Air Force Under Secretary stresses innovation amidst rough fiscal waters Published Sept. 21, 2011 By Master Sgt. Amaani Lyle Air Force Public Affairs Agency NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.(AFNS) -- The innovative ideas and creativity of the Air Force's military and civilian workforce are critical to the service's ability to excel in a budget-constrained environment, said the undersecretary of the Air Force Sept. 20. In an address to attendees of the Air Force Association's 2011 Air & Space Conference and Technology exposition here, Erin Conaton echoed Air Force Secretary Michael Donley's comments earlier in the week on the Air Force's approach toward budget reductions with an eye toward strategy and balance. "We have arrived at a point in time where we are no longer discussing impending financial challenges," said Conaton. "These challenges are here and they will stay with us. The broader Department of Defense and Air Force are engaged in a robust discussion about our strategy and budget. We are firm in the knowledge that we have the responsibility to ensure the nation will always have the global power, reach, and vigilance of the U.S. Air Force to rely on." Despite the tough fiscal environment, Conaton called this a time of great opportunity for the Air Force and a time for creativity and innovation, qualities she said the service's Airmen have "in spades." "We are constantly searching for ways we can do our business more efficiently and effectively, whether it's through space acquisition reform, alternative energy projects, or any number of Total Force developments," she said. "We are literally shaping the Air Force of the future, and as we tackle these challenges, the Air Force looks to you for your best ideas, especially your innovations that merge mission readiness with fiscal responsibility." To underscore her point, Conaton cited several examples where Airmen have sought to "do things more efficiently and in a more sustainable way." As part of the service's efforts to reduce energy costs, she lauded the 14.2 mega-watt solar array at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., which produces 28,520 mega-watt hours of power, and the partnership with industry to install 24 wind turbines at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. She also noted the Air Force has been leading the way in alternative fuels since 2006. "Ninety-nine percent of our fleet has been certified for the 50/50 synthetic fuel blend," Conaton said. "We're also certifying the fleet on a biomass blend. "The Air Force remains on a glide path to certifying our fleet to fly on biofuels by 2013. "We're excited to complete these efforts and will continue to evaluate, and demonstrate potential alternative aviation fuel candidates." The under secretary said innovations like these by Airmen will improve the Air Force's energy independence and its overall financial strength. "Every dollar we don't have to spend on energy is a dollar that can go to weapons systems, maintenance, family housing or other projects that benefit our Airmen," she said. With about 20 percent of the service's modernization dollars spent on space programs, the under secretary also discussed ways in which the Air Force is exploring creative ways to enhance space capabilities and drive down costs. "Increasingly, in alignment with the national space policy and the national security space strategy, we are building international partnerships and exploring commercial arrangements for service," said Conaton. "Not only does this build partnerships that further our broader national security interests, we are reaping benefits for the taxpayer from our allies' financial contributions or industry's cheaper solutions." In addition to thanking uniformed members of the Air Force for their service during her speech, she expressed her gratitude and thanks to the civilian workforce for the deep expertise and much-needed continuity they provide. "The career civilian workforce in the U.S. Air Force is absolutely essential to our achievements as a service," she said. "Much of our service's success is owed to the work you do. This is an incredible time and an incredible opportunity to help us figure out how to do business smarter and how to make hard choices to the benefit of the Air Force and the nation."