Air Force leaders will deliver guidance to the force in a few days to begin prudent planning for the uncertain budget environment ahead, Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley said Jan. 11.
Donley and Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, the Air Force chief of staff, briefed Pentagon reporters Jan. 11, on the state of their service.
Budget uncertainties rule in Washington now, with automatic across-the-board spending cuts looming March 1, and a continuing funding resolution running out at the end of the month. Congress must act to fix this situation, Donley and Welsh said.
“Even though we’re not presuming this worst case will occur,” Donley added, “prudent planning for the third and fourth quarters is required.”
The service is taking action on reversible measures to mitigate the impact of cuts on service readiness. The impact includes civilian hiring restrictions, curtailing flying and travel that isn’t mission-essential or related to readiness, curtailing or stopping minor purchases, and deferring nonemergency facility sustainment restoration and modernization, the secretary said.
“To be clear, these near-term actions cannot fully mitigate the impacts of sequestration should that occur,” he said, using the formal term for the looming spending cuts. “If we do not have resolution by March, sequestration will have immediate and negative impacts on Air Force readiness, specifically flying hours and maintenance.”
Air Force leaders understand that even with these budgetary solutions, the service will still draw down. The priority is avoiding the hollow military of the late 1970s and early 1980s. A hollow military looks good on paper, Donley said, “but has more units and equipment than it can support [and] lacks the resources to adequately man, train and maintain them, or to keep up with advancing technologies.”
The Air Force has flown continuous missions since the Gulf War in 1991. This alone has strained airmen and their families and impacted readiness, Donley noted. It also has taken a toll on equipment. “The need for modernization is pervasive across our Air Force,” the secretary said.
The service will continue the global intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission. It will continue global precision attack, global airlift, global command and control and global special operations, Donley said. “The challenge for the Air Force … is capacity,” he added. “What will be the size of the military? How much of that will we have?”