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Acting Deputy Defense Secretary talks budget, urges innovation

Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. (AFNS) -- Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Christine H. Fox spoke at Air University's Air War College about budget constraints and sequestration in relation to the Air Force's role in the Department of Defense, the importance of technology and innovation April 3.

Before speaking to the agenda, Fox shared her condolences to those affected by the Fort Hood, Texas, shooting April 2.

"Nothing is more important to the Defense Department as an institution than the safety and wellbeing of our people," said Fox. "We'll do everything that we can to support the victims and their families, and all of our people."

In light of these events, the budget and strategy have to be addressed because they support not only the DOD's role in ensuring the nation's strategic imperatives are met, but the service members as well, she said.

As the defense strategy shifts from land wars in the Middle East, she said Airmen will experience gains and challenges in defending new security threats in an advancing technological arena, as well as shifting focus to the Pacific, while taking every opportunity to sustain and secure allies.

She added that this new outlook, especially concerning the budget, is in support of President Barack Obama's strategic guidance. The budget, which is $115 billion more than what sequester-level funding would provide, recognizes the nation's strategic needs in a time of continued transition and uncertainty for the U.S. military in terms of roles, missions and available resources.

The Secretary said that according to the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, the priorities outline strategy in homeland security, U.S. influence building global security, deterrence and defense should deterrence fail.

In conjunction with these challenges, there is high probability under the return of sequester-level funding in fiscal year 2016 that resources may not fully support the president's strategy or the nation's needs, said Fox.

"Leadership's stern warning about sequestration, appearing to fall mostly on deaf ears, in the Congress last year gave (Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel) no choice but to prepare the department for an era where defense budgets could be significantly lower than expected, wanted or needed," she said.

The current proposal provides a realistic request that would create a balanced military force able to fulfill the president's strategy. The balanced force is sized using available resources to maintain modernization and readiness, she said.

"To achieve a balanced force with this fiscal outlook, we had no choice but to reduce the force structure," Fox said. "Shrinking the military contains real risks because a smaller force, no matter how ready, no matter how modern or technologically advanced, can go to fewer places and do fewer things."

However, attempting to maintain a larger force in the face of sequester-level cuts would put a decade-long hold on modernization.

"The consequences of being unprepared for such a contingency could be catastrophic," she said of the unlikely, but possible, threat of a technological conflict against another military power.

Fox added that the budget was shaped by post-Vietnam War U.S. engagements. These involved keeping more force structure than could be adequately, trained, maintained and equipped within the defense budget. This forced disproportionate DOD cuts into accounts that fund readiness and modernization creating a hollow force.

"This is why Secretary Hagel has chosen to reduce capacity ... in order to assure those forces would be properly trained and clearly superior in arms and equipment," she said.

The decision to be ready and to maintain technological edge over potential adversaries at the expense of size was a decision not only based on history, but rigorous analysis, Fox said of research conducted over the past three years using two critical measures: existing operational plans and the Global Force Allocation Plan.

The analysis highlighted the unique capabilities the Air Force brings as the most technologically driven service in the world with abilities to provide vital capabilities across the entire operational spectrum.

"These capabilities must be shielded from the harshest impacts of sequester," she said of competencies ranging from airlift to space superiority, which enable the entire joint force to succeed.

This meant protecting key modernization programs: the new bomber, joint strike fighter and tanker. It also meant recommending a billion-dollar investment in next-generation engine technology. To enable these modernizations, other programs, such as the A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft and the U-2 Dragon Lady, have to be cut, she said.

With strides in reducing operating costs currently in place, it is vital Congress support relief from sequestration in fiscal 2016 and beyond to make the necessary upgrades needed to continue the new aircraft programs, she said.

"If sequestration returns, the department will be forced to make additional cuts that would not allow us to implement our defense strategy and would compromise our national security in both the near and the long-term future," she said.

The cuts would dwindle readiness by retiring up to 80 more aircraft, sustaining 10 fewer Predator or Reaper tasks and cutting flying hours drastically.

"Whether sequestration returns or not, the reality is that we're counting more than ever on your leadership, your innovations to solve problems and meet new and often unfamiliar challenges to national security," she said to her audience of senior military and civilian leaders.

As technological gaps close and asymmetric challenges multiply, the challenge and opportunity to move forward is not only in service leaders' hands, but in members experienced with the unique spectrum of Air Force capabilities.

"Yes, we're investing in hardware and software, but we need to invest equally in thinking about new ways of doing business and new methodologies," she said. "There is tremendous room for innovation in a tech-driven and rapidly changing field, and we need to capitalize on the pace of that change.

"As Airmen you think about warfare differently," she said of the Airmen's lack of geographical constraints. "You represent the future leaders of our great department and our great military. I think you will have the opportunity to lead through a time of profound challenge, but also tremendous opportunities."

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