SECAF: Accelerating defendable space, multi-domain operations key to future readiness

WASHINGTON — Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee about the Air Force’s fiscal year 2019 budget March 20, 2018, in Washington, D.C.

“The Air Force budget for FY19 aligns with the National Defense Strategy,” said Wilson. “In our budget, there are really two bold moves and one continuing theme. The first bold move is the acceleration of a defendable space.”

The Air Force, Wilson said, needs to be able to deter, defend and prevail against anyone who seeks to deny the nation’s ability to operate freely in space.

“The United States of America is the best in the world at space and our adversaries know it. In any future conflict we expect that they will seek to deny us the use of space. So what we’re doing in this budget is accelerating our ability to defend our assets on orbit,” she said.

The Air Force operates 76 satellites, 30 of which are GPS and another 25 are communication satellites. According to Wilson, the service is investing in jam-resistant satellite technology for both communications and GPS capabilities.

“The second bold move in this budget is the shift to multi-domain operations and that’s most visible in the way the Air Force plans to do command and control,” Wilson said. “There is also one continuing effort in our budget and that is to keep improving readiness to win any fight any time, that’s what you expect of your Air Force.”

Wilson along with other service secretaries addressed the challenges of providing taxpayers more defense value for their money, and getting innovation into warfighters’ hands faster.

The Air Force’s proposed fiscal 2019 defense budget would continue to fund training and equipment needed to keep warfighters ready to fight anytime.

Budget Uncertainty Harms Readiness

The Army, Navy and Air Force service secretaries testified in support of DoD’s proposed fiscal 2019 budget of $686 billion, highlighting that, if approved, it would provide the services the monetary means to field a more lethal force as outlined in the National Defense Strategy.

“We must have predictable, adequate, sustained and timely funding. Fiscal uncertainty has done a great deal to erode our readiness and hamper our ability to modernize,” Army Secretary Mark T. Esper said.

Esper also pointed out the restrictions under the continuing resolution, which limits the services’ ability to initiate new projects and increase the quantities of munitions, directly impacting the training and readiness of the force.

Continuing resolutions and budget uncertainty have hurt military readiness and wasted tax dollars, the officials said.

“About $4 billion burned in a trash can,” said Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer when describing what continuing resolutions have cost the Navy. “It is critical, absolutely critical, that we get a continuous form of funding in order to manage the industrial base to put us back on a footing to be out there [protecting the seas].”

And the defense budget sequester “did more damage to the United States Air Force and our ability to defend the nation than anything our advisories have done in the last 10 years — we did it to ourselves,” Wilson said.

“We cut 30,000 people out of the Air Force, reduced [the force] by 10 fighter squadrons, and [reduced] weapons systems sustainment,” she added.

Problems with pilot retention can be tied directly back to sequester, Wilson said.

Savings Through Reform

The Army is looking into a number of initiatives to save taxpayers’ money, Esper said. One initiative being discussed, he said, could the Army save more than $1 billion annually by consolidating and rationalizing its contracting services.

The Navy secretary said he agreed with Esper’s philosophy on revising contracting rules. Changing the thought process and attitudes on how DoD performs contracting services, Spencer said, can help with cost savings.

One cost-saving area the Air Force has identified is using artificial intelligence tools for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance analysis, Wilson said.

“Right now, we have a lot intelligence analysis, a lot of people watching full-motion video. That’s not a good use of money, or time. And in that case, time is money,” she said.

(Army Sgt. 1st Class Jose Ibarra, DOD News, contributed to this article)