Tuesday, March 31, 2015

TOP STORY>> Air Force hit with $10B in budget cuts

Leader senior staff writer

Barring a last-minute deal — and none is in sight — sequestration will force cuts at Little Rock Air Force Base and steep cuts to the 2016 military budget, but keep $96 billion earmarked for the discretionary overseas military contingencies, according to a spokesman for Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.).

Similar versions of the 2016 budget passed both the House and Senate last week and are being resolved in the Joint Budget Conference, according to Chad Sybnor, Boozman’s military legislative assistant. The new budget should be law within the next month or so.

The 2015 federal budget expires Sept. 30, and the 2016 budget under consideration begins Oct. 1.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James wants $10 billion above what sequestration-level funding provides to meet its global responsibilities. Otherwise, she said, every part of the Air Force would be touched, including a new round of furloughs and cuts in research and active-duty personnel.

The Republican-controlled Congress wants to spend about $38 billion less on defense than the Pentagon has requested.


“Right now, we are anticipating continuation of the Budget Control Act of 2011,” Sybnor said. “Back in 2013, Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington) worked out a deal, which raised defense budget caps. That’s expiring.”

He said the Defense Department maintenance and operation will be capped at $499 billion. The war fighting and other overseas contingency, which is not subject to sequestration, will be $96 billion and is not in the budget.

Sybnor said the only flexibility open to the Air Force’s base budget on larger appropriations would be changes within line-item components, and only then with approval of armed services committees.

He said no new military construction is in the budget for Little Rock Air Force Base, but that funding continues in an effort to find alternatives to the avionics modernization program for C-130Hs. The AMP was grounded about three years ago as it was too expensive.

“The Air Force and the National Guard Bureau have all publicly stated they want alternatives to the current AMP,” Sybnor said. “We want to get the older C-130s compliant with new national airspace regulations taking effect in 2020.”

Air Force Secretary James spoke out as recently as March 24 against planned reductions.

“We are literally standing on a precipice,” James told the Council on Foreign Relations last week.

“We’ve got to stop downsizing,” she said. “We’ve been going through this for 20 years.


On one side of that precipice is the ability of the Air Force and the military to carry out its three-part mandate.

“A lot is expected of us as the best (Air Force) in the world,” James said. “On the other side is sequester.”

The military’s charge is three-fold — to maintain a force with the ability to defeat an adversary in one part of the world, to meet and deny a separate adversary in another and to defend the homeland.

“Sequestration is the dark cloud up ahead and it could affect us in readiness,” Col. Patrick Rhatigan told The Leader in late February.

Rhatigan, commander of Little Rock Air Force Base, said eventually the Air Force has to get back to pre-sequestration funding levels and beyond.

“We took a hit in Little Rock on flying, then got some relief in FY 2015, and we thought we turned the corner,” the colonel said.

But sequestration again will be imposed by Congress this year unless there’s a compromise.

He said that other programs could fall off the plan, including modernization, facilities and infrastructure.


The furlough that began in May 2013 affected 650 civilian workers at Little Rock Air Force Base and about half of the 800,000 throughout the military.

Originally, those civilian workers were expected to be laid off one day a week for 22 weeks, but then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel reduced that to 11 days, then to six.

Sequestration changes at the base included reorganizing the four wings to increase savings through efficiency in organizing, training and equipping airmen, Brig. Gen. select Brian Robinson, 19th Airlift Wing commander, said at the time.

The base curtailed non-readiness or non-mission-essential flying and travel, curtailed or stopped minor purchases, such as furniture and information technology refresh, implemented a civilian hiring freeze and decreased aircrew temporary duty travel, a spokesman said.

The 19th Airlift Wing cut its flying hours by 35 percent.


With the winddown of the war in Afghanistan, the Air Force plan to “regroup, retrain and reset went out the window,” James said. “When Russia invaded Ukraine, ISIS began a calculated offensive and the U.S. got involved in preventing an Ebola pandemic.”

Speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations, James said Congress needed to lift sequestration.

“It would allow for the most pressing needs of combatant commanders and make the most important investments,” she said.


“We need a new balance between readiness for today and preparation for tomorrow. We need vital space programs, weapons systems sustainment and flight time,” the Air Force secretary said.

“We need modernization—to strengthen our nuclear enterprise and upgrade important weapons systems and to make every dollar count, not to pay more and more for less and less. That includes maximizing energy savings and reducing headquarters spending.”

She also called for a new round of base realignment and closure studies, but noted that the current finding that the military had 30 percent excess capacity didn’t mean 30 percent more bases than needed.

“We need to free up what we can and plow it back into readiness,” the secretary said.