By Terri Moon Cronk
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, March 26, 2015 – Top Navy and Air Force officials today told the House Armed Services subcommittee on tactical air and land forces the president’s budget request for fiscal year 2016 will support modernizing combat aviation programs.
Navy Vice Adm. Paul A. Grosklags, principal military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisitions; Air Force Lt. Gen. James M. “Mike” Holmes, deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements, Air Force headquarters; and Air Force Maj. Gen. Timothy M. Ray, director, global power programs, office of the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, all testified on the need for a modern force.
Navy and Marine Corps aviation allows “sea-based and expeditionary naval forces to bring simultaneous influence over vast stretches of the maritime environment across the shoreline and deep inland,” Grosklags said.
Aviation Must Stay Ready, Poised
It is therefore critical that U.S. aviation forces remain “always ready and poised to engage at a moment’s notice with required capacity and capability to influence events, and if necessary, to fight and win,” he said.
As global threats and demands increase, the Navy’s budget grows more challenging, Grosklags said, adding that the Navy and Marine Corps depend on today’s modernization and readiness efforts.
“Across the department, the strategies for our development, procurement and sustainment of [existing] and future weapons systems are critically dependent upon stable, and predictable funding at a level commensurate with [the president’s 2016 budget request],” he said.
“The alternative has been made clear by our secretaries and service chiefs,” the admiral emphasized. “A smaller force, a force less forward deployed; a force slower to respond in a crisis, is a force, which, when it does respond, will be less capable and more vulnerable.”
Budget Would Help Balance Air Force Needs
The National Defense Strategy is increasingly at risk, Holmes said, and the proposed budget takes steps to balance the many challenges the Air Force faces.
“The Air Force continues every day to deliver global vigilance,” he said. “However, [after] more than 25 years of sustained combat operations and years of constrained budgets, it is becoming more difficult to achieve our mission.”
The first of many difficult capacity decisions before the Air Force is whether to divest itself of the A-10 fighter jet, he said.
“There’s no question the A-10 has been a steady and stellar performer in recent conflicts,” Holmes told the panel. “Nevertheless, our force structure is simply unaffordable in today’s fiscal environment.”
Divesting the entire A-10 fleet would free up $4.7 billion for the Air Force’s future defense program, which would pay for priority capacity, capability and readiness needs, he said.
But overall, the Air Force fighter jet fleet is facing an average age of 30 years, the oldest in the service’s history, Holmes said.
“The fourth-generation F-15s and F-16s, that are the majority of our fighter fleet, require upgrades to extend their life span and provide the combat capability required to prevail in today’s increasingly contested environments,” he emphasized.
Similarly, the advanced capabilities of the fifth-generation fighters -- F-22s and F-35s -- are critical to ensure the service’s ability to fight and win in contested environments, he added.
“The Air Force continues to be the world’s finest across the spectrum of conflict, but the gap is closing,” Holmes noted. “A return to sequestration-level funding would result in a less-ready, less-capable, less-viable Air Force that’s unable to fully execute the National Defense Strategy.”
Sequestration is a provision of current budget law that mandates major across-the-board spending cuts in fiscal 2016, which begins Oct. 1.
Global Security Complex
Today’s global security environment is more complex than ever before, Ray told subcommittee members, and the Air Force “must continue to invest in science and technology to modernize our capabilities.”
The budget proposal continues to focus on modernizing Air Force capabilities while exploring game-changing technologies for the future, Ray added.
“Adversaries are developing technologies and capabilities to shape and deter our nation,” he pointed out.
“[We] must continue to institute servicewide efficiencies that will capitalize on innovative concepts, keep weapons systems on track and build affordability into new systems,” Ray said, adding that the president’s FY 16 budget proposal “reflects Air Force priorities in these areas.”