By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 17, 2012 – The nation’s youngest force enjoys an unbreakable connection to state-of-the-art technology, Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley said at the Air Force Association’s annual meeting today.
But while technology enables the Air Force to innovate, its people are “the living engine of the Air Force,” Donley said.
“Today, more than ever,” he said, “our Air Force can take pride that our service culture promotes and benefits from the know-how, determination and commitment of a diverse group of men and women who embody our core values – integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do – while pursuing adaptive and innovative solutions for our nation’s security.”
Although stretched by two decades of combat, humanitarian and stability operations, the Air Force’s men and women continue to provide unmatched global vigilance, reach and power across the full spectrum of operations, the secretary said.
Donley said airmen play critical roles in accomplishing national and international milestones, including the completion of military operations in Iraq and the ongoing transition in Afghanistan.
“Just as in the first moments of that long campaign, as the last vehicles crossed the border into Kuwait, airmen were overhead to ensure their security and mission success,” he said. “During the past year in support of our mission in Afghanistan, airmen have flown more than 162,000 total sorties, including almost 90,000 combat sorties, more than 22,000 close air support sorties, and 15,000 aerial refueling sorties.
“Let there be no mistake – America’s airmen are in the fight,” he said.
The Air Force also is making valuable contributions outside the U.S. Central Command area of operations, Donley said.
“We have continued to strengthen unity of command in the nuclear enterprise with the realignment of nuclear munitions squadrons under Air Force Global Strike Command,” he said. “We also successfully completed the first guided test vehicle release for the Small Diameter Bomb and completed multiple flight tests of the Massive Ordnance Penetrator. The Air Force continued the F-22’s return to flight, including extensive testing and analysis, taking corrective actions to enhance flight safety and enable operational deployments.”
The Air Force also successfully completed eight launch campaigns with the evolved expendable launch vehicle, Donley said, including the first space-based infrared system geosatellite, the second advanced extremely high-frequency satellite, and the fourth wideband global satellite.
Air Force Cyber Vision 2025, the service’s plan for near-, mid- and long-term science and technology strategy, is scheduled to be released soon, he said.
“This effort seeks to ensure that the Air Force has the best force operating with the best technology in this increasingly contested and critical cyber domain,” he said.
The new defense strategic guidance supports continued Air Force presence in the U.S. Pacific Command area of responsibility, Donley said, where about 60 percent of the Air Force’s permanent overseas assets are stationed.
“This guidance also reinforces the importance of long-range strike and other advanced technologies, and supports concepts like Air-Sea Battle, which will develop integrated air and naval forces to counter anti-access [and] area denial strategies and threats to the global commons,” the secretary said.
“At the same time,” he added, “strategic guidance also provides the basis for adjusting our forces and footprint in Europe and the mix of our force structure based on changed warfighting assumptions.”
Donley said the fiscal 2013 defense budget “reflects both the priorities identified in the defense strategic guidance and the fiscal requirements of the Budget Control Act, and represents the culmination of a number of very tough decisions, including the decision by Air Force leaders to reduce the overall size of the service.
This decision will allow the Air Force “to protect a high-quality and ready force, one that will continue to modernize and grow more capable in the future,” he said.
“We intend to be a superb force at any size,” Donley said, “maintaining the agility, the flexibility and above all, the readiness to engage in a full range of contingencies and threats.”
As the service strives during uncertain times to strengthen its culture and community, two issues are particularly troubling, Donley said.
“Our success depends on our people, our airmen, and we must ensure that our great airmen have the tools, the support and the environment they need to succeed in the tasks that we give them,” he said. “As a military community which values each and every individual, the incidence of suicide is deeply disturbing.”
Air Force people at all levels must do all they can to strengthen airmen's resilience and look out for each other to prevent what he called “these irreversible tragedies.”
The second issue confronting the Air Force is sexual assault, Donley said. Allegations of professional and sexual misconduct by basic military training instructors at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland are both shocking and troubling, he acknowledged.
“The misconduct alleged has no place in our Air Force culture,” he said. “This behavior constitutes an abuse of power and an abuse of trust which cannot and will not be tolerated. … The Air Force has taken aggressive steps to assist the victims and increase protections for our airmen in the training environment.”
Much is expected of Air Force people, Donely said, both outside the service and within it.
“We hold airmen to high standards because that’s what is expected of us, and what we expect from each other –- to set the example, to treat people with dignity and respect and to act promptly to right a wrong, to protect people under our charge, and to live by Air Force core values.”
It’s up to every member of the Air Force to make that happen, the secretary said.
“This is family business. Nobody will do this for us. We must do it for ourselves, for our airmen, and for our Air Force,” he said. “And I have every confidence that we will confront this challenge, and come out a stronger and better Air Force on the other side.”
Budget uncertainty and the threat of “sequestration” – additional, across-the-board spending cuts if Congress can’t find equivalent savings by January -- also presents a challenge for the Air Force as it attempts to budget for fiscal 2013, which begins Oct. 1, Donley said. The budget already reflects the beginning of $487 billion in spending cuts over the next decade that will take place whether the additional cuts kick in.
“This [fiscal 2013] budget was really the first opportunity for policy makers to see in black and white what would have to be done to program $487 billion in defense reductions,” Donley said. “And simply put, in beginning to program for these reductions, it is impossible to avoid impacts to airmen, to various civilian and contractor workforces and the communities in which they live.”
As defense spending continues to shrink, the service has rededicated itself to improving communication and rebalancing resources between its active, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve components, he said. The success of the Air Force, he added, depends on the collective success of all three components. “We must move forward together as one Air Force,” he said.
As the defense budget works its way through Congress, Donley said, the Air Force will stand firm on its strategic choices: trading size to maintain a quality force, and staying focused on readiness and modernization.
Sequestration, Donley said, would be irresponsible.
“We have less than four months before sequester goes into effect -- a meat-ax approach which would drive additional reductions of approximately $55 billion to [fiscal 2013] defense accounts. This is not a responsible way to achieve deficit reduction. These additional and arbitrarily applied across-the-board cuts would leave the military without a workable strategy to counter global threats.”
Sequestration would reduce Air Force funding to about fiscal 2004 levels, he added.
“There is great uncertainty in today’s security environment, but these matters at least are under our nation's control and should be resolved,” Donley said. “We need Congress to de-trigger the Budget Control Act’s sequester provisions before the end of this year.”
Still, the secretary said, airmen remain focused on the mission.
“Every day,” he said, “our active duty, Guard, Reserve, and civilian airmen are adding bright new chapters to the Air Force story, combining air, space, and cyber power in new ways that add to our nation’s joint warfighting capabilities. Working together in common purpose as one Air Force, there is no challenge we cannot overcome.”
Despite these accomplishments, he said, the Air Force will finish the year facing the same two major challenges with which the year began: an unstable and dynamic international security environment and a looming economic and fiscal crisis putting downward pressure on the nation’s defense spending.
“And as this tension grows, as the uncertainty continues, we need to ensure that we remain well-grounded in the foundations of our Air Force,” he said. “The more uncertainty there is, the more budgetary churn ahead, the more important it is to come back to basics –- to the Air Force family and the central role of airmen in the fight. Because we know that whatever challenges lay ahead, our airmen will see us through.
“[Airmen] are the living engine of this Air Force … and at the core of this engine are Air Force values -- integrity, service, excellence --- and from this engine we generate air power, air power that ensures the success of our joint team and protects the security of our country,” he added.