Wednesday, November 13, 2013

TOP STORY >> Air Force sees more cuts

Leader senior staff writer

“Over the next five years, the Air Force may be forced to cut up to 25,000 airmen and up to 550 aircraft, which is about 9 percent of our inventory,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh testified last week before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

Among other concerns, Welsh emphasized the danger of having to choose between a ready force today or a modern force tomorrow.

Welsh, along with the chiefs of the Army, Navy and Marines and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, have all warned Congress that across the board sequester cuts totaling a trillion dollars in 10 years could hamstring the armed forces, saying if such cuts are necessary, the military needs to be able to prioritize cuts.

“These cuts are too fast, too much, too abrupt and too irresponsible,” Hagel said. “The defense budget took a $37 billion sequester cut during the past fiscal year and could be forced to absorb a $52 billion sequester cut this fiscal year.”

Welsh described the impacts of sequestration as sobering and warned that the service will be forced to cut flying hours to the extent that in coming years many flying units won’t be able to retain mission readiness.

“We’ll cancel or significantly curtail mission exercises again,” Welsh said. “And we’ll reduce our initial pilot production targets, which we were able to avoid in fiscal year 2013, because prior year unobligated funds helped offset about 25 percent of our sequestration bill last year.”

Earlier, speaking at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Welsh said modernization and technology should be preserved while bases and personnel should be trimmed to satisfy sequestration budget reduction requirements instead of across-the-board cuts.

“We have to figure out where the balance is between modernizing to be a viable Air Force in the future versus maintaining readiness to be a viable force on the battlefield today, and stability in our financial planning numbers is the number one thing that will help us do that,” he said.

The 2011 Budget Control Act mandates two automatic $500 billion sequestration cuts to all non-exempt defense and domestic accounts. Welsh called across-the-board cuts a bad idea. “The problem we have is it will take us a couple of years to reduce enough of that (infrastructure and personnel) to generate the savings to put into readiness to bring it back where it needs to be,” he said.

“Unfortunately, the very arbitrary mechanism of sequestration demands that we take large savings in the first two years of sequestration. So, instead of being able to create savings initially ourselves within our force structure and people, we’re having to take it out of modernization and readiness in the first two years,” Welsh said. “So we’re breaking things now instead of being allowed to do this in a smarter way and create savings over time. It’s just a bad business resource model, and I think everybody understands that.”

Welsh said he’d like to see Congress start up a new round of BRAC studies. The last study was in 2005, with the next round scheduled for 2015. In the 2005 BRAC, Little Rock Air Force Base increased the number of C-130s assigned and its mission, but uncertainty gripped the base community.

“We really do need to look at reducing overall infrastructure. We haven’t been able to get at that problem. We haven’t been able to impact the personnel accounts of the Air Force very much or the Department of Defense. Those have grown pretty steadily with great support from Congress over the last 15 to 20 years,” Welsh said.

That’s important because operating and maintaining air bases and personnel costs accounts for 55 percent of the Air Force’s overall budget, he said. “The planning is being done in readiness and modernization. That’s it. That’s not a good recipe for success long term. Successful business would go about downsizing their operations. That’s why the long-term stability in resource projection is so important for us.”