WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Air Force’s top civilian leader presented his service’s fiscal 2014 $114.4 billion baseline request to Congress April 12, and shared some of the fiscal challenges the Air Force has faced.
“As with all budgets, our fiscal year (2014) request represents a snapshot in time,” Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley told the House Armed Services Committee. “[It’s] our best analysis of Air Force needs based on available information.”
Donley, who was accompanied at the House hearing by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, said the Air Force’s priorities remain aligned with the Defense Department’s strategic guidance.
“This includes supporting combatant commanders in the current fight in Afghanistan, maintaining a strong and stable presence in the Pacific and [South] Korea, supporting nuclear and regional deterrence, counterterror and other operations,” Donley said.
“There is demand for air power, and your Airmen are busy around the world,” he added.
The secretary noted that more than 57,000 Airmen are stationed overseas and more than 132,000 members are providing support to combatant commanders.
However, “as the fiscal constraints get tighter, we must tighten our alignment with the new strategy and strengthen our commitment to joint interdependent solutions to the nation’s military challenges,” Donley said.
“You’ve heard many times that the implications of sequestration reductions are dire,” he said. “They are, [and] that’s why the president has put forward a balanced deficit reduction proposal that would allow Congress to repeal sequestration in fiscal year 2013 and beyond.”
Donley summed up the state of the Air Force in three broad areas — force structure, readiness and modernization.
Last year, in efforts to meet the requirements of the first half of the Budget Control Act, he said, the Air Force’s fiscal 2013 budget proposed a number of force structure changes including aircraft transfers, retirements and changes in unit missions.
The 2014 budget proposal, Donley said, would cut Air Force end strength by about 1,800 active duty Airmen, reduce Air Force Reserve end strength by just fewer than 500, and reduce Air National Guard end strength by 300.
The fiscal 2014 budget proposal will focus on implementing the retirements, transfers and mission changes that were approved in the National Defense Authorization Act, he said.
With regard to readiness, Donley said he expects the demand for Air Force capabilities to remain constant with the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, and a continued presence in the Middle East and Africa.
“We must improve readiness to prevent a hollow force,” he cautioned. “With respect to fiscal 2013, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Air Force leaders have already recounted the readiness impacts we anticipated this year as a result of sequestration.”
Anticipating challenges due to sequestration, Donley said the Air Force took steps to cut back normal operations, including a civilian hiring freeze, canceling non-mission critical official travel and conferences and reducing major command and combatant command budgets by approximately 10 percent.
“However, these steps alone are not sufficient to absorb the full impacts of sequestration without affecting readiness,” he said.
Donley said sequestration reductions and readiness impacts are now being felt across the Air Force.
“This week, eight fighter and bomber units ceased flying operations, and four additional squadrons will completely stand down when they return from deployment in the next few weeks,” he said.
“And one additional bomber squadron will stand down this summer when it returns from deployment,” Donley added. “Flying hour reductions will halt training for the rest of the year in many units, and [it] will take up to six months to restore pilot proficiency.”
Donley also noted the potential furlough of the Air Force’s civilian work force, which he said would be “potentially devastating” to morale and would slow productivity.
Turning to Air Force modernization efforts, the secretary said the challenges faced by his service are pervasive, and will, if unaddressed, seriously undermine its ability to accomplish the missions the nation asks of it.
“The average age of our fighter aircraft is now 23 years,” Donley said. “Rescue helicopters, 22 years; training aircraft, 25 years; bombers, 36 years; and tankers, nearly 50 years.”
Donley said the Air Force’s “most significant” priorities remain on track in fiscal 2014 — the fifth generation F-35A Lightning II, the KC-46 tanker and the long-range strike bomber.
“The continued modernization of existing fleets, such as the B-2, the F-22, F-15, F-16 and C-17, to name some, to keep them operationally effective and to extend their service lives is also key,” he said.
Donley told members of the House committee that it was “all the more critical” to get their support for a new base realignment and closure program.
“The Air Force executed BRAC 2005 on time and under budget, and those adjustments are today generating savings estimated at $1 billion per year,” Donley said.
“We’re looking at European basing requirements with our DOD partners, and we’re ready to begin [the] next steps in the continental U.S.,” he added. “We estimate more than 20 percent of our basing infrastructure is excess.”