Air Force Reserve: Integral to the Total Force
Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley
SecAF remarks at 2012 Air Force Reserve Senior Leader Conference, March 26-27, National Harbor, Md.
Lieutenant General Stenner, thank you for that kind introduction. I appreciate the opportunity to be with all of you this morning as you kick off this year's Senior Leader Conference.
I was happy to accept General Stenner's invitation to share a few thoughts with you today. To begin with, it gives me the chance to personally thank you for your service to the United States Air Force and to our Nation.
As you well know, the Air Force Reserve is an integral part of our Total Force that supports every Combatant Commander and Air Force core function, delivering the right capabilities to the right place at the right time. Your contributions to the Joint and Coalition team are felt worldwide, with more than 3,900 Air Force Reservists currently activated.
And we know your commitment is not without a price. You and your families, as well as the employers of Reservists, make countless sacrifices that make your service to our country possible. As an institution, the Air Force does not take these sacrifices for granted.
When I addressed this conference last year, I outlined the decisions facing Air Force leadership in crafting a Fiscal Year '13 program and budget in a complex security environment also shaped by our Nation's extended recession and fiscal crisis. The theme was how we would balance Air Force capabilities across our core functions, and among competing needs for force structure, readiness, and modernization. Part of that decision making included balancing the right mix of missions and personnel across the Total Force.
Today, I'll describe the results of that work, and talk about how we see Air Force priorities in the context of the new strategy with constrained budgets. My intent is to give you some insight into the strategic rationale that shaped our FY13 Air Force budget proposal, which was officially released by the President in February. After that, I want to say a few words about our Total Force Enterprise and our ongoing efforts to improve integration and maximize capability across the Active and Reserve Components.
Strategic and Budgetary Environment
If you've been monitoring this budget cycle, you know we made some hard choices to closely align the Air Force's FY13 budget proposal with the new defense strategic guidance and comply with the requirements of the Budget Control Act, which calls for a defense budget reduction of $487 billion over the next 10 years.
Even as budgets decline, we must still provide the essential force structure and capabilities on which the Joint Force depends, and be ready to respond to a challenging and dynamic security environment. Yet, the new strategic guidance also requires modernization, both to recapitalize aging systems and platforms and to address the proliferation of modern technologies and threats. We also need to take care of our Airmen - the living engine that powers our Air Force.
Balancing these competing priorities among force structure, readiness, modernization, and support for our Airmen, we determined that the Air Force's best course of action is to trade size for quality. We will become smaller in order to protect a high-quality and ready force that will continue to modernize and grow more capable over time.
In this decision, we sought the proper balance between today's Air Force, and meeting the immediate needs of combatant commanders, while also laying the groundwork for the Air Force our Nation will need ten years from now and beyond.
While it was impossible to protect everything in this year's budget - which is clearly reflected in the difficult force structure and manpower reductions in our proposal - we took action to protect the Air Force's top priorities.
Force Structure and Manpower
For example, we protect the size of the bomber force. We are ramping up our remotely-piloted aircraft (RPA) force to a goal of 65 combat air patrols (CAPs), with the ability to surge to 85 CAPs. We protect our Special Operations Forces capabilities, largely protect space programs, and protect our cyber capabilities.
But as we get smaller, we have to make difficult choices. Among these decisions are our proposed force structure changes which call for the reduction of 286 aircraft over the Future Years Defense Plan (FYDP), including 123 fighters, 133 mobility aircraft, and 30 ISR platforms.
Because force structure changes have a ripple effect on manpower needs, our budget proposal calls for a reduction of 9,900 Air Force military personnel. By component, this amounts to reductions of 3,900 Active Duty, 5,100 Air National Guard, and 900 Air Force Reserve personnel. In the Air Force Reserve, this decrease in billets was driven by both the reduction in FY13 of 52 aircraft in the Total Aircraft Inventory, and an increase in the ISR mission.
Fighter, mobility, and other force structure changes have been strategy-driven based on changed requirements. We've carefully balanced our Active and Reserve Component changes to make sure that we can meet the demanding operational tempos, including both surge and rotational requirements that are part of the current and projected strategic environment.
Our analysis tells us we have reduced the Active Component to the point that further reductions would limit our ability to respond quickly to multiple crises or sustain long duration commitments without asking all of our Airmen to deploy at rates that cannot be sustained by our Total Force Airmen and their families.
As our force gets smaller, all of our components get smaller together and will become even more closely integrated. We remain fully committed to our Total Force capability and have proposed several initiatives to strengthen integration of effort, including increasing the number of Active-Reserve Component Associations from 100 to 115. We expect that number to grow higher as we get into FY14 and beyond.
In the context of these force structure changes, multiple units are affected, and just about every state will be affected by the aircraft and/or the manpower adjustments. In a number of cases, we've taken mitigating action by re-missioning units - from aircraft to RPAs, or to ISR missions, for example. We've moved some aircraft from the Active Forces into the Guard or Reserve. And in some cases, unit size will increase in the Reserve Component as well. But in general, we're getting smaller. So these mitigations and backfills will not cover all units at all locations.
These were tough and challenging decisions, and we recognize they may be difficult for local units and constituencies. Our Total Force leadership - Active, Guard, and Reserve - participated in these decisions and worked through the tough calls and mitigating strategies.
Our intention is to protect readiness at any force level. This has been a strong theme from all the Service Chiefs and from Secretary Panetta from the very beginning of this budget round. We are committed to ensuring that our military forces do not go hollow.
To ensure readiness, we put funds in critical areas, such as flying hours and weapon systems sustainment. Readiness is also a prime consideration when we think about shaping the optimal Active Duty/Air Reserve Component mix, and a high priority for the Air National Guard as they resource new missions and balance capabilities and readiness across the 50 states.
After more than a decade of sustained high-operational tempo since 9/11, we're still working through the negative effects and the impact on the force in terms of aging equipment, lost training opportunities, and stress on personnel. Amazingly, the Air Force has been sustaining high tempo operations for more than two decades - December 17, 2011, was the first day in over 20 years that the United States did not fly a sortie over Iraq.
Readiness is critical, because if we're going to be smaller, we have to make sure we are prepared. Last year's Libya operation is a fresh reminder of how quickly requirements for Air Force capabilities can materialize. We did not have six months to plan for that operation. We did not have even one month to plan for that operation. The potential for the operation arose in weeks, and the execute order was measured not in days, but in hours.
The current strategic environment demands a ready and agile force, capable of responding quickly to new contingencies as they arise. Readiness is something we must watch closely going forward.
Modernization remains our most significant concern, especially as our fleets age and new technologies drive new investment needs. In this year's budget proposal, we are slowing modernization while protecting programs that are critical to future capabilities. We also made hard choices in modernization accounts to terminate or restructure some major programs to protect key priorities.
In this mix, we protect the long range strike family of systems, including the new bomber. We protect the KC-46 tanker acquisition, key space programs, including SBIRS, AEHF, follow-on GPS work, and advanced ISR.
Because, in our judgment, Lockheed-Martin is not ready to ramp up to full rate production on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, we reduced the rate of procurement for a few years while we work through the concurrency issues still present in the program. We also plan to proceed with an F-16 service life extension program, which will modernize about 350 F-16s in the fleet to accommodate aging airframes and add needed capability updates.
In other cases, lack of affordability made it necessary to eliminate programs. In today's environment, there were capabilities we had to leave behind in favor of higher priorities critical to the future of core Air Force capabilities. Those were really the nature of the decisions we made in modernization.
In keeping with our enduring obligation to take care of our people, we will keep faith with Airmen and their families. Doing right by our service members is the key to our ability to recruit and retain a high quality force.
Taking Care of Airmen and Families
Nevertheless, the impact of increasing personnel costs continues to be a serious concern. Therefore, we support the military compensation program reforms in the President's budget, which include a modest pay raise, proposals to control health care cost growth, and calls for a commission to recommend reforms in retired pay. We must continue to seek and develop reforms to ensure the long-term sustainability of the benefits our men and women in uniform have earned.
Total Force Enterprise and Integration
I don't need to tell you that the Air Force depends on the Air Force Reserve, and that we will continue to 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. We have successfully met the demand of increased operations tempo over the last two decades through a combination of volunteerism, selective mobilization, and the creation of Active, Reserve, and Guard Associations.
We do, however, have an obligation to consider the 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. Over the years, we have adjusted the mix between Active and Reserve Components to ensure we maintained a ready and sustainable force and could meet our surge and rotational requirements.
However, two decades of military end strength and force structure reductions have shifted the ratio of Active to Reserve Component Forces. In 1990, the Reserve Component represented 25 percent of Total Force end strength; that percentage has increased to 35 percent today. Reserve Component aircraft ownership also increased from approximately 23 percent to 28 percent over the same period.
The proposals we have put forward are aimed at getting the balance right so the Active Component can meet the demands placed on them, and so that our Guard and Reserve members can not only meet their mission commitments, but also their commitments to employers, communities, and families. Getting this balance right is a responsibility we have to our people and the Nation.
While the Reserve Component is undeniably committed to helping the country meet crisis and surge commitments at home and abroad, they have not committed to being mobilized (in whole or in part) on a permanent basis to meet our future Air Force commitments. We place an enormous value on the experience provided by the Reserve Component, but we don't want to shift the warfighting burden to a part-time force. This isn't what you signed up for.
As we plan our Total Force mix, we keep the components' contributions and commitments in mind and look to size our Active, Guard, and Reserve forces so they can meet their respective roles. Our goal is to balance the Active and Reserve Components to maximize the benefits of the Total Force. If our Active Component is too small to meet its demands, then we put our Guard and Reserve forces in the position of breaking other commitments to employers, communities, and families. Alternatively, if our Active Component was too large, then we would not be taking advantage of the benefits that our Guard and Reserve forces have to offer.
To wrap up, I hope that I have been able to give you a sense of the challenges our Air Force and our Nation confront as we adjust to our changing strategic environment and economic circumstances. Identifying
$487 billion in defense cuts is hard, and you will see many programs being proposed for reduction or termination. Our Air Force will get smaller, but our intent is to trade size for a quality force that is ready for the contingencies in front of us, and will improve in capability over time.
We do think, however, further cuts will put at risk our ability to execute the new strategy. We made some tough decisions to get the forces aligned, structured, and balanced in a way that can meet the new strategic guidance. If there are substantially more reductions beyond what DoD is currently facing, we will have to revisit the new strategy.
Modernization going forward, as challenging as it is in this resource constrained period, remains essential to maintaining U.S. advantages in contested air, space and cyber domains. We need to make investments that keep us on the cutting edge and ensure the future success of Joint and
Coalition operations at any point on the spectrum of conflict.
I know General Schwartz and I feel deeply that our leadership team has inherited the finest Air Force in the world. It's our obligation to keep it that way going forward.
We are committed to effective partnerships and good teamwork - all of which require good ideas, focused leadership and a collective commitment to a common Air Force vision - one that transcends component or status. The Air Force Reserve brings unique strengths to advance this vision, and I am tremendously grateful to each of you for your service. It is an honor to serve with you in the world's finest Air Force.