WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Air Force may have to “cut vertically” in fiscal 2014 to achieve the savings needed under sequestration, the service’s acting secretary said here today.
Everything is on the table, Eric Fanning said in a media roundtable at the Air Force Association’s annual meeting.
He would not confirm reports that the Air Force is looking at eliminating the A-10 Thunderbolt II air-to-ground fighter and the KC-10 Extender refueling tanker, but said officials are “looking most closely at single-mission fleets.”
Cuts to the budget in fiscal 2014 mean no ramp for the services – they will not enter these spending cuts gradually, the acting secretary said.
“If we go into fiscal 2014 with sequestration still in effect, you need to achieve those savings that quickly,” he said. “You have to look at vertical cuts.”
The Air Force cannot save money out of installations, because Congress will not support another round of base realignments and closures, Fanning said. And even personnel cuts wouldn’t provide immediate relief, he added.
“You can’t get money out of people fast enough – it takes about a year to get savings out of personnel,” he said.
Fencing off priority programs puts a lot of pressure on the wedge of the budget pie that’s left, Fanning said.
“You can see what some of the programs are we might be after, but you can’t get savings of the magnitude necessary by reducing all your fleets,” he said. “You have to take out some of the fleets entirely in order to get the whole tail that would come with it.”
The fiscal 2015 budget is in turmoil. The Air Force – along with all of DOD – is formulating two separate budgets: one with a sequestration topline and one based on the president’s budget request.
“We are constantly balancing modernization versus recapitalization – near-term risk vs. far-term risk,” Fanning said.
All Air Force officials fully realize there are near-term commitments that are imperative.
“We are still at war,” Fanning said. “We are still required to go when contingencies arise. There is no greater commitment we have than to support the men and women being sent into harm’s way now.”
But manning and equipping the force of the future also is important, Fanning said. In a speech this morning, he said the Air Force needs to ask the right questions to identify the game-changers of the future.
No one really knows what technologies or capabilities will change warfare in the future, he said, but the Air Force must “keep looking for it and investing in it so you are adaptable and agile and better positioned to adjust to whatever that is ahead of your adversary. If you are not asking the question, you are not focused in the right direction.”
Over the past four years, the Air Force has been doing not only an annual budget, but also multiple budgets, conducting efficiency drills and “driving all of our thinking and processes into this ever-tightening ‘do loop’ that takes the eye of people off of over-the-horizon thinking,” Fanning said.
In a time of drawdown, officials have to set up and enforce priorities, he said.
“But you need a budget baseline to build off of those priorities and look over the horizon,” Fanning said. “If we ask the right question, the Air Force … is going to be in a dynamic place 10, 15, 20 years in the future.”