Acting SecAF highlights challenges of Pacific rebalance, space operations

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Alexander W. Riedel
  • Air Force News Service

In his keynote address at the Air Force Association’s 2013 Pacific Air & Space Symposium Nov. 22 here, Acting Secretary of the Air Force Eric K. Fanning delivered his perspective on the state of space operations and the ongoing rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region.


Highlighting challenges of sequestration and budget approval, Fanning stressed a need for investment and innovation in air and space defense of the future.


With funding cuts forming the new reality for the military, Fanning presented his view of the present uncertainty by quoting James A. Winnefeld, the ninth Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “We don’t know how much money we are going to have, we don’t know when we’ll know how much money we are going to have and we don’t know what the rules are going to be.”


Reflecting this uncertainty, service leaders have prepared two budgets, he said -- one of which takes severe impacts of sequestration into account. However, the secretary expressed doubt that either Air Force budget requests are going to be met as written.


“The Air Force, anticipating sequestered levels, is having to make some very difficult choices,” he said. “And it impacts the other services ... We’ve been forced to make some cuts that have been unpalatable.”


Citing lack of flexibility within the process of sequestration and stalled plans for base realignments and closures, Fanning said the service retains excess infrastructure which means additional costs. The pressure to achieve savings is insidious and comes at a cost to readiness and investment, leading the Air Force to become a smaller, less capable force in the future.


“It’s going to be a long, tough slog for us to figure out what (fiscal 2015) is going to be,” Fanning said. “Ironically, of course, we don’t know what (fiscal 2014) is going to be and here we are already.”


In spite of fiscal challenges, Fanning said the historical trend calls for a continued increase of demand for airpower into the future. With a growing need for logistics, space and combat support, other services will also feel the impact to Air Force cuts, he said.


In a time of rebalance to the Asia-Pacific theater, Fanning said airpower is particularly well suited to meet the challenges posed by the vast distances in the region and current threats.


“We are dedicated to building and sustaining long-term relationships in the region that help build capacity and capability among our allies, friends and partners,” the secretary said. “When you’re dealing with budget-constraint issues like we are today, it is even more important to work with our partners and not push them away. It is more effective and efficient to work together to accomplish our mutual goal of peace and prosperity.”


Maintaining the rebalance to the Pacific requires a stable level of presence in the Pacific, despite anticipated force reductions.


“We’ll have to get smaller in order to maintain readiness and qualitative advantage,” he said. ”We anticipate, unless Congress drastically alters the sequester-level cuts, that we will have to reduce our active-duty forces by up to 20,000 Airmen.”


Part of the goal of putting the Air Force on a glide path to fly, fight and win in the future, Fanning said, is a continued commitment to game-changing acquisition programs and a focus on the battlefield of the future: space, cyberspace and ISR.


“Despite our success, we can see the security landscape change before our eyes,” he said. “It is very rare that any operation, on any level, is not somehow dependent on space or cyberspace capabilities we, the Air Force, provide.”


The degree of U.S. and allied reliance on precision, forward operations, global communication networks and remotely piloted aircraft increases the need for a robust and modern space architecture, he said, while making space assets valid targets for adversaries and malicious actors.


“Just about anyone from the president to the JTAC in the field depends on space capabilities the Air Force provides,” he said. “However, the threat is becoming more acute ... We must protect our current space capabilities, and prepare to operate the space systems of the future.”


With rising international and commercial space activity, the space domain is becoming more contested and crowded -- reducing room to operate and increasing the risk of dangerous and costly on-orbit collision of space vehicles. Fanning cautioned that budget pressures have already acutely impacted the space situational awareness mission, a “crown jewel” of national defense.


“We were forced to shut down the Air Force Space Surveillance system, after 52 years of service,” he said. “This closing decreased the robustness of our space situational awareness.”


Stating the requirement of more resilient space systems and operations, Fanning stressed the need for innovative solutions that balance vital capability, affordability, and resilience.


“While we work with industry to develop a more resilient future architecture, we will continue our commitments to our civilian, military and international partners and to programs such as GPS,” he said. “I believe that our plan to affordably build space resiliency will allow us to continue to provide the United States and partners an unparalleled advantage in space in the next decades.”