AF senior leaders caution against sequestration

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Air Force’s top two leaders justified their service’s funding proposal in the fiscal year 2016 president’s budget request to members of the Senate Appropriations Committee during an Air Force posture hearing Feb. 25, in Washington, D.C.

“Rather than living with sequestration levels, we are coming in with a budget figure for (fiscal) ’16 which is substantially closer to what we need to run the Air Force,” said Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James. “It represents the difference between the Air Force our combatant commanders need to get their jobs done around the world, and the one our nation expects, vice the type of an Air Force we will be forced to live with under sequestration — which means we cannot meet the (Defense Strategic Guidance).”

Even with this higher figure, the Air Force still faces some tough choices, the secretary explained. Those choices include base realignments and closures, retiring old aircraft and slowing compensation growth.

“We realize none of this is popular and it’s all hard,” James said. “But with sequestration, the choices will be all the more dire. Sequestration threatens everything, and I’m sure that we can do better.” 

With the savings seen in these areas, the Air Force can focus on recapitalizing and modernizing its force, procuring new platforms to ensure the safety of America into the future; investing in critical mission infrastructure to get units back to 100 percent combat readiness; and focusing on programs to improve the quality of life and service for Airmen and their families — all while meeting the most important needs of the combatant commanders.

“Today, more than ever, we need a fully capable, fully ready force,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III. “We just can’t continue to cut force structure in order to pay the cost of readiness and modernization, or we will risk becoming too small to succeed.” 

He explained the purposeful underfunding of infrastructure that produces combat capability is no longer a viable option for the Air Force moving forward. The training ranges, exercises and simulators must be improved and invested in to maintain combat readiness for the future.

“Air Forces that fall behind the technology curve fail,” he said. “Joint forces without the full breadth of air, space and cyber capabilities that modern airpower brings will lose.”

Recapitalizing and modernizing today’s Air Force is something James and Welsh believe cannot be done under sequestration funding. 

“It won’t be easy and it will require accepting prudent risks in some operational mission areas for some period of time to get this done,” Welsh said. “We need your help to win today’s fight and still be able to win in 2025. I think our Airmen deserve it, our joint team needs it and our nation still expects it.”

Congress posed several questions to James and Welsh, ranging from base closures to energy options, and from space capabilities to close-air support. The bottom line from the Air Force was simple — the Air Force will maintain its commitments to combatant commanders, while realizing savings and more efficient ways of doing the mission.

“Close air support isn’t a plane, it’s a mission,” James said. “It’s a sacred mission, and we got it — I just want to assure you of that. Every aircraft eventually gives way to the next generation. In terms of the mission of close air support and our support of troops on the ground, we got it.”

Both James and Welsh attributed the success of the Air Force mission to its Airmen and their families, and told Congress the best way to a successful Air Force of the future is to continuously invest in the programs, capabilities and services that will train and equip Airmen to win the fight today and tomorrow.

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