fleet and the AMP program in particular--in this document, you all describe the cancellation of the AMP program and its replacement with a more limited avionics upgrade. Can you describe what capabilities you'll be giving up in that--in that new program and how that will affect the smaller RC-130 fleet--(inaudible)
GEN. SCHWARTZ: Yeah, part of this--the reality is that the AMP program was a very extensive modification: certainly revamp the cockpit and introduced automation in communications and navigation equipment, so on and so forth. In a different era, it was an attractive approach. But, in a more austere area--era, rather, and now knowing that many of our European partners have pursued less ambitious, but sufficient cockpit modifications on their C-130s, this simply became an affordability issue for us.
And so we will pursue a modification that does what's absolutely needed, which is communications and navigation such that we can comply with international civil aviation organization requirements.
Q: General, thank you. I wanted to ask you about the Massive Ordnance Penetrator. Secretary Panetta has acknowledged there are shortcomings with this program. I'm curious if you could elaborate on those concerns and tell us if you have the conventional firepower to strike Iran's deeply buried nuclear facilities if needed.
GEN. SCHWARTZ: I'm certainly not going to speculate on hypothetical missions. And again, I don't think it should be a surprise that we seek to have in our weapon inventory capability to defeat buried and--hardened and deeply buried targets.
Q: Can you tell us why you need 85 million [dollars] more in this program?
GEN. SCHWARTZ: There are--you know, take--for example, take the AIM-120, the AMRAAM. Over time we have had the AMRAAM and have improved it through several versions, C-5, C-7, AIM-120D and so on. This is true even with the JDAM, where we did improvements on the guidance kit over time. This is what I would call, again, achieving the right level of capability such that you can use weapons like this or others; where either technologies become available or techniques to improve their reliability, for example.
So the bottom line is, you know, this is not unlike any other weapon in our inventory.
Q: So you're not willing to tie these upgrades to a need in Iran.
GEN. SCHWARTZ: I don't think I am, you know, to put it bluntly. Yes.
Q: General, Chairman Dempsey has talked about having the force in such a way that if they guessed wrong, they can rebuild it fairly quickly. Could you--could both of you please talk about how you would rebuild the Air Force if--or expand the Air Force if we guessed wrong?
SEC. DONLEY: A couple of areas where we're putting additional focus--I talked about the importance of the total force going forward. As we go forward, it--again, we're going to get smaller across all three components. We need to get more closely integrated and to be more ready for the contingencies out in front of us.
I think Libya is an excellent example in terms of readiness, in terms of how quickly requirements for Air Force capabilities can emerge. We did not have months to prepare for that. We really didn't have weeks to prepare for that. It was more like days and hours. We were able to bring the total force together quickly to produce combat capability over Libya within hours and then to generate that capability with our NATO partners as well and sustain that for nine months. You can't do that if you're not ready.
So a smaller force, to us, in this strategic context means we have to be even more integrated and more ready going forward. So the associations that we're developing and continue to push forward between the active and the Reserve component forces is an extremely important part of making sure that we can access and make total, full use of the total force.
Q: Is that harder with--(off mic)--
DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS, OFFICE OF THE SECRETARY OF THE AIR FORCE BRIGADIER GENERAL LES KODLICK: We have time for one more.
GEN. SCHWARTZ: Just a second.
If I can add one thing, Mr. Secretary, with your permission. In a major capital end item-intensive organization like the Air Force or the Navy is, that typically takes a while to deliver those capital end items. It is important to have modernization programs in train that one could expand if you needed to, to serve the notion of reversibility. And that is what the new tanker is for, that's what the F-35 for, and that's what the long-range strike bomber is about.
BRIG. GEN. KODLICK: Chris, why don't we let you take the last question.
Q: I just had a quick question. The Army and Marines have talked a lot about getting back to doing what they do best. How have these budget reductions affected what you had planned to do in terms of the balance between manned and unmanned systems in the Air Force?
SEC. DONLEY: Frankly, we didn't look at this issue of manned-unmanned balance. I mean, we have focused, in the ISR area, for example, on making sure, with the 65 CAP goal that we have established, that DOD has set, our ability to surge to 85 CAPs. That--our goals in the ISR area have been to consolidate the gains that we have made over the past 10 years or so, not necessarily just by adding more airplanes, but by filling out the training, the education, the sustainment, the communication system that goes with this capability to make sure it will be full and robust going forward as the budgets start to come down. So that's an example of where we had--we set the force structure, and then we're focused on filling out all the details of the capability underneath to make sure it is healthy going forward.
GEN. SCHWARTZ: We are not going back to the 2001 ISR footprint. The bottom line is if you want to know what we're good at, we're good at air and space control, global ISR, global mobility and global strike, and we will continue to be good at that, you know, in the future, OK?