Facing Future National and Air Force Challenges
Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley
Remarks to the 2010 Senior Enlisted Summit, Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., May 4, 2010
To say that we live in interesting times is an understatement. This morning I'll discuss our Air Force priorities and challenges, and then open the floor for questions. First, however, it's worth taking a moment to discuss a national challenge that will serve as context for the rest of the discussion--and that is fiscal constraint.
The nation's revenue has slowed, while its costs have increased, and the outlook is not much better anytime soon. The combined impacts of the federal debt, the aging population, and the large entitlement programs - like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid - have begun what will, over the next several decades, become a growing strain on the federal budget, and will likely impact the dollars available for defense.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates annual interest payments on the federal debt alone could equal current defense spending by 2020. Additionally, the number of people eligible for Social Security benefits will grow at a rate of 4 million per year through 2026. Finally, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the combined effects of increased interest and entitlement payments will mean that the Federal government will need an additional 5 percent of the GDP just to cover medical-related increases.
As a result, the decisions that challenge us now will only get more difficult, making the proper prioritization of resources even more critical.
The good news is that we have recently concluded a number of DOD-level reviews providing strategic guidance in key areas such as Nuclear and Space Posture and Ballistic Missile Defense. Most importantly, the overarching Quadrennial Defense Review established four U.S. defense priority objectives that will guide us: prevail in today's wars, prevent and deter conflict, prepare to defeat adversaries and succeed in a wide range of contingencies, and preserve and enhance the all-volunteer force.
First and foremost, we must continue our efforts to prevail in today's conflicts. While some outside the Air Force community don't realize it, the Air Force's contribution to our current conflicts is much more than kinetic effects. To help the Joint and Coalition team win today, we've invested heavily in ISR, airlift, command and control, and building partner capacity to support combat operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Horn of Africa. This year, combat forces will be moved out of Iraq and the plus up in Afghanistan will be completed. We've been heavily involved in humanitarian operations in Haiti and other areas struck by natural disasters.
While many may consider our deployed forces, which number nearly 40,000, as our principle contribution to the Joint team--our contributions go well beyond the CENTCOM AOR. A more complete picture reveals that 220,000 Airmen, over four in ten Total Force Airmen, are dedicated to directly supporting the combatant commanders daily. From precision, navigation, timing, and satellite communications delivered to the entire Joint team 24/7, to Airmen supporting nuclear deterrent operations, to the tactical delivery and intelligence analysis of full motion video to Coalition ground forces from RPAs controlled stateside, our Airmen contribute greatly.
And in this wide array of our daily operations, it's important to note that the nature of ongoing conflicts and our limited resources require not only a Joint approach, but also interagency and coalition approaches. We must also recognize that no single service acting alone can deliver all the effects and conditions necessary for successful outcomes in today's complex security environment.
Our nation's military has never been so Joint or Combined, and we remain convinced in the great value of teamwork. Our Airmen are still filling capability gaps in non-traditional roles supporting Joint Expeditionary Taskings. As General Schwartz has noted time and again, we will do what it takes to make the Joint team successful. We will continue to support these tasks as the nation requires, and we will rely on your efforts as senior enlisted leaders to ensure our Airmen are organized, trained, and equipped for these missions.
As I noted earlier, this teamwork is not only with the Joint team, it will remain critical to continue building international partnerships and further build our partner's capacities. We've recognized our language, cultural, and regional expertise is lacking, and we are taking steps to increase capacity, strengthen our understanding of the world, and improve our relationships with our partners with the goal of increasing the combined power brought to bear on ongoing conflicts. Enlisted special duty assignments in Attache Support and Security Assistance positions in our embassies are a beginning, but identifying existing capabilities and developing new capabilities remains a priority and may lead to enlisted initiatives which parallel the Regional Affairs Strategist officer program one day. And, our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan to help rebuild their air forces will remain a top priority.
We are challenged to respond to combatant commander requirements in efficient and effective ways, and our Airmen are on the end of this whip to respond to the required changes in organization, training and equipment to execute our broad mission sets. Simply put, these engagements are not those you trained for when you were a "Buck Sergeant." Your leadership is critical to ensure understanding of changes, clarity of objective, establishment and enforcement of standards, mission focus...and of course the well-being of our Airmen. Besides concentrating on winning today, we're also fully invested in the QDR's second priority: preventing and deterring conflict.
The Air Force made significant resource and cultural investments in reinvigorating our portion of the nation's nuclear deterrence over the past 18 months. We are now institutionalizing these successes to ensure the highest standards across the nuclear enterprise. A large part of the remaining challenge is to ensure that we have the right human capital to continue these important missions. Your expertise and leadership will be critical as we continue to rebuild in this area.
Our Airmen have again been affected by these changes, and more changes are on the way. In the last 18 months, we've reorganized and increased resourcing to this mission area by standing up the Global Strike Command, standing up the A-10 Directorate on the Air Staff, adding a bomber squadron, adding maintenance and sustainment manpower, and applying more rigor to all processes, in particular the inspection process. We are right now studying the implications and practical outcomes of the New START treaty to determine options for implementation.
While these two priorities -- fighting today's fight while preventing other conflicts -- remain key focus areas, we must also continue to prepare for a wider range of contingencies.
Per Secretary Gates' direction, we're still seeking balance in our force to make it capable across the spectrum of warfare. We have a number of acquisition programs to do so, and we're continuing to rebuild the acquisition processes that underpin these efforts. For instance, although we have invested a good deal of time, money and effort to expand our Irregular Warfare capacity with investments like the MC-12 and C-27, we are also preparing for the full spectrum of conflict by recapitalizing the tanker fleet, and also investing in the F-35, nuclear upgrades, and space assets.
We are also sustaining other potent conventional capabilities which keep our adversaries in check. Our initial investments in a family of long-range strike capabilities mark our commitment to sustaining power projection capabilities for the next several decades. We are laying the groundwork for the future here, but it takes more than just new equipment.
Our Airmen will be directly impacted as we modernize where we can, and recapitalize where we must. We recently fielded and deployed the first aircrews and MC-12 aircraft in nine months from concept to combat. Some of these crews on redeployment will likely be faced with follow-on reassignment as we sort out where to base the new capability. Aircrews include new Direct Support Operator AFSCs which were drawn primarily from other platforms, like the Rivet Joint, to rapidly fill billets for the short term as new accessions are trained.
Similarly, rated candidates and non-rated candidates alike are training up with the school house at maximum capacity as we work to meet the combatant commander's increased need for remotely piloted aircraft capability. Also, our first candidates will arrive this year as second lieutenants. Cyber is another core function where we are shaping and rebuilding familiar career fields into new warfighting capabilities. While such rapid change never comes easy, it is our responsibility to ease the transitions on our force. As always, at the end of the day our true hedge against uncertainty and our guarantee of success is our Airmen.
Preserving and enhancing our all-volunteer force provides the foundation required for our flexible and agile posture. I know you are getting a number of briefings during the summit which will cover specific programs dedicated to take care of Airmen, but a couple are worth discussing for a few moments this morning.
First, the Year of the Air Force Family is going well and I just met with the Caring for the Family Forum. We are really blessed to have such a dedicated group of helping professionals, and General Schwartz, Chief Roy and I look forward to seeing some tangible outcomes from this year's effort that will help us to better understand and respond to our Airmen and their families' needs.
Improved spouse communication, programs to improve social support of single Airmen, school support programs, Active, Reserve, and Guard family support, deployment support, health and wellness, housing, and special needs are each individual programs that have already been established, but still have potential for further improvement. And, we're also continuing to work through Joint Basing including some inequities and disconnects to ensure that we have common standards of care for all service members.
Another initiative I'd like to discuss is the Total Force Initiative. The purpose of TFI is to gain efficiencies and enhance capabilities by doing a better job of leveraging resources and strengths of Active and Reserve Components. We are still formalizing the way ahead for this program and this month General Schwartz and I will be getting briefed on a strategic business case for the Total Force Enterprise which should help us think through all of the cultural, financial, and operational considerations of each TFI opportunity.
Another concern of our Airmen, perhaps, is the impact of the President's call for statutory repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. We are fully engaged in the OSD study process, which includes surveying the population and attempting to determine operational impacts. We'll report our findings at the end of the year, and be prepared to implement any changes. There are information exchanges and focus groups meeting Airmen at Lackland (Air Force Base, Texas) today, Randolph (AFB, Texas) tomorrow, and they were at Langley (AFB, Va.) end of last month.
This process is well underway. During this review period, our primary goal is to understand all the issues and potential impacts associated with repeal of the law, and how to manage implementation in a way that would minimize disruptions to a force engaged in combat operations and other demanding military activities around the globe. We are confident that Airmen will respond to this review professionally and dispassionately, in a manner that is responsive to the direction of the Secretary of Defense. Be assured, no matter what the results, Air Force standards of conduct will continue to be applied consistently across the force.
The world is changing quickly, and we as an Air Force must continue to refine the way we do things to keep up--to ensure we remain able to prevail in today's fights, to prevent and deter fights where able, but also prepare for what tomorrow might bring us. Most importantly, we must preserve our not-so-secret weapon in making all that happen...our people. There is churn associated with keeping up with the world around us...and where there is churn, there can also be risk and frustration. Your role in this environment is anything but inconsequential.
We're counting on you -- our Airmen are counting on you -- to courageously lead, to provide clarity and focus to safely get the mission done, and to care for them. We care for our Airmen first by ensuring they are organized, trained, equipped, and then led into the fight in a way that instill confidence from step one -- because this will keep them alive and get the mission done. We also take care of them by increasing the quality of life for our Airmen and their families. An opportunity to care for our Airmen like this is also an opportunity to strengthen our Air Force and our nation. Thank you--the floor is open to questions.