Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley addressed more than 500 men and women on the final day of the Air Force Association’s 29th Air Warfare Symposium & Technology Exposition Feb. 22 in Orlando, Fla.
During his address, Donley spoke about several issues that are on the Air Force’s radar, including budget and planning challenges, and of particular interest, the looming sequestration.
“During over three decades now in Washington, I don’t believe I’ve ever witnessed a budget process that is as dysfunctional as is the one we’re experiencing today,” Donley said.
Although the service has protected people and readiness to date, the impact of sequestration will ultimately force the Air Force to take actions that will impact readiness and its civilian workforce the secretary said. He also discussed the impact sequestration will have on airmen’s professional development, due to non-mission essential travel being frozen.
The secretary said sequestration could “delay the promotions of Airmen who rely on that training as part of their preparation for higher rank. It could lead to a loss of certification for Airmen in technical specialties that require regular training such as firefighters or explosive ordnance disposal specialists.”
Donley also voiced his concern for the morale of the service’s civilian force should a furlough take place.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta notified Congress on Feb. 20 that the Department of Defense civilian workforce could face potential furloughs in late April. This could impact up to 180,000 civilian Airmen for up to 22 working days, resulting in a loss of 31.5 million man hours of productivity.
“We’re deeply concerned for our civilian airmen and the mission,” Donley said. “We’ll keep working to prevent these actions, which would decimate morale and break faith with their service to our Air Force.”
Among other significant challenges that the service will face under sequestration is the impact to flying readiness.
“Reduction of about 200,000 flying hours would impact our theater security packages,” Donley said. “Those combat units not expected to deploy, will only continue to fly until depletion of their flying hours funds, which could occur as early as mid-May.”
The secretary also spoke about the impacts to the defense industry, many members of which were widely represented in the audience at the symposium.
Impacts to the defense industrial base will grow in magnitude as reductions in resources ripple through the network of companies that support Air Force prime contractors and sub-contractors, according to Donley.
“We’re concerned about the capacity of smaller or more specialized companies to successfully negotiate this challenging environment,” he said, emphasizing the importance of their contributions to the Air Force. “What many of you do in industry is important to us. It makes a direct contribution to our capabilities.”
In addition to the impacts of sequestration, Donley discussed the Total Force Task Force, a group of active-duty, Reserve and Air National Guard members that he and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III assembled to discuss the right mix of Total Force capabilities for the service.
“The results of this task force will inform our strategic planning and programing for fiscal 2015 and beyond, and will also serve as a resource to the congressionally-directed national commission on the structure of the Air Force that will be examining total-force issues later this year,” he said.
Despite the current challenges facing the Department, Donley made one thing clear — America’s Airmen are ready for any challenge.
“We came into this situation as the world’s finest Air Force, it is our intention to come out of this as the world’s finest Air Force, and we will,”
Donley said. “If we back them, Airmen will back our Air Force, and they will help us get through these challenging times.”