WASHINGTON (AFNS) — Sequestration would leave the Air Force with untrained people, a lack of equipment and be “devastating” to the service, officials said Feb. 7.
The warning echoes what Department of Defense officials have stated for months about across-the-board defense cuts, in addition to an ongoing continuing resolution.
“Now that we’re staring at that possibility in less than a month, I can tell you, they were right,” said Air Force Vice Chief of Staff, Gen. Larry Spencer, during a media roundtable at the Pentagon.
The meeting was aimed at discussing the toll that ongoing fiscal insecurity and looming sequestration are taking on the force.
“We understand the national imperative of economic strength and getting the fiscal house in order,” said Acting Under Secretary of the Air Force Dr. Jamie Morin. “And we recognize that the Air Force is not going to be exempt from the sort of budgetary austerity that is a part of a balanced approach to getting the national fiscal house in order.”
Although Air Force leaders have already taken steps to meet budgetary reductions, the impacts that will occur from sequestration put the service at risk.
“Those cuts from sequestration, as has been said over and over again, are going to be devastating; they’re going to be dangerous,” Morin said.
Morin and Spencer, among others, laid out a set of near term actions the service is taking to hedge against the potential of sequestration. They included limiting training, facility maintenance and curbing spending.
“The actions we’re taking (now) are focused on things that we see as reversible and not damaging to direct combat capability,” Morin said. “Nevertheless they are disruptive to a whole host of Air Force priorities.”
According to Morin and Spencer, if sequestration does happen, the Air Force will have to take additional and likely irreversible actions. One such measure is to halt all but emergency facility repairs across the force.
“That results in a 90 percent reduction in those expenditures through the rest of the fiscal year,” Morin said. More than 400 projects across more than 140 bases are affected by this measure, but it only equates to about $2.9 billion in savings.
Sequestration, if it occurs, will cause a $12.4 billion shortfall for fiscal year 2013. That is compounded by a potential sequestration shortfall of $1.8 billion in overseas contingency operations.
“We’ve taken a series of initial actions, but those actions don’t come close to covering $12.4 billion,” Morin said. “There’s a lot more we’d have to do.”
For example, Morin said the reductions to the weapons systems sustainment account is going to drive an approximately one-third reduction in depot workload in fiscal year 2013.
But, like many other actions that may take place under sequestration, depot maintenance is something that will have cascading effects. Aircraft overdue for depot maintenance will be grounded until funds become available to service them later on.
So it’s going to push back that maintenance into a sort of bow-wave that will continue into fiscal year 2014 and beyond, according to Morin, resulting in serious inefficiency and reduction in operational capabilities.
But of major interest to the sequestration is the potential furlough of civilian employees. The Air Force currently has more than 180,000 civilian Airmen, with many locations where those civilian Airmen make up the majority, if not all of the workforce.
Spencer related a conversation he’d had with a wing commander.
The commander was “extremely concerned about what will happen to his work force since his entire maintenance team consists of government civilians,” Spencer said.
The military relies heavily on the expertise of its civilian Airmen and furlough would seriously limit the Air Forces ability to do the mission and would have a hugely negative impact on morale.
“This sort of unprecedented furlough action would put at risk mission accomplishment in a whole host of areas,” Morin said. “It’s a breach of faith with the civilian Airmen who are critical to the success of the Air Force.”
They also stressed the woes sequestration will have for the already difficult modernization programs.
“Unless we get substantial reprogramming flexibility we will see damage to programs like the KC-46 tanker, the F-35 — all in an environment where we’ve been bending over backwards to try and create stability,” Morin said. “That means delayed capabilities to the Airmen who are waiting for it, and it means increased cost to the taxpayer.”
In the long term, Morin said, the nation is going to have “some pretty serious conversations about defense strategy, about what we ask of our armed forces and of what set of capabilities the nation needs to provide required national security.”
“Sequestration has us looking a month from now, a week from now, a day from now,” Morin said. It’s like driving down a highway at 70 miles an hour, staring right in front of your hood ornament; it’s not a recipe for success.