Air Force Secretary Michael Donley yesterday warned that further defense budget cuts risk creating an Air Force that is less ready and less able to dominate the skies around the globe.
"We would get smaller yet again, and we would cut back further on modernization" if the Pentagon is forced to cut more than the $450 billion it is tasked with slashing from its books in the next decade, said Donley during a breakfast talk at the Capitol Hill club in Washington. "There's not a lot of fat left in the defense budget. There's always room for efficiencies, there's always more to do and as leaders and managers we need to continue to push on these issues but these levels of reductions are significant and will impact our military capability, they will impact our strategy going forward and so we need to be very, very careful. I think, just based on what we have seen it will take to get the roughly $450 billion dollars worth of [savings] over the next ten years, going beyond that introduces a whole new level of risk."
This risk would be a military -- and more specifically an Air Force -- that would be less capable, undermanned and undermodernized, according to Donley, as he warned of recreating the "hollow" U.S. military of the 1970s.
He would not reveal any capabilities or modernization efforts that the service is thinking of cutting to help achieve the $450 billion that Pentagon is currently tasked with cutting from its books over the next decade, saying only that the "entire DoD suite of capabilities is on the table" for discussion. Achieving the $450 billion will be tough and somewhat risky in terms of modernization but doable, he said. "But beyond these numbers we could face very significant and detrimental cuts to our military."
He did, however, reiterate several of the key programs that the Air Force will fight to keep alive over the next decade, naming the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the next-generation bomber, the KC-46 tanker and the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle rocket program.
"We are not just cutting everything equally, we're making strategic choices about those programs and capabilities we want to ensure our Air Force and our joint team has ten, 15 or 20 years from now," said the secretary. "But, we would certainly be in the position of having to cancel some programs and delay and defer others. There's no question that we cannot get done the modernization that our Air Force needs on time with the resources that are going to be available, so there are going to be some significant impacts" to Air Force programs that are deemed less critical.