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'Tough Year Indeed:' Donley At AFA

Stopping further production of the F-22, cutting other Air Force programs and retiring 250 legacy fighters all added up to "a tough year indeed" for the organization he leads, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said in the opening address to the Air Force Association's annual conference.

Donley made clear in his speech that defense budgets are unlikely to grow and may well shrink for the foreseeable future. Because of that, each program must live or die by performance and by staying on budget and on schedule. He made clear in his speech (which received a lukewarm reception) that the service would closely examine all upgrade programs for legacy aircraft. If they are having cost issues, those may well get axed (the secretary called them "painful trades") to ensure that next-generation systems get the money they need.

However, the secretary made a point of singling out the C-5M upgrade program as a "success," apparently ruling out chances it would be among those upgrades terminated. The C-130 AMP effort may not be as lucky.

In terms of what the country buys for the blue suiters, Donley said:

The long range bomber, postponed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates because the service had not scrubbed the requirements well enough, will get some money in the 2011 budget. But figuring out how much money to pump into the capablity will not go full bore until the Nuclear Posture Review's tiger team looking at long range strike options makes its final decisions.

The World Trade Organization's preliminary ruling in favor of Boeing on the Airbus subsidies will have "no immediate impact" on the draft RFP for the KC-X tanker, Donley said, adding that the draft RFP should be out soon. "We think we are close," he said. The issue of whether the Air Force or the Office of Secretary of Defense will assume acquisition authority for the program has not been decided, Donley said, adding that it is a "separate decision" from the RFP. A Boeing program official said the company expected the draft RFP to come out as early as Friday.

Given how much resistance top Air Force generals have shown to the F-22 decision and the lingering charges that Donley and the Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Norton Schwartz, knuckled under to Gates and made a sort-term budget decision that was not in the country's long term interests, I asked Donley if he had made the right decision for the right reasons. "We remain confident this was the right decision for our Air Force," he said.

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