Air Force Today and Future Budget Outlook
Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley
Remarks at the Air Force Association Global Warfare Symposium, Los Angeles, Calif., Nov. 18, 2011
Chairman Schlitt, thank you for your kind introduction. Good morning, everyone.
I want to thank the Air Force Association - your Chairman, Sandy Schlitt; your President, Mike Dunn; and the entire AFA team - for organizing this conference and inviting me to participate.
I trust that over the last day and a half you've enjoyed a very productive conference and benefited from the words of the many distinguished speakers, including some of the Air Force's most senior officers. Today, however, I find myself as the symposium's final speaker, which means I may be the only remaining obstacle between you and lunch. A precarious position, to say the least.
Nevertheless, I am grateful for this opportunity to share some thoughts with you today about the remarkable Airmen who are serving our Nation and to offer my perspective on the challenges we face as Congress and the Administration work to find solutions to our federal budget woes.
Dover Port Mortuary
But first, I want to take a few moments to address another serious issue, one that has caused distress among service members and their families and raised concerns across America. This matter relates to the care of our fallen service members at the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operation at the Dover Port Mortuary.
The proper care of our fallen service members and their families is more than a critical mission - it is a sacred trust. The Air Force is accountable to our Joint teammates and to the families to carry out this mission with dignity, honor, respect, and reverence. The highest standards of mission performance are required and expected by the American people.
Following reports by employee whistleblowers alleging the improper handling and preparation of remains at Dover, the Air Force Inspector General launched an investigation in June 2010.
Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz and I take personal responsibility and sincerely regret the lapses in our standards at Dover. We deeply regret the pain this has caused to the families. There is no question that the system was broken. It is our responsibility to fix, and I can attest that corrective action is well underway.
A new commander has been in place at Dover Mortuary for the past year, policies and procedures have been improved, and internal labor relations are being rebuilt. These changes will put this mission on a better path for the future.
There will also be more scrutiny of our performance in the days to come. An independent panel of the Defense Health Board will review the adequacy and effectiveness of our corrective actions and make recommendations for further improvements.
I have also been directed by Defense Secretary Panetta to ensure that appropriate disciplinary action was taken in regard to the Dover mortuary - a charge I take very seriously. Our review will be rigorous and thorough, as our fallen and the families they leave behind deserve nothing less.
The professional staff at Dover takes great pride in their solemn duty to care for America's fallen. I want to assure all Americans - most particularly service members and military families - that our fallen are being treated and will continue to be treated with the utmost reverence, dignity, and respect. The Air Force is committed to earning and rebuilding the public's confidence in our stewardship of this sacred mission.
Air Force Today and Future Budget Outlook
Another effort that demands public confidence is our stewardship of the federal budget. Even for those who have been through the sine wave of previous budget cycles, this year's budget debate has provided more than its share of ups and downs, with plenty of suspense and last minute nail-biters. While Hollywood may have popularized the cliffhanger, Washington is certainly doing its best to perfect the art.
Not to disappoint, another cliffhanger is fast approaching. Next week, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, the so-called Super Committee, must recommend at least $1.2 trillion in budget reductions, lest the federal budget be subject to automatic cuts through sequester.
Leading up to this point, the Department of Defense has been preparing for the likelihood of smaller budgets for some time. The defense spending levels of the post-9/11 era could not continue indefinitely, and the state of the economy only adds urgency to efforts to control federal expenditures.
Our Nation currently spends about 4.7 percent of our Gross Domestic Product on defense, which equates 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.
Part of our planning for a more constrained defense budget started with former Secretary Robert Gates' initiative to root out waste and improve efficiency and effectiveness. Through this effort, the Air Force identified $33 billion in efficiencies, which we were allowed to reinvest across the Future Years Defense Plan.
The planning behind these efficiencies is coming 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.
In early August, we began to get an indication of the scale of additional budget reductions that might come our way with the passage and enactment of the Budget Control Act. The $450 billion in defense spending reductions over 10 years required by the first part of the Budget Control Act 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.
Defense Secretary Leon 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.
We will have a few more days to wait until the Super Committee is required to report its recommendations for further spending reductions. But Secretary Panetta has been clear. Further cuts, whether targeted to specific programs or through the blunt instrument of across-the-board sequestration, would be devastating to the Department of Defense.
As we move through this unprecedented budget reduction process, there is a great deal of uncertainty. But I can tell you that every day, multiple leadership meetings are taking place throughout the Pentagon at the highest levels. Furthermore, the Secretary of Defense, Combatant Commanders, Service Chiefs and Secretaries, and the President are discussing our future national security requirements.
We are working through the implications that budget reductions and shifting priorities will have on our national security strategy. 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. We are approaching the conclusion of our strategic review and will shortly begin finalizing major program decisions that will be consistent with the revised strategy, and will get the most out of available resources.
Importantly, both Secretary Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey have 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.
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.
Supporting Airmen and Protecting Core Capabilities
Despite the daunting strategic challenges and uncertain defense funding outlook ahead, the Air Force is committed to charting a path that fulfills vital Air Force missions today and in the future while staying true to our Airmen and their families. The Air Force will make certain that our future force is an extraordinarily capable force, no matter what resource levels are available in the days ahead. And that includes ensuring the United States continues to have the world's finest Air Force for generations to come.
Although 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.
As the Department of Defense adapts to the evolving budget environment, the Air Force is committed to being fair 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 continue to support our military personnel and families who serve this Nation. But 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 must 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.
We are committed to maintaining overseas forward presence, which is key to our readiness posture.
We must sustain the post-9/11 improvements that have been made in Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) and in the development of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPAs).
We are committed to maintaining air superiority and the capability to hold any target at risk, which calls for modernizing our aging fleets through the F-35 program, the new KC-46 tanker, and the Long Range Strike family of systems, including the new bomber.
We must maintain freedom of action in the space domain to protect critical technologies, such as missile warning, ISR, Precision, Navigation and Timing (PNT), and communications, and we must continue to modernize aging satellite constellations.
We must maintain the nuclear Triad, which extends deterrence, reassures allies, and provides critical flexibility.
We must sustain the Air Force contribution to U.S. Special Operations Command and the specialized expertise our Air Commandos bring to the Joint fight.
We must further develop and sustain freedom of action in the cyber domain.
We must maintain our current organic depot maintenance capacity, because further consolidation of our existing Air Force Depots would displace our skilled workforce and be cost prohibitive.
Finally, we are committed to maintaining an Air Force presence in each State, to include at least one Active Duty, Reserve, or 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 Components. As our Air Force gets smaller, our Active, Guard, and Reserve Components will get smaller together; and it will be even more important for the elements of our Total Force to be closely integrated. We are already very good at this; we must get even better.
That is a brief description of the front line issues we intend to protect. A lot of work lies ahead of us before we can expect strategic clarity. But as a general matter, we're looking ten years out to ensure that, in the midst of significant budget reductions, we stay focused on strategic priorities and continue to improve key capabilities. There is no question we face difficult choices, but I am confident we can still advance Air Force capabilities in important areas, such as fielding the F-35, the KC-46, a new Long Range Strike family of systems including a 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. Though potentially smaller than in previous decades, the Air Force of 2020 nonetheless must remain ready; there will be little margin for lengthy mobilizations. 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.
I want to close by once again thanking you for all you do to support our Air Force and advance our missions.
America's military has been stretched by two decades of combat, humanitarian, and stability operations. And yet, 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.
We are living in a time of great strategic and budgetary uncertainty, but throughout our history the Air Force has 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 this era of constrained resources, the 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 around the globe and across the full spectrum of operations.
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.