Air Force leaders seek to balance current, future needs

  • Published
  • By Donna Miles
  • American Forces Press Service
The Air Force's budget request for fiscal 2011 provides the right balance between supporting the war efforts and other current-day commitments while posturing for future challenges, the top Air Force civilian and military leaders told Congress Feb. 23 here.

The $119.6 billion request is designed to ensure the Air Force has what it needs to support four strategic priorities outlined in the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley told the House Armed Services Committee.

"First, we must prevail in today's wars," Secretary Donley told the panel. "Your Air Force understands the gravity of the situation in Afghanistan, and as we continue to responsibly draw down the forces in Iraq, we are committed to rapidly fielding needed capabilities for the joint team."

This, Secretary Donley said, includes surging intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets into the theater and maximizing air mobility to accelerate the flow of forces into Afghanistan.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz noted that in addition to providing critical air and space power for the joint and coalition team, Airmen are providing battlefield medical support and evacuation, ordnance disposal, convoy security and other missions.

"The reality is, the country's at war," he said. "And if there is a demand, if there is a need for us to serve a wartime function, we will do so."

Preventing and deterring conflicts across the spectrum of warfare is another priority in the budget request, Secretary Donley told committee members.

Continuing to strengthen the nuclear enterprise is a top Air Force priority, General Schwartz said.

"The rigor of our nuclear surety inspections demonstrates a new commitment to the highest levels of performance," he said. "But we must and we will do even more to ensure 100 percent precision and reliability in our nuclear operations and logistics 100 percent of the time."

Secretary Donley pointed to the standup last year of Air Force Global Strike Command and the realignment of the Air Force intercontinental ballistic missile and bomber wings under a single commander. In addition, the Air Force stood up a nuclear weapons center to consolidate management of all nuclear weapons sustainment activities.

Meanwhile, the Air Force is increasing its engagement around the world, building partner capability in Afghanistan and Iraq while developing a training framework that emphasizes light attack and mobility capabilities that can benefit other nations as well, Secretary Donley said.

Another priority driving the budget request is the need to be prepared to defeat adversaries and succeed in a wide range of contingencies.

"We need to ensure that we are providing the right capabilities with our strategic airlift and ISR platforms and ensure our space-based assets continue to deliver needed capabilities for the future," Secretary Donley said.

At the same time, Air Force officials must ensure their weapons systems -- strained by two decades of sustained operations -- are up to the task, the Air Force secretary said. This involves modernizing some aircraft and retiring and recapitalizing many of the legacy fighters and tankers, replacing them with F-35 Lighting II joint strike fighters and KC-X next-generation aerial tankers.

"Awarding a new aerial refueling aircraft contract remains our top acquisition priority," General Schwartz said. He called the F-35 program another imperative, noting that it will be the workhorse driving much of the Air Force and the joint force forward.

Both General Schwartz and Secretary Donley emphasized the importance of long-range strike capability, supporting development of a family of systems that will provide penetration as well as standoff capabilities for the next 20 or 30 years.

"We need to get on with a long-range strike capability to replace the legacy bombers that we're operating today, and to get ahead and stay ahead of evolving threats in that area," Secretary Donley said.

Another principle driving the budget request is the need to preserve and enhance what Secretary Donley called the Air Force's most valuable resource: its Airmen.

"This budget request supports these Airmen and our continuing efforts to rebalance the force, make difficult decisions on what we buy and sustain our needed contributions to the joint team," General Schwartz said.