With Sequestration Budget, Air Force Prepares for the Worst By Valerie Insinna

View Original / National Defense Magazine

Because of budget constraints, it is unlikely the Air Force will be able to begin new programs during fiscal years 2015 through 2017, the acting civilian head of the Air Force said.

“It’s going to be very hard to start a new program during [those] three years,” acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning said during a Nov. 18 Air Force Association breakfast.

The Air Force is drafting two budget proposals for fiscal year 2015 — one based on the Pentagon’s 2014 budget and one that takes sequestration into account. The service is most focused on the latter proposal because “if sequester is the new normal… the sooner we start dealing with it … the sooner we get some stability,” he said.

The Air Force is not yet certain which budget proposal it will submit, but “everyone will know when it hits the Hill,” he said. “There’s a lot in it not to like. We don’t like a lot of what we’re having to do.”

Under sequestration, 20 percent of investment accounts and 50 percent of legacy modernization programs will take a hit, he said. The service will cut 550 aircraft and 25,000 personnel.

But Fanning pushed back against media reports that the service’s combat search-and-rescue mission is in danger of being scrapped.

“If we can’t fund that new helicopter in the near period, [that] doesn’t mean that we’re walking away from the mission,” he said, although he noted that Air Force leaders are debating what part of the service should carry out search-and-rescue missions. An answer to that question will likely be provided in the 2016 program objective memorandum, he said.

In the past several months, Air Force officials have cited the F-35 joint strike fighter, the KC-135 refueling tanker and long range strike bomber as the three modernization programs the service wants to protect.

However, Fanning noted that in a sequester budget, the Air Force will not be able to buy as many F-35s as planned. Officials have said the service could cut as many as five of the 19 aircraft requested in the 2014 budget.

“The Marine Corps is fully committed [to the F-35]. The Navy is looking at different options, but our analysis shows that their movement doesn’t impact us as much as we thought it would … but all of these little movements can have impact on partners and it just becomes this nonstop loop of impact,” he said.

The service has yet to determine the optimal number of remotely piloted aircraft it needs. Fanning said his job in upcoming budget discussions will be to weigh the high demand for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets against limited financial resources.

“When [combatant commanders] sit around the table, and we had them all in town last week, they want more and more and more” ISR, he said.

Continued sequestration will also strain the service’s readiness and retention efforts, Fanning said. “We’ve had a lot of people not flying this summer,” he said. “People join the Air Force … because of the mission. If they’re not flying for us,” they’re not contributing to the mission in the way they want and may choose to leave.

Photo Credit: Air Force

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