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Secretary Of The Air Force Takes Stock Of Progress, Future Challenges

Vice CSAF: Air Force Must Prepare For More Complex, Varied Ops

During remarks to the Air Force Association's 27th Annual Air Warfare Symposium and Technology Exposition in Orlando, Florida Feb. 18, the Air Force's senior ranking official reviewed the service' s priorities and underscored Air Force commitment to making the most of available resources in a challenging fiscal environment.

Air Force Secretary Michael Donley (above) spoke at the AFA event a day after he and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz testified before the House Armed Services Committee in Washington, D.C., on the Air Force's current posture and fiscal 2012 budget. Addressing an audience of approximately 300 AFA members, defense industry officials, and U.S. military representatives, he said that he and General Schwartz noted a "distinctly different budget climate this year" in light of new fiscal restraints. "Congress has begun a serious and what is likely to be a protracted debate over our national debt, persistent annual budget deficits and priorities in the federal budget," Secretary Donley said. "If there were any doubt that defense would be part of that debate, I think that doubt was erased this week."

In this context, he characterized Defense Secretary Robert Gates' mandate for the services to find more than $100 billion in internal savings and efficiencies as "more than prescient", enabling Department of Defense officials to shift these savings from lower priority "tail" to warfighting "tooth" over the Future Years Defense Plan. Toward this effort, Air Force officials have identified $33 billion in savings and efficiencies they can redirect into high priority programs.  Despite reduced personnel, aging equipment and a leaner budget, they are continuing their imperative to get the most out of all the resources the service provides, said Secretary Donley. "This is not sloganeering," he said.  "We are absolutely committed to implement the efficiencies now planned. We recognize that some may yield less than we projected, some may yield more. But we will stay after it and continue to look for additional opportunities for savings and efficiencies going forward."

Donley said the Air Force's priorities include strengthening the Air Force nuclear enterprise; partnering with the joint and coalition team to win today's fight; developing and caring for Airmen and their families; modernizing air and space inventories, organizations, and training; and recapturing acquisition excellence. Addressing these priorities is an ongoing, multi-year effort, the secretary said. "We continue to strengthen the nuclear enterprise; we'll provide safe, secure, and effective combat ready forces for nuclear deterrence and global strike operations," he said, adding that management and oversight of nuclear weapon-related material involves sustaining and upgrading systems and managing human capital.

He also said partnering with the joint and coalition team to win today's fight has been fundamental to successes in both Iraq and Afghanistan over the past year. "With nearly 34,000 Airmen deployed to contingencies across the globe, and 28,000 supporting the fight from 63 locations in U.S. Central Command, we've supported the joint and coalition team with more than a half million hours flown in theater in the last year, averaging more than 400 sorties a day," Secretary Donley said. "We remain as committed as ever to providing the global vigilance, reach and power that enabled a successful transition in Iraq from combat operations to a 'train, equip and support' role and the surge in Afghanistan."

On the vigilance side of the equation, the secretary said that as demand for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance continues to grow, Air Force officials are aggressively evolving the ISR capability to support combat operations. He said the service will also take a closer look this year at how best to size and balance the full portfolio of ISR assets in the future. "In active response to today's urgent operational needs, in pushing forward additional breakthroughs in new technology using rapid acquisition processes, and fueled by supplemental appropriations, we have developed a wide range of new ISR sensors and platforms," the secretary said. "As resources diminish, we need to rationalize this work and develop a balanced portfolio for the future."

The secretary concluded with his intention to keep the Air Force's most critical asset at the forefront. "Our greatest guarantor of success is our Airmen, and that's why developing and caring for Airmen and their families is a priority," Secretary Donley said. "Taking care of Airmen and their families is a priority because it is on their shoulders that we prevail in today's fights, that we will prevent and deter others and prepare for the challenges of tomorrow," he said. "It will be their insight, their innovation that will drive much of the way we organize train, equip and operate to meet future challenges."

The Air Force Vice Chief of Staff, General Philip M. Breedlove (above), told the gathering that the Air Force is working to balance today's needs and tomorrow's challenges while operating under intense fiscal pressures. He said the Air Force must remain committed to the joint and coalition team, adaptable to an ever-changing battlefield, and keener about acquisition in response to a more restrained budget. "Our nation demands and relies on us to fight across the full spectrum of conflict, not just the wars we find ourselves in today," General Breedlove said. "We face static or even declining real budgets, and certainly decreased purchasing power, yet we have to be prepared across the entire spectrum of operations."

The general said that this task will be increasingly daunting as previous permissive budget environments, which enabled the Air Force to buy advanced weapons systems and capabilities, become a thing of the past. To better prepare for financial and battlefield uncertainties, he said the Air Force must apply irregular warfare lessons learned, normalize the career fields most strained by today's fight, and recapitalize its most stressed platforms. "We've ramped up remotely piloted vehicle orbits from one in 2001 to 48 today," General Breedlove said. "We've given eyes to the ground commander that they never anticipated, and eyes that they cannot now live without."

General Breedlove said remotely piloted aircraft and other platforms supporting the joint and coalition team overseas are so critical to the current fight that they have been at surge rates for years. "Our remotely piloted aircraft operators have had assignments extended, leaves canceled, and test and training sorties foregone in order to fly and fill our combat requirements," the general said. "We'll need to incorporate these capabilities to a more normalized air expeditionary force structure, one that brings more predictability to our Airmen's lives."

General Breedlove lauded the "inherent flexibility and adaptability" of airpower and Airmen, as seen in today's irregular warfare.



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