Donley: Air Force Must Strike Balance in Budget

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md., Sept. 20, 2011 – The Air Force will maintain its technical edge and commitment to its people while addressing tough budget decisions, Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley said yesterday.

Donley spoke about the state of Air Force budget issues, current and future operations, and what Air Force officials are doing to maintain the force’s capabilities during the Air Force Association’s 2011 Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition here. „We are in a season of important national debate,“ Donley said. „We have to move forward in a way that protects our national security and will provide our national leadership with the tools necessary to defend America’s interests in the complex security environment in which we live.“

Spending reductions across the Defense Department to help reduce the national debt will affect Air Force planning at all levels.

„Though very tough, these reductions are considered achievable as DOD reviews its roles and missions and examines all areas of the budget for savings,“ he said. „To get these savings, we will need to accept greater risk in some areas, terminate some lower-priority programs, streamline others, continue driving efficiency in our operations and make some tough choices about the core tenets of our national security strategy.

„It’s safe to say that every single line of the budget is under scrutiny,“ he said.

Donley emphasized that DOD leaders are aware of how spending reductions could affect the services, and are working to mitigate any setbacks in the mission.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta „has made a commitment to ensure that our military has everything it needs to protect our national security at a time of considerable fiscal challenge in our country,“ he said. „And most importantly to our airmen, he has promised to fight for service members and their families as we face these budget challenges. He understands the importance of keeping faith with military service members and their families.“

Donley also explained how balancing the force and modernizing equipment will play a factor in the way the budget is expended. Each factor must be considered in conjunction with the others.

„As we look at the Air Force budget, balance has been our guiding principle,“ he said. „If our force structure — the size and composition of our Air Force — is too large given the resources available, then we risk not being able to sustain the costs of ownership, such as providing for pay and benefits, training and materiel readiness. We need to avoid a hollow force.“

If the force is too small, Donley went on to say, it could unintentionally drive some mission areas and career fields to unsustainably low levels, while losing the flexibility to accommodate new or evolving missions, or risk ability to sustain expeditionary operations.

Balancing the force also includes continuing to integrate total force airmen and assets.

„As we consider the broad scope of changes ahead, we are committed to maintaining an Air Force presence in each state, to include at least one active-duty, Reserve, or Air National Guard unit,“ Donley said. „This reflects our commitment to the total force, our ongoing efforts to find the right balance between our active-duty and our Air Reserve component forces, and recognition of airpower’s important role in supporting governors and civil authorities in managing the consequences of natural disasters.“

The secretary said that while it would benefit no one to down play the hard choices that confront the Air Force, neither should the picture be painted as so bleak that service members fear that the nation is turning its back „on those who have served with such devotion, and on the institutions that have kept our nation secure for generations.“

„I want to make clear that as the Department of Defense adapts to the evolving budget environment, your Air Force is committed to keeping faith with our airmen and their families, and to sustaining core Air Force missions,“ he said.

Although much work remains before the Air Force can expect strategic clarity regarding budget reductions, Donley said there are certain key capabilities service officials are working to protect. One such area is the Joint Strike Fighter program, which provides the Air Force with the F-35 Lightning II.

„There are certain capabilities we will protect,“ he said. „We will apply best military judgment to oppose reductions that would cause irreparable harm.“

Donley said he and Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Norton A. Schwartz „are determined to set the right course, to make the right investments so that the Air Force evolves in positive directions, even with limited resources.

„We remain committed to maintaining air superiority and the capability to hold any target at risk,“ he said. „With a fighter fleet now averaging 22 years old, and with two decades of declining fighter force structure, modernizing our aging and smaller fighter force depends on the fifth generation capabilities of the joint strike fighter. Simply put, there is no alternative to the F-35 program. It must succeed.“

Despite budget reductions, Donley said he is confident the Air Force will maintain its ability to flight, fight and win across the full spectrum of operations.

„The Air Force has always been a forward-leaning military service, always at the forefront applying new technologies to strengthen U.S. national security,“ he said. „And throughout our history, we have demonstrated the flexibility to evolve according to changing needs and requirements. The Air Force must be prepared to keep evolving as we finish today’s fight and continue our mission to protect America today and in the future.“

U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)