Building a Better Air Force
Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley
Remarks at the annual American Legion National Convention, Milwaukee, Wis., Sept. 1, 2010
It is truly an honor to be here among you...former warriors still selflessly serving our Nation through the American Legion. Your work here is truly admirable and I thank you up front for all you have done and continue to do on behalf of the Armed Forces and our Nation.
It is a pleasure to join you at this 92nd Annual Convention...92 years of critical advocacy and attention to the needs and well-being of all who serve...past, present, and future.
The nation's defense has always been in the hands of Americans who have put duty and service to country above all else, and have passed from generation to generation a nation both secure at home and respected abroad. Each and every day, I am reminded, and I am thankful, for the work you and others like you have done to help build the military we have today and pass it on to the current generation.
The future of our nation's defense depends upon our continued public service in that distinguished heritage, and it serves us well to remember the magnitude of the sacrifice of those answering the nation's call. Thinking about the Air Force's heritage takes me back to one of the most audacious air operations in our history--one some of you are experienced enough in life to recall.
It was in April 1942, that Jimmy Doolittle and his Tokyo Raiders gave hope to the nation when they attacked the home islands of Japan. The Air Force Chief of Staff, General Schwartz, and I were recently with some of the eight surviving Raiders as they marked the 68th anniversary of that courageous mission. What an honor it was to be among those American heroes.
On that day, then-Lieutenant Colonel Doolittle led 79 volunteers to the skies in what was to become one of the first truly Joint operations. Working hand in hand with the Navy, he built a plan calling for Army Air Force bombers to fly off the decks of a Navy carrier, which had never been attempted. They faced extraordinary challenges, and would require leadership, courage, and ingenuity to complete the risky mission on Tokyo.
The success of that mission bolstered American confidence and, despite its limited tactical objectives, it had strategic effect, leading the Japanese to husband assets to protect its homeland and over-extend its forward forces.
This is but one of many stories whose outcome, at the end of the day, rests on the shoulders of America's real treasure, its people...and our military history is rich with examples from all branches of service.
I'm sure many of you know a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine serving today. They are our sons and daughters, brother and sisters, nieces and nephews, neighbors and friends, and you can visibly see the pride they have in what they are doing, and in what they stand for. I am privileged to see first-hand the Airmen we have serving today, and I too take pride in all they do, and the manner in which they are doing it--with integrity and excellence, and while placing service before self, time and time again.
Today I'd like to share some of the incredible accomplishments of our present Airmen as they serve the American people...preventing conflict through deterrence, and prevailing when deterrence fails, and preparing for what the future might hold.
Your Air Force's distinctive capability to exercise Global Vigilance, Global Reach, and Global Power gives a critical edge to today's joint warfighting and coalition team. We are providing game-changing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities with both manned and remotely piloted aircraft from the high ground, and providing persistent awareness from the ultimate high ground, space--controlling over 100 satellites 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In 2009 and 2010, Airman flew over 35,000 ISR sorties. In fact, at this very moment, remotely piloted sorties are being flown by an Airman somewhere in the United States. Data is streaming across the globe in milliseconds, via satellite, to steer aircraft over targets of interest...and then feed that critical battlefield information for processing, exploitation and dissemination...often available immediately for use by troops on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Equally impressive, I believe, is our ability to build combat power anywhere in the world within hours and days. America's Global Reach is unmatched on the planet. Every 90 seconds, an Air Force aircraft departs--24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Airmen offload 600,000 gallons of fuel every day to U.S. Joint and coalition aircraft all over the world. Airmen have carried 1.8 million passengers and 600,000 tons of cargo to Afghanistan and Iraq since 9/11. At the same time, your Airmen provided humanitarian relief to floods in Pakistan, earthquakes in Haiti and Chile and have conducted aeromedical evacuation the world over.
Once your Air Force gets to its destination anywhere in the world, the power we bring is unmatched. Across the full spectrum of conflict--from nuclear deterrence to irregular warfare, like that in Afghanistan and Iraq, to all manner of military engagement in between, like strengthening regional stability by building the capacity of coalition partners around the globe--no one brings Global Power with the speed, precision, and flexibility of your U.S. Air Force...in the air, space, and cyberspace.
Today, 58,000 Airmen--and their families in many cases--are forward stationed overseas, strengthening regional stability and longstanding alliances in support of Combatant Commanders. Less understood, however, is that another 130,000 Airmen are engaged in support to the Combatant Commanders from their home station in the U.S. -- performing the continuing mission of nuclear deterrence; controlling the satellites that supply missile warning, weather, imagery, and communications to the joint team; or providing air sovereignty alert for homeland defense. Finally, nearly 40,000 Airmen are deployed to 135 countries across the world in support of contingency operations. Clearly, your Air Force provides Global Vigilance, Reach and Power like no other in the world--we all have much to be proud of--but the job of remaining prepared for what the future holds will never end.
From the Doolittle Raid, through Korea, and Vietnam, the Cold War, the Gulf War to today's fights, the United States Air Force has continued to evolve, incorporating new technologies and operational concepts to meet emerging challenges.
The Air Force we are building today and for the future is shaped by the broad scope of potential threats and uncertainties in the global environment - from terrorist movements to newly developing nuclear powers, from failed states and ungoverned areas to rising regional powers whose ambitions are unclear. It is also being shaped by the globalization of information and other technologies and the rapid pace of technological change. For example, global commerce and security are increasingly dependent on assured access to inter-connected cyber networks. We are far from alone in space - fully 59 countries can be counted as space-faring nations. And we have watched carefully the proliferation of ballistic missile technology and responded accordingly, making missile defense a high priority, and transitioning many years of research and development into operational capabilities.
In response to this changing yet uncertain environment, we must build-in the balance, flexibility and versatility that enables our Air Force to operate effectively across the potential spectrum of conflict. This includes appropriate focus on the enabling capabilities upon which the entire Joint force depends on at any level of conflict - capabilities like command and control, communications, mobility and air refueling, ISR, and cyber to name a few.
It also reflects the need for a broad range of capabilities. For example, while we are currently reinforcing our counter-insurgency capabilities, we're also building the Joint Strike Fighter, America's newest stealth fighter. While working on command and control for missile defense, we're building Light Attack and Light Air Support aircraft to more effectively train nascent Air Forces, like that in Afghanistan. While planning for the recapitalization of the tanker fleet, we're strengthening space situational awareness and cyber defense. And, while building up language and cultural competencies, we continue research on directed energy weapons.
In space, we're modernizing each mission area operating within this critical domain. We're investing in the next generation missile warning system to give us global situational awareness against ground and airborne missile threats. In satellite communications, we've improved our capability many times over through new systems with faster processing and more band width. GPS continues to be the premier positioning, navigation and timing service for the world and the next generation of GPS satellites is on the way. And, to protect the investments we've made in space, our first space based surveillance system will be launched later this year.
The only man-made domain - Cyberspace - is certainly the fastest growing. Just think about the pace of change. Thirty years ago, cyber applications were simple tools for email and routine administrative functions in our Air Force. This grew into business systems to improve support functions like health care, logistics, and personnel. From there, networked information systems have grown to command and control operations linking our weapon systems and warfighters with unprecedented amounts of information sharing and increased operational capability. Cyberspace operations are now critical to our military in every respect. We live by these networks, we fight through these networks, and we must and will actively defend these networks.
In addition to an uncertain international environment and rapidly changing technologies, constrained resources are another factor we will likely face in shaping and building the future Air Force.
Much of the buildup in defense spending since 9/11 has been focused on supporting current operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. And from our wartime experience we have become a stronger and more capable Air Force in many respects. But the immediate years ahead hold many challenges for our Air Force checkbook.
In generating the combat power to support Central Command, our home stationed units have struggled to maintain adequate readiness. We have constrained military construction. Our personnel costs, and especially our medical costs - mirroring the national challenge - have continued to rise. New missions like missile defense and cyberspace defense are on our plate. And most significantly, we continue to face the challenge of modernizing our aging aircraft inventories of trainers, fighters, bombers, and especially - tankers.
This is why the Air Force so strongly supports Secretary Gates efforts to move more defense resources from our supporting "tail" to our warfighting "tooth." Over the past several years, we have used information technologies to reduce the size of supporting functions such as personnel and financial management; and we have shifted the personnel savings to meet increasing demands in intelligence and crews for remotely piloted aircraft.
Financial operations are a case in point. Those of us that served during the Vietnam-era will remember standing in line every other week to be paid by our commander, in cash. It was a huge, paper and manpower intensive system. All that is history, as military pay evolved to check writing, and in the early 1990s moved to Electronic Funds Transfer.
We also continue to focus on energy. As the largest single consumer of jet fuel, the Air Force has focused on reducing demand; we have certified our jet engines to be ready for more synthetic fuels in the future marketplace; and we continue to invest in renewable energy, like solar, especially in the southwest.
There is more to do, and we will continue to develop new initiatives that help us get the most from every Air Force and taxpayer dollar. Every dollar we gain from internal efficiencies is a dollar we can invest in future Air Force capabilities.
In all this work, we know that - while technology and a balanced posture for the future serve as hedges against uncertainty and fiscal constraint -- our truest hedge against uncertainty remains, as it has always been, the Airman.
The Air Force is proud of its reputation for caring for its Airmen...but nearly a decade of sustained combat operations has imposed extraordinary demands on our Airmen and their families. That is why General Schwartz and our Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, Jim Roy, joined together in designating this past year as the "Year of the Air Force Family".
Following a comprehensive review and dialogue across the force, we've strengthened programs and initiatives across every pillar of Airman support:
Health and Wellness, including health care access and quality, deployment support and fitness facilities, and Airman and family resiliency following deployments;
Airman and Family Support, including extended duty and home community-based child care programs, our Exceptional Family Member Program, and Single Airmen Programs;
In Education and Development, the DOD Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts will resume in October of this year to assist spouses with education and employment. And we will triple the number of Liaison Officers in the next two years to advocate for our Air Force children transitioning between school districts. I would urge the American Legion's support for the Interstate Compact, which 35 states have currently joined, to ease the school transitions for military kids.
The final pillar of emphasis for the Year of the Air Force Family was Housing and Communities, and included a close look at family housing as well as dorms and dining facilities for our single Airmen. We will have built or renovated 23,000 privatized homes by the end of this fiscal year. This has been a successful, public-private partnership that has allowed us to leverage taxpayer dollars, providing thousands of new homes to Airmen that would otherwise have come years later than they were needed and at higher cost.
The bottom line is that we will continue to provide for the physical, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual well-being of our Airmen and their families, because we recognize Airmen are the means of mission accomplishment. So, addressing these needs is not only the right thing to do for our Airmen, it is the smart thing to do for our Air Force.
On behalf of over 600,000 active duty, guard, reserve, and civilian Airmen, I would like to finish today the way I started...by saying thank you. First, thank you, American Legion for helping to elevate the VA to cabinet level status in 1989. That effort led to better access to care for vets, better funding, a GI bill for the new century, and rehabilitation and healing from both the physical and psychological wounds of war--that is Caring for our Airmen.
Thank you for your successful work shaping the public's impression of the military...and for offering kinship and support to our returning Airmen--like Air Force Capt. Kyle Deem. Captain Deem was wounded in action on the 19th of June this year when his helicopter was struck with small arms fire--he suffered fragmentation and gunshot wounds to both legs. But when he came home to New Kensington, Penn., in July, he was greeted by the American Legion Post 868...that is caring for Airmen!
Thank you for the work that you do for Children and Youth. Through your legendary programs like Boys State, American Legion baseball, and so many others, you continue to lay the foundations for America's future --instilling in our youth the values of patriotism, good citizenship, and public service. That work will bring us future Airmen.
In all these commitments you are walking the walk, and setting the example for this Next Greatest generation.
And, finally, especially in the middle of our difficult work in Iraq and Afghanistan, thank you for helping to build a supportive, American public that understands the importance of our military institutions, the depth of our commitment to the nation, and the sacrifices made by our military members and their families. I ask that you continue to frame these issues in the public debate, in the local communities that you serve, and in the minds of all Americans.
We owe a debt of gratitude to the American Legion for 92 years of unwavering support of veterans, by veterans. Take pride in the fact that your steadfast support of a strong national defense and your unwavering advocacy for a well-prepared force has made a difference for our Airmen.
Thank you for letting me be here with you this morning. It is an honor to serve alongside the members of the American Legion.