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AFA Opens Amid Swirling Syria and Budget Debates

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The Air Force's top generals will converge on Washington D.C. Monday for the Air Force Association's annual conference as the service simultaneously makes plans for a potential strike on Syria and tries to pick where it can hack its budget to meet sequestration demands.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh conceded the cuts to the service's training funds have taken a toll on readiness and thus the preparedness for a strike that President Obama has asked the Pentagon to provide options.

However, Congress is yet to budge and the Air Force's budget officials must again plan for the likelihood that the Defense Department will face cuts associated with sequestration. This year, the military will likely absorb a $52 billion reduction to the defense budget.

It leaves in question not only what options the Air Force can offer on Syria, but how much the Air Force will be able to execute the so-called Pivot to the Pacific, as well as the execution of its top acquisition priorities.

Air Force leaders remain confident the service can maintain the F-35 program as well as the KC-46A, the next generation tanker. In fact, service officials said the KC-46A, built by Boeing, is ahead of schedule.

But questions remain about the service's ability to maintain other modernization programs such as ones advancing the service's capabilities in cyber and space. The Air Force's Chief Scientist, Mica Endsley told Military.com that the service must dedicate itself to those two arenas or fall woefully behind in future combat.

The tension between the active duty and Air National Guard has subsided over the past year, but plenty of attention will be paid on Tuesday to Lt. Gen. Stanley Clarke when he speaks at AFA for the first time as director of the Air National Guard. Hurt feelings remain within the Guard after active duty leaders set a preponderance of Guard units and resources on the chopping block to save active duty counterparts.

Along with Clarke, acting Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning will make his first speech at AFA as he opens the conference on Monday. Fanning, who was serving as the under secretary of the Air Force, took over for Michael Donley when the long time Air Force secretary stepped down in June.

It's unclear if President Obama will nominate Fanning for the permanent slot as secretary, but for the time being, he serves as the service's top civilian. AFA will be many service leaders' first chance to hear him lay out his priorities, even if his stay is short in the secretary position.

Welsh will wait until Tuesday to address the conference. A full year in command, he will have a chance to outline his plans to explain how the service will be able to shoulder the forthcoming cuts. It would be a surprise if he provided too many details on Syria, but expect an update on the service's transition from Afghanistan and the missions in the Pacific region.

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