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AF leaders: FY 13 budget maintains quality, ready force

(U.S. Air Force graphic/Sylvia Saab)

(U.S. Air Force graphic/Sylvia Saab)

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz met with members of the House Armed Services Committee here Feb. 28 to discuss key components of the service's fiscal 2013 budget request.

"The budget request represents the culmination of many hard decisions taken to align our FY13 budget submission with the new (Department of Defense) strategic guidance and cuts required by the Budget Control Act over the next 10 years," Donley said "Finding the proper balance between force structure, readiness and modernization is our guiding principle."

Air Force leaders have determined that the service's best course of action is to trade size for quality, the secretary said. As a result, the Air Force will become smaller to protect a high-quality, ready force that continues to modernize and grow more capable in the future.

"We have no illusions about the road ahead being easy," Schwartz said. "We have confidence in our ability to manage this tight fiscal circumstance."

The Air Force is structuring the future force to be agile and responsive as part of the Defense Department's strategic guidance and must accept some risks with a smaller force, he said.

"While maintaining quality, we will divest nearly 230 fighters, mobility, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft in FY13, toward a total of 286 aircraft retirements over the future years defense plan," Schwartz said.

The Air Force's force structure plans will affect manpower numbers, said Donley, highlighting that the service's budget proposal calls for a reduction of 3,900 active-duty, 5,100 Air National Guard and 900 Air Force Reserve members, bringing total force end strength down to 501,000 by the end of FY13.

"Fighter, mobility and other force structure changes have been strategy-driven based on changed requirements," Donley said. "Consistent with that strategy, especially where the Air National Guard units are affected, we have proposed to re-mission units where feasible."

The secretary told HASC members that the Air Force has carefully balanced its active and reserve component changes to make sure that the service can meet its demanding operations tempo, including both surge and rotational requirements that are part of the current and projected strategic environment.

"As our force gets smaller, all of our components get smaller together and will become even more closely integrated," he said.

"We remain fully committed to our total force capability and have proposed several initiatives to strengthen integration of effort, including increasing the number of active reserve component associations from 100 to 115," Donley added. "Our intention is to protect readiness at any force level because, if we're going to be smaller, we have to be prepared."

Schwartz echoed the secretary's comments about the importance of the total force.

"Clearly, the Air Force's vitality and effectiveness is dependent on the strength of the total force, and therefore the leadership of both the active and the reserve components work closely together in all deliberations and decisions affecting the total force," he said.

He explained that the comprehensive nature of the Air Force's FY13 budget request includes a holistic interstate approach to Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve force structure - a preferred strategy from both an operational effectiveness and fiscal responsibility perspective versus a piecemeal state-by-state approach.

"Our proposed efforts will correct several manpower disconnects, rebalance forces and improve sortie generation and aircraft utilization rates, thereby improving the total force's readiness and responsiveness across the spectrum of operations," said Schwartz.

During the hearing, Donley emphasized that identifying $487 billion in defense cuts to comply with the current requirements of the Budget Control Act had been difficult and that further cuts through sequestration would put at risk the Air Force's ability to execute DoD's new strategy.

"To get this far, we've made tough decisions to align structure and balance our forces in a way that can meet the new strategic guidance," he said. "If substantially more reductions are imposed on DOD, we will have to revisit the new strategy. We cannot afford the risk of a hollow force."

Schwartz agreed, saying that any "salami-slicing" of the budget would send the Air Force back to the drawing board and nullify the carefully considered and responsible reductions that preserve Air Force readiness and effectiveness.

Donley said that he and Schwartz have an obligation to preserve their service's status as the world's best air force.

"It's our obligation to keep it that way so that our joint and coalition partners know they can count on the United States Air Force to deliver the capabilities that we need to meet the security challenges ahead, and so that our future airmen remain confident, as we are today, that they are serving in the world's finest air force," he said.