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AF leaders describe future force under sequestration

WASHINGTON (AFNS) --

Two senior Air Force leaders testified before Congress Oct. 23, along with their Army and Navy counterparts on the impact of the continuing resolution and sequestration on the service’s acquisition and modernization programs.

Dr. William LaPlante, the principal deputy to the secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, and Lt. Gen. Michael Moeller, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and programs, both testified on the significant impacts of the continuing resolution and sequestration to the House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces.

LaPlante, along with the other acquisition chiefs, said sequestration will cost the Defense Department more than it saves. Cuts to development programs will drive up unit costs and are already delaying testing, he said.

Under the continuing resolution, the services are not permitted to change how funds are appropriated from one year to the next; leaving some accounts with excess cash while others are underfunded. In fiscal 2013, Congress authorized the transfer of some funds between accounts, but that flexibility has not been renewed for fiscal 2014.

The inflexible funding means the Air Force is likely to have to cut the number of aircraft it buys this year, LaPlante said, singling out the F-35 Lightning II program as an example. "We'll lose somewhere between four and five airplanes in '14,” he said.

Since sequestration started, people have been seriously affected.  Thousands of Air Force civilians were furloughed without pay earlier in the year, and flying units stood down for a period of time, degrading readiness.

As sequestration continues to take hold, Air Force leaders said cuts need to be made, in addition to those made already.

“We had to look everywhere in order to get billions in dollars of savings,” Moeller said.

They went as far as to say the service is looking at cutting entire fleets of aircraft, and under sequestration, the service will need to reduce the force by as many as approximately 25,000 Airmen.

“If sequestration is fully implemented over the next 10 years, it will be a struggle to meet tomorrow’s challenges,” Moeller said.  “The Air Force will be forced to cut thousands of total force Airmen and hundreds of platforms.”

With assessments ranging from “sobering” to “painful,” representatives from the other service branches described the devastation being wreaked by sequestration and the continuing resolution.

Citing halted development programs, hiring freezes, and narrowing technological advantages, the acquisitions chiefs warned committee members that the ongoing budget uncertainty is putting the nation at risk.

“Maintaining current readiness and forward presence to the extent possible under sequestration comes at expense to our investment in future readiness,” said Sean Stackley, the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition. “In fiscal year 2014 alone, absent congressional action or mitigating circumstances, the continuing resolution and sequestration would cause cancelled procurements of up to three major warships and 25 aircraft,”

Heidi Shyu, the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, pointed to stability’s central role in guaranteeing successful acquisitions programs.

“Our capacity to maintain expertise in science and technology, engineering, contracting, cost estimation (and) logistics are all at risk because one of the most attractive benefits to the government employee – the stability – has been undermined,” she said.

“Every major development suffers delay, or reduction, or cancellation in this budget environment where uncertainty seemingly guides every decision,” Stackley said.

As Moeller concluded his remarks, he stated Air Force leadership’s collective opinion of sequestration.

“The bottom line after sequestration, the Air Force is going to be significantly smaller, less capable, less flexible and less ready,” Moeller said.  “Most importantly, it will make it very difficult to meet the challenges we will face in the future.”

(Claudette Roulo of American Forces Press Service contributed to this report.)

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