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)