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AF undersecretary: Budget uncertainty worries Airmen

WASHINGTON (AFNS) --

Airmen are worried about budgetary uncertainty, and service leaders pledge to be transparent about priorities and programs available as the service moves forward, Air Force Undersecretary Eric Fanning said here March 11.

Speaking to the Defense Writers Group, Fanning told reporters he has heard from quite a few Airmen about their concerns about the force.

"The main thing I promised is to continue to be transparent and to try and make decisions to get us to whatever the new normal is as quickly as possible," he said. "This has not been easy, because we still don't know what that is going to be."

None of the services can really plan beyond fiscal year 2015 because of the specter of sequestration spending cuts the following year. The Budget Control Act of 2011 is still the law of the land. While Congress passed a law giving some relief from sequestration in fiscal 2014 and 2015, the law will go back into full effect in fiscal 2016.

If full sequestration is triggered, the Air Force will have to reduce the number of Airmen further, and in a much steeper manner, Fanning said.

"We've made proposals on force structure and making the Air Force smaller, but we have to see what Congress will approve," he said. "Certainly, there is a lot of angst out there for what the future holds."

Some Airmen have complained that the service appears to value equipment more than people, Fanning said.

"I read a lot of these blogs too," he said. "There are a lot of Airmen who understand that part of our commitment to them is if we're going to send them into harm's way, we're going to send them with the best equipment and the readiest that we can."

The service must balance among capacity, capability and readiness, Fanning told the defense writers, noting that spending money on Airmen only makes sense if those Airmen are ready and equipped to fight the nation's battles.

"I think (Airmen) understand the decisions we are making in terms of investing in the technology that sets the Air Force apart and gives them the edge in a fight," he said.

Air Force leaders are still committed to giving Airmen the time to adjust to whatever decision comes forth, Fanning said. 

"We are still committed to using voluntary programs to the maximum extent possible before we will do anything in an involuntary way," he said.

The air fleet is getting older and smaller by the year, he said, so the service must invest in next-generation platforms.

"We've been fighting a war in two theaters where we owned the airspace in a way that we won't in other types of conflicts that are more contested," Fanning said.

In the fiscal 2015 budget request, the service focuses specifically on capability over capacity.

"That's why you see the Air Force aggressively trying to get rid of its older fleets and older infrastructure," he said. As this continues, he added, the Air Force’s advantage in tactical airpower and in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets will increase.

"These are two areas where we will see significant advancement," Fanning said.

The undersecretary said he also expects improvements across the board from investments in space and cyber technology.

"We cannot, in this environment, afford to invest in all the recapitalization and all the platforms we want to," Fanning said. But amid all the budget issues the U.S. Air Force is still the most potent air arm in the world, he said, and it must be ready to fight today and in the future.

"That balance between the fight today and the fight tomorrow is a struggle that we are going to be dealing with for a long time because of these budget numbers," Fanning said. "But we still are, by far, the best Air Force in the world -- even in any of the scenarios we project out over 10 years. The issue is with the budget you have, and you stack that up against the missions you are assigned. That's the metric I use."

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