Secretary Donley addresses steps to strengthen Air Force

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Mareshah Haynes
  • Defense Media Activity-San Antonio
The Air Force secretary discussed the outlook for the Air Force's future during the Air Force Association's Air Warfare Symposium and Technology Exposition Feb. 18 here.

In his keynote speech, framed upon the strategic priorities set in the Quadrennial Defense Review, Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley addressed more than 500 seminar attendees stating that Air Force officials are focused on winning today's fights in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Horn of Africa.

While these conflicts are different, the secretary explained there are at least a couple of trends: projecting U.S. power through air mobility is critical to success; they require close integration with ground forces to find, fix and hold at risk elusive high-value targets; and coordination with partner air forces with different competencies that require different levels of U.S. support is essential to counterinsurgency, stability and counterterrorist operations.

"These factors have influenced us to continue investments in mobility, ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance), command and control, and building partner capacity across our total force so we can maximize our contributions to the joint and coalition force," Secretary Donley said.

Air Force ISR capabilities have proven to be a significant asset to combatant commanders in overseas contingency operations and, as a result, demand continues to increase. To support the expanded ISR mission, Air Force officials are shifting approximately 3,600 manpower billets from the accelerated retirement of legacy fighters to the intelligence mission and are doubling the number of ISR liaison officers assigned to deployed ground forces. Two new remotely piloted aircraft facilities have also recently been established and will continue to acquire and deploy additional aircraft.

"We've increased remotely piloted aircraft capability by 330 percent in the past two years," Secretary Donley said. "In addition, the rapid acquisition and deployment of the MC-12 Liberty is providing direct ISR support to ground forces."

In an effort to better facilitate command and control capabilities, training pipelines for joint terminal attack controllers have been increased and an air liaison officer career field has been established.

While winning today's fights is critical, it is also extremely important to have the capability to prevent and deter conflict. Over the last 18 months, Air Force officials have made steps to strengthen the service's portion of national nuclear deterrence.

"Last year we reorganized our nuclear forces, with all sustainment activities now controlled by the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, and all nuclear operations now under the command of the Air Force Global Strike Command," Secretary Donley said. "We've recently completed the reassignment of (intercontinental ballistic missiles) and nuclear capable bomber forces to Air Force Global Strike Command and full operational capability is expected this year."

Looking ahead, Secretary Donley said to continue sustainment of nuclear deterrence operations and conventional global precision attack capabilities, Air Force officials will add research and development funds to develop future long-range-strike capabilities.

Air Force officials are also working on procuring other capabilities that will enhance the ability to defeat enemy forces and prevail in an array of contingencies.

"The (request for proposal) for a KC-X replacement tanker should be released soon, and we will aggressively work toward awarding a contract by summer's end," Secretary Donley said. "KC-X remains our top acquisition priority."

Secretary Donley also highlighted recent changes to the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter program, which will be a critical element of the service's future precision attack capability.

"Although important progress has been made in the last year, the program is experiencing challenges as it transitions from development to production," Secretary Donley said. "Late aircraft deliveries have put the flight test program behind schedule, and the concurrency between development and production -- already built into the program -- finally researched unacceptable levels."

The secretary said that after two years of close monitoring through independent program assessments, Department of Defense, Air Force and Navy leadership have decided the most prudent course of action is to extend development and slow production.
"Nonetheless, we remain confident and committed to the ultimate success of the F-35. It is the Air Force's largest program and will be the backbone of our fighter force for the future," he said.

Secretary Donley shared the Air Force's vision to preserve and enhance the all-volunteer force, as well as their family members, with quality-of-life programs such as the Year of the Air Force Family.

"Our recruiting and retention is strong, but we're asking Congress to fund bonuses targeted at critical wartime skills, including command and control, public affairs, contracting, pararescue, security forces, civil engineering, explosive ordnance disposal, medical and special investigations," he said.

Secretary Donley also said Air Force leaders are developing new career fields for cyber and RPA operations.

Also on the personnel front, reviews are currently under way including the Fort Hood, Texas, shooting follow up and the president's call to repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" legislation.

In regard to the Fort Hood shootings, he said that follow-on reviews in each service are occurring to determine how to better share information about personnel who potentially pose a threat to themselves or others. The secretary said the service will work to ensure the right level of protection exists on Air Force installations and that there is collaboration with local agencies in areas such as emergency management and mutual aid in mass casualty situations.

"Our goal remains to ensure safe and secure communities for our Airmen and their families," he said.

In January, President Barack Obama made clear his intent to seek the repeal of the current "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" legislation to allow gay and lesbian members to openly serve in the military.

"A working group chaired by the DOD general counsel will examine all aspects of properly implementing a repeal to the current law with recommendations in areas such as housing, benefits and other policies to be completed by the end of this calendar year," Secretary Donley said. "For the services and our Air Force, this is a test of whether we can have a professional and dispassionate conversation, develop the facts related to implementation, and appropriately advise the president and Congress without being involved in the political debate that surrounds this issue."

The secretary noted the Air Force will endeavor to "add light, not heat, to this debate."

In closing, the Secretary Donley stressed the importance of Air Force officials at all levels to make the most of all Air Force assets, especially personnel.

"Our priorities are clear," he said. "We must make the most of those resources available to balance capability against risk, and balance winning today's wars against preparing for tomorrow's. We must prevail in today's fights, and we must continue to add capability in every way possible to help ensure success in the ongoing conflicts. Finally, we must continue to preserve our Airmen and their families; they are our hedge against an uncertain future."