By Amaani Lyle, DoD News / Published September 16, 2015
WASHINGTON -- Two days before the Air Force’s 68th birthday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Sept. 16, at the Air Force Association’s Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition 2015, that the military must embrace the future to remain the best force.
The defense secretary said the gathering’s theme, “Reinventing the Aerospace Nation,” could not be more appropriate in the year marking the 100th anniversary of the first successful use of combat aircraft.
“Over the past century, no nation has used air power to demonstrate its global reach, to compress time and space like the United States,” Carter said.
Today, he said, it’s vital to innovate and reinvest in the people, strategies and technologies that will sustain the U.S. military’s dominance into a second aerospace century.
Just as Russia and China have advanced cyber capabilities ranging from stealthy network penetration to intellectual property theft, the defense secretary said, criminal and terrorist networks are also increasing their cyber operations.
“Low-cost and global proliferation of malware have lowered barriers to entry and have made it easier for smaller, malicious actors to strike in cyberspace,” Carter said. “From cyber to electronic warfare to threats in outer space and under the sea, we need to redouble our effort on those frontiers.”
But developing the best technology and strategy calls for recruiting and retention of the best people to implement these concepts, the secretary explained.
Commitment to people
The secretary said his “first and most sacred” commitment is to the current and total force: active duty, Guardsmen, Reservists, veterans and their families.
The Air Force has been at war since Desert Storm, despite leaner forces and aging platforms, Carter said, continually providing the United States the flexibility to demonstrate the “example of our power and the power of our example anywhere in the world.”
U.S. Airmen, he said, have conducted two-thirds of all airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant since last September, enabling ground partners to reclaim territory ISIL took last summer.
In the west, Carter said, the U.S. sent Airmen to Europe to take face Russian aggression with NATO partners and deployed F-22 Raptors to spearhead a persistent and dominant air, land and sea presence in the region.
“Our strategic approach to (Vladimir) Putin’s Russia is strong and balanced and necessitates a new playbook for the NATO alliance in which our Airmen play a vital part,” the defense secretary said.
Whether bringing swift relief to Nepal after its devastating earthquake in April, or convening a global, orchestrated effort to contain the Ebola virus in West Africa, the Air Force has led the way, the secretary said.
A new national security strategy
Carter said he is committed to provide President Barack Obama with candid, strategic advice and to implement the president’s decisions.
“Every strategic decision we make should be a step toward keeping us safe, protecting our country and protecting our allies and friends,” he said.
After 14 years of war, the Air Force plays a critical role as the military writ large embarks on a critical strategic transition, adjusts its counter-insurgency focus and redoubles its full-spectrum capabilities, Carter said.
The Asia-Pacific region encompasses nearly half of humanity and accounts for more than half the world’s economic power, Carter said. And the Asia-Pacific region, he added, is where the Air Force will position the majority of its high-end assets as part of strategic rebalance efforts.
“We’re working to align our security, economic and diplomatic investments in the region to match our vital and growing interests there,” he said.
The rebalance has long represented the sustainment of peace and prosperity across the region and support of a security architecture that is inclusive, capable and resilient enough to ensure all nations have the opportunity to ascend, Carter said.
The Air Force strengthens its posture in the region with tactical aircraft such as the F-22 in conjunction with space and cyber forces, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets such as the MQ-9 Reaper and Global Hawk, the secretary said.
The United States will bolster and modernize infrastructure across the Pacific, deepening security cooperation with long-standing allies like Guam, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and the Philippines, and with new partners such as India and Vietnam, Carter said.
However, the secretary acknowledged relative complexities in the relationship with China, noting that it is defined by elements of both cooperation and competition.
“Our military engagement with China seeks to build sustained and substantive dialogue to advance concrete, practical cooperation in areas of mutual interest and to enhance risk reduction measures to diminish the potential for miscalculation,” he said.
Concurrently, given concern over China’s growing military capabilities and coercive approach to disputes, Carter noted the United States is taking prudent steps to prepare for heightened competition.
Of the South China Sea disputes, the defense secretary acknowledged the interest of the United States in slowing further militarization and land reclamation and in promoting renewed diplomacy focused on a lasting solution that protects the rights and interests of all.
“The United States will continue to protect freedom of navigation and will reflect principles that have ensured security and prosperity in this region for decades,” he said.
The specter of sequestration
Despite deep cuts in defense spending since fiscal year 2013, the national defense strategy’s four pillars -- land defense, multiple contingency response capability, sustainment of the counter-terrorism campaign and response to cyber and space threats -- remain sound, Carter said.
But with only 14 days remaining in the fiscal year, he lamented the budget impasse that portends sequestration or another continuing resolution.
“Without a negotiated budget solution in which everyone comes together at last, we will again return to sequestration, reducing discretionary funds to their lowest real level in a decade,” the defense secretary said.
And, Carter explained, a continuing resolution can also jeopardize national security and eventually result in a $38 billion deficit in resources for the U.S. military if Congress elects to pursue that path for a full year.
“What we have under sequestration or a long-term continuing resolution is a straight-jacket,” the defense secretary said. “Without reinvestment in recapitalization, without a long-term budget horizon, we simply cannot achieve what (this event) has brought us all together to achieve, which is reinventing the aerospace nation.”