2011 State of the Air Force
Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley
Remarks at the Air Force Association's 2011 Air & Space Conference & Technology Exposition, National Harbor, Md., Sept. 19, 2011
Chairman Schlitt, thank you for your kind introduction. Good morning, everyone. On behalf of the 690,000 Total Force Airmen I am privileged to represent, thank you for the opportunity to be with you. We look forward to the Air Force Association's Air and Space Conference every year, and we are grateful to AFA's members and leadership for once again hosting a world-class event.
This conference provides an opportunity to reflect on our Air Force's work and accomplishments over the last year, but more importantly it offers a chance to look ahead to what's in store for the future. But as I begin, I first want to use this occasion to pay tribute to two individuals whose commitment to our Nation and dedication to our Air Force have been nothing short of extraordinary.
Mr. William A. Davidson, Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force, will retire at the end of this month after 43 years of service. Bill's actually had three careers in the Air Force - serving in uniform as a cop and investigator, serving as a staff officer, and finally serving as the senior civilian advisor to the Secretary of the Air Force. With over 20 years working in the office of the Administrative Assistant, Bill has been the go-to person for anyone who wants to know how to get something done in the Air Force, in the Pentagon, and beyond. His knowledge and experience have provided continuity to our Air Force, which is a critical contribution on a day-to-day basis, but absolutely essential in times of crisis and transition.
Major General Alfred K. Flowers, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Budget in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Financial Management and Comptroller, also plans to retire later this year. In an amazing career, General Flowers has served in the United States Air Force for more than 46 years, which makes him the longest serving uniformed member of any Service currently on Active Duty, and the longest serving Airman in the history of our Air Force. Al's knowledge, experience, and ability to work the most difficult budget issues with good humor will be difficult, if not impossible, to replicate. Certainly his record-setting Air Force career longevity will be benchmark for a long time to come.
Both of these men have had a tremendous impact on our Air Force, and their dedication, commitment, and professionalism is an inspiration to all who've had the privilege to know and work with them. Mr. Davidson and General Flowers will be deeply missed throughout the entire Air Force organization, but we are profoundly grateful for their service and wish them both all the best as they embark on their well-earned retirements. If you will, please join me in honoring their service with a round of applause.
Air Force Today
As the conference begins this morning I'd like to share some thoughts about the state of the Air Force today, the challenges we face as a Service and as a Nation, and the path we plan to follow in order to fulfill vital Air Force missions today and in the future while keeping faith with Airmen and their families.
Although America's military has been stretched by two decades of combat, humanitarian, and stability operations, the men and women of the United States Air Force have never faltered and continue to answer the Nation's call by providing unmatched Global Vigilance, Reach, and Power across the full spectrum of operations.
Over the course of the last year, our Airmen have remained focused on our missions in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and in the fight against al Qaeda and its affiliate networks around the world. Airmen are justifiably proud to be part of the Joint team that finally brought Osama bin Laden to justice. At the same time, our Airmen have maintained constant vigilance defending America through our continuous air sovereignty, space, cyber, and nuclear deterrence missions.
But that's not all we asked our Airmen to do this year. In addition to these efforts, Airmen have been busy demonstrating their capability to respond, and respond successfully, to other unexpected events. This includes working with our NATO allies and other partners in operations over Libya, as well as providing timely disaster relief to our friends in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami, or closer to home helping their fellow Americans battle wildfires, hurricanes, and other severe weather in the United States. Our Airmen make us exceedingly proud every day.
However, other events have made this a memorable year for the Air Force, and significant steps have been taken which will make a lasting impact on the shape of our future force.
Implementation of the Air Force portion of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure program was recently completed, on time and on budget. These actions to streamline our infrastructure are expected to result in $1.4 billion in annual cost avoidance.
We are also encouraged by our efforts to reduce energy consumption. For example, Air Mobility Command's precision loading initiative has allowed us to maximize space on mobility aircraft, which not only reduces the number of missions required, but also saves fuel. In another project to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, the Air Force is leading the way with the announcement that by early 2012, Los Angeles Air Force Base will be the first federal facility to replace 100 percent of its general purpose fleet with plug-in electric vehicles.
Most prominently, in an effort that was a long time coming, we finalized a contract to buy the much needed aerial refueling tanker, the new KC-46.
As most of you know, our modernization needs cut across all of our platforms. We face a multi-year effort to recapitalize our aging tanker, fighter, bomber, and missile forces; to continue modernizing critical satellite constellations; to meet dynamic requirements in the cyber domain; and replace other aging airframes, such as training, vertical lift, and presidential support aircraft.
These recapitalization and modernization programs are essential to core Air Force capabilities. Their requirements are largely understood; we know when we need them; and in many cases we have settled on an acquisition strategy. The question confronting us is financing.
Strategic and Budgetary Challenges
That question leads me to the subject consuming most of the oxygen in Washington, D.C. these days - federal spending and the shape of future federal budgets.
We remain a Nation at war, engaging in operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and in operations against al Qaeda and its global affiliates. There's also a war on debt and deficits underway. Nearly everyone in and around Washington agrees that deficits cannot be allowed to remain high indefinitely. Congress and the Administration are trying to find common ground on deficit reduction and defense spending will continue to be part of that discussion.
Our Nation currently spends about 4.7 percent of our Gross Domestic Product on defense, which works out to approximately 19 percent of federal budget overall. So, while defense expenditures may not be the primary cause of the deficit, defense cannot be exempted from efforts to get our financial house in order.
Knowing that the defense spending levels of the post-9/11 era could not continue indefinitely, planning for a more constrained defense budget has been going on for some time. In 2010, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates launched his efficiencies initiative to root out waste and improve efficiency and effectiveness. As part of this process, the Air Force identified $33 billion in efficiencies, which we were allowed to reinvest across the Future Years Defense Plan.
The planning work behind these efficiencies is about to come to fruition with the start of Fiscal Year 2012, and we are depending on Airmen in every command and activity, and on every contractor with whom we work, to help us reduce our costs of operation and make us more efficient in what we do. But in this budget environment, we know efficiencies alone will not be enough.
The latest development in the budget process occurred in early August, when Congress approved and the President signed into law a new bipartisan debt deal. The reductions in defense spending required by the first part of the debt ceiling agreement are roughly in line with what DOD's civilian and military leaders were anticipating.
Though very tough, these reductions are considered achievable as DOD reviews its roles and missions and examines all areas of the budget for savings. To get these savings, we will need to accept greater risk in some areas, terminate some lower priority programs, streamline others, continue driving efficiency in our operations, and make some tough choices about the core tenets of our national security strategy.
Secretary Panetta has expressed confidence that we can implement these initial debt ceiling agreement reductions while maintaining the excellence of our military. At the same time, he is working with the President and congressional leaders to keep them informed of the challenges and risks we face, and the potential consequences of even deeper reductions.
Secretary Panetta has made a commitment to ensure that our military has everything it needs to protect our national security at a time of considerable fiscal challenge in our country. And most importantly to our Airmen, he has promised to fight for service members and their families as we face these budget challenges. He understands the importance of keeping faith with military service members and their families.
We are in a season of important national debate, and there will likely be more budget churn, but we have to move forward in a way that protects our national security and will provide our national leadership with the tools necessary to defend America's interests in the complex security environment in which we live. And that includes ensuring the United States continues to have the world's finest Air Force for generations to come.
While there are many unanswered questions right now, and no final decisions have been made, a number of alternative plans and options are being considered. And it's safe to say that every single line of the budget is under scrutiny.
As we look at the Air Force budget, balance has been our guiding principle and a key feature of our resourcing strategy. Air Force leaders have been discussing how best to achieve balance among our core functions; balance among our force structure, readiness, and modernization; and balance among our Active Duty, Reserve, and Air National Guard components, at whatever level of resources we are provided.
Uncertainty in the international environment calls for us to build a balanced force with the flexibility and versatility that enables our forces to operate effectively across the potential spectrum of operations. This includes not only air superiority, precision air-to-ground attack, and Special Operations Forces, but also the enabling capabilities on which the entire Joint force depends at any level of conflict - capabilities like C4, mobility and air refueling, space-based capabilities, personnel recovery and ISR, to name a few.
Of course, building a balanced force also has a temporal dimension. We must balance our operational focus on winning today's fights with necessary investments for the future, and preserve the personnel, training, acquisition, and other institutional foundations upon which our capabilities re built.
Balance is also critical when considering force structure, readiness, and modernization. If our force structure - the size and composition of our Air Force - is too large given the resources available, then we risk not being able to sustain the costs of ownership, such as providing for pay and benefits, training, and materiel readiness. We need to avoid a hollow force. If it is too small, we could unintentionally drive some mission areas and career fields to unsustainably low levels, lose the flexibility to accommodate new or evolving missions, or risk our ability to sustain expeditionary operations.
If we allow readiness to slip, we risk not being prepared for the rapidly developing contingencies that characterize the current security environment. And shortages in flying hours, other training and spare parts would demoralize our Airmen and threaten our ability to retain a quality force. But if we focus too much on near-term readiness, and on preparedness exclusively for today's fights, we risk undermining the longer-term investment and modernization necessary to sustain our technological edge, and to build the Air Force we will need to meet future challenges.
If we fail to modernize our forces at an adequate rate, the cost of maintaining and upgrading our legacy fleets will only grow, and will itself crowd out longer-term investment; our warfighting advantages in technology could shrink, and the costs of new equipment would likely increase further and be stretched-out even more. But if we put too many resources into modernization as budgets decline, we could risk driving the size of the Air Force to unacceptably low levels, and perhaps not sufficiently sized or ready for the unforeseen contingencies immediately ahead.
Finally, we're committed to finding balance in the Total Force. The Air Force depends on the Air Force Reserve Components, and we remain committed to the Total Force Enterprise - the powerful combination of the Active Duty and Reserve Components that together make up the United States Air Force.
Our current operations reflect how much we depend on the contributions of the Total Force. For example, in today's Combat Air Forces, 58 percent of the personnel are Active Duty, while 42 percent are from the Air Reserve Components. In the Mobility Air Forces, the Reserve Components make up 51 percent of the force, while 49 percent are Active Duty personnel.
We are proud of the way our Total Force is working together and need to continue strengthening our Active Duty-ARC relationships. We'll continue efforts to find the right balance and mix of missions across the components, as well as how we can best organize that mix to maximize the capability and efficiency of our Total Force.
Protecting Key Capabilities
A lot of work lies ahead of us before we can expect strategic clarity. But as a general matter, we're looking 10 years out to ensure that, in the midst of significant budget reductions, we stay focused on strategic priorities and continue to improve key capabilities.
While it would benefit no one to down play the hard choices that confront us, neither should we paint a picture that is so bleak that our service members fear that the Nation is turning its back on those who have served with such devotion and on the institutions that have kept our Nation secure for generations.
I want to make clear that as the Department of Defense adapts to the evolving budget environment, your Air Force is committed to keeping faith with our Airmen and their families and to sustaining core Air Force missions. There are certain capabilities we will protect. We will apply best military judgment to oppose reductions that would cause irreparable harm. General Schwartz and I are determined to set the right course, to make the right investments so that the Air Force evolves in positive directions, even with limited resources.
First and foremost, we must not break faith with our military personnel and families who serve this Nation. With about 35 to 40 percent of our Air Force budget committed to personnel costs, and with areas like the cost of medical care of growing concern, everything needs to be on the table for consideration. Our obligation to those who serve is to ensure that the compensation and benefits they earn are sustainable for the Air Force over the long haul. Any potential changes to our military retirement system must be carefully considered to make sure we retain the highly motivated and experienced workforce necessary to execute the Air Force mission. As Secretary Panetta has indicated, this would include grandfathering the current force where appropriate.
In addition to taking care of our people, we are motivated to preserve Air Force core missions and capabilities. Let me talk through a few of the areas we will safeguard and defend in the days ahead.
A readiness posture that protects American security interests requires forward presence. We are committed to maintaining an overseas presence which ensures regional stability, enables sustained engagement with key security partners, and supports the rapid response, global mobility and communications on which our joint force depends.
In the years following 9/11, we have made great strides in the area of Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR). We must sustain these improvements and build upon our progress in the development of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) and sensors, operating concepts and infrastructure, and force development.
We remain committed to maintaining air superiority and the capability to hold any target at risk. With a fighter fleet now averaging 22 years old and with two decades of declining fighter force structure, modernizing our aging and smaller fighter force depends on the fifth generation capabilities of the Joint Strike Fighter. Simply put, there is no alternative to the F-35 program. It must succeed. Similarly, developing the Long Range Strike family of systems, including the new bomber, is essential to maintaining conventional long range strike capabilities into the future.
To maintain the rapid global reach of U.S. forces, we must ensure that the Air Force is able to provide adequate strategic airlift and refueling support. That means that modernization of the tanker force, which currently has an average aircraft age of 49 years, must proceed.
Many of the critical technologies that defend our Nation are tied to the space domain. We must maintain freedom of action in the space domain to protect our missile warning, ISR, PNT, communications, and weather capabilities. We must continue to replenish and modernize aging satellite constellations, as well as improve space surveillance and the resilience of space-based capabilities.
Our nuclear deterrence capabilities - long built around land-based Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), Sea-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs), and nuclear-capable bombers, are still critical to national defense, and retain an important role in extending deterrence and reassuring allies. Each leg of this Triad has strengths and weaknesses, but as the U.S. nuclear arsenal gets smaller, and the number and diversity of nuclear-armed powers increases, the flexibility inherent in our nuclear Triad becomes even more important. We must maintain the nuclear Triad.
Our Special Operations Forces are the Nation's most highly trained warriors and most often complete their difficult missions in the shadows. Only rarely does the work of these quiet professionals gain public attention, such as after the raid on bin Laden's compound. Our Air Commandos bring specialized expertise to the Joint fight, and we must sustain the Air Force contribution to U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM).
Secretary Panetta recently observed that "...cyber is the battlefield of the future, and that we are all going to have to work very hard not only to defend against cyber attacks, but to be aggressive with regard to cyber attacks as well." To protect America in the 21st century, we must further develop and sustain freedom of action in the cyber domain.
In providing for agile combat support, we continue to look for opportunities to bring greater efficiency to our supply chain and strengthen the linkages between acquisition and logistics functions. But, we must not consolidate Air Force Depots to fewer than three, as further consolidation of these large industrial facilities would displace our skilled work force and would be cost prohibitive.
Finally, as we consider the broad scope of changes ahead, we are committed to maintaining an Air Force presence in each State, to include at least one Active Duty, Reserve, or Air National Guard unit. This reflects our commitment to the Total Force, our ongoing efforts to find the right balance between our Active Duty and our Air Reserve Component forces, and recognition of Airpower's important role in supporting Governors and civil authorities in managing the consequences of natural disasters.
That is a brief description of the front line issues we intend to protect. There is no question we face difficult choices, but with these priorities firmly in mind, we can still advance Air Force capabilities in important areas, such as fielding the F-35, the KC-46, a new Long Range Strike bomber, key satellites and other systems.
Looking ahead ten years, the Joint and coalition team will continue to rely on the U.S. Air Force to provide unique capabilities whose tailored, timely, and precise effects span the spectrum of operations, from humanitarian assistance to nuclear deterrence. Potentially smaller than in previous decades, the Air Force of 2020 nonetheless can and must remain ready. We will continue to play a vital role in national security because of our global and cross-domain orientation, our reach, our vigilant situational awareness, our power, and the proven capacity of Airmen to adapt to and shape the evolving security environment.
The Air Force has always been a forward leaning military service, always at the forefront applying new technologies to strengthen U.S. national security. And throughout our history, we have demonstrated the flexibility to evolve according to changing needs and requirements. The Air Force must be prepared to keep evolving as we finish today's fight, and continue our mission to protect America today and in the future.
And despite the era of constrained resources ahead, your Air Force will continue to be a force to be reckoned with, a force that harnesses the talents of our incredible Airmen and the capabilities of advanced technology to fulfill our core missions across the full spectrum of operations.
In his recent speech to the American Legion, President Obama noted, "Americans have been through tough times before, much tougher than these. And we didn't just get through them; we emerged stronger than before. Not by luck. Not by chance. But because, in hard times, Americans don't quit. We don't give up. We summon that spirit that says, when we come together, when we choose to move forward together, as one people, there is nothing we can't achieve." I have no doubt that our Air Force reflects this same spirit.
And in this era defined by uncertainty, the one thing I do know is that AFA will continue to be a strong advocate for our Air Force, our Airmen, and their families. Thank you all for helping us build an Air Force that future Airmen will be proud to lead and serve, an Air Force ready to fly, fight, and win in air, space, and cyberspace, whenever the nation calls. It is an honor to serve with you in the world's finest Air Force.