Top Air Force official stresses need for modernization

  • Published
  • By Jim Garamone
  • American Forces Press Service
The Air Force must modernize to confront the threats of the future, acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning said at the Defense One Summit here Nov. 14.

Fanning echoed previous testimony and comments in saying the service will fight to maintain modernization programs. He specifically cited the joint strike fighter, long-range strike bomber and next-generation air-to-air tanker programs. These programs go to the root of Air Force capabilities, he said.

"We need to be able to move quickly (and) strike quickly anywhere in the world, and we need to be able to monitor things anywhere in the world," Fanning said.

The service has to invest in these next-generation platforms, he said.

"We cannot over the next 10 years just invest in modernizing legacy platforms," Fanning said. "Even if you modernize ... a fourth-generation fleet, when it goes against a Chinese or Russian fifth-generation aircraft, it's dead before you even know an adversary is in the air."

Still, Fanning said, he is not concerned about the Air Force losing its dominance, "as long as we keep focusing on the investments, as we are now."

These capabilities are crucial as the threats are changing and growing geographically, he said, with more nations and even groups– fielding advanced weaponry.

"We need to maintain investments in next-generation platforms so we have that agility, that mobility, that ability to strike," he added.

Aside from these programs, Fanning said, he believes the Air Force must develop its cyberwar, space, special operations and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities in the future.

The biggest threat to the service today is budget uncertainty, the acting secretary said, adding that Air Force budget planners have no idea what the service budget topline will be for fiscal 2015.

Sequestration spending cuts, as they stand, will take an extra $20 billion from the Defense Department's budget across all accounts in January. What is even more damaging, Fanning said, is that the law mandating the cuts does not give the services the flexibility needed to make them in a smart manner. Last year, Congress did give the military this flexibility, and DOD officials expect the Congress will probably do that again, but this is not a given, he added.

The immediacy of the cuts also causes problems, Fanning said, noting that the majority of the cuts will have to be from operations and maintenance funds. Budget instability makes this enormously hard on the service to build a budget as detailed and solid as people would like, he said.

"It forces the institution into a shorter and shorter and shorter 'do loop,'" he said. "The stability of the process is weakening. I keep thinking, ... 'It can't get any crazier, and we will be able to fix it.' And somehow, we manage to fix ourselves into more craziness."

Under sequester, the Air Force will reduce by about 25,000 people and 550 aircraft, Fanning said. "Even before sequestration, Air Force readiness was not vectored in the right direction," he said. "(Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III) and I think we were not building a sustainable Air Force for 10 years down the road."

Personnel costs take up 40 percent of the Air Force budget, and this is an area that needs attention, Fanning said, emphasizing that the service is not looking to cut pay and benefits, but rather to slow the growth. The Air Force simply cannot afford to maintain the current growth rate, he said.

"It is unsustainable," he added. "It will collapse. It won't be there for people if we don't do something about it. We just need to rationalize what we've done over the last 10 years.

"If we allow it to continue to grow, we're going to have a force that has aging platforms, and that is going to have an effect on morale more than anything," he continued. "People don't join the Air Force to fly old planes or look at old planes on the ramp from the ready room."