The threat of sequestration continues to overhang “all budget decisions across the federal government,” said Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley in Washington, D.C., Sept. 17.
During his keynote remarks at the 2012 Air Force Association Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition, Donley conveyed the careful strategic choices made by the service in crafting the service’s budget.
Sequestration would kick in extensive spending cuts – $500 billion from defense spending over 10 years on top of $350 billion in spending reduction already identified over that period – if Congress fails to take further deficit-reduction action.
“These additional and arbitrarily applied, across-the-board cuts would leave the military without a workable strategy to counter global threats,” warned Donley, who pointed out that Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and other Defense Department leaders have broadly communicated their concerns about sequestration’s inherent dangers.
The “sequestration” mechanism in the nation’s new debt-reduction law is unacceptable given the multitude of threats facing America, Panetta said to reporters in an Aug. 4 press conference at the Pentagon.
Donley echoed those sentiments during his speech.
“We need Congress to de-trigger the Budget Control Act’s sequester provisions before the end of the year,” he said.
Despite the threat of the sequestration, Donley said Air Force officials still must balance Air Force capabilities against competing needs for force structure, readiness, and modernization.
This means making a conscious choice in the Air Force budget to protect readiness by “trading size for quality,” he said.
To this end, the Air Force proposed force structure reductions as part of recent budget requests, including the divestment of 286 aircraft and removing about 9,900 personnel from the ranks within the next five years.
“As you know, our proposals have met resistance in Congress, particularly with regard in reductions in the Air National Guard and Reserve,” Donley said. “Simply put, in beginning to program for these reductions, it is impossible to avoid impacts to airmen, various civilian and contractor workforces, and the communities in which they live.”
Although the entire Air Force will get smaller together, plans are in place to strengthen the total force integration, to include supporting the Air National Guard’s strategy to rebalance resources and improve readiness in about 39 units, increasing the number of active-air reserve component unit associations from 100 to 115, and the F-16 service life extension program.
“We need to ensure that we remain well-grounded in the foundations of our Air Force,” Donley said. “The more uncertainty there is, the more budgetary churn ahead, the more important it is to come back to the basics.”