Air Force Secretary Mike Donley (Jim Varhegyi/Air Force)
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Further cuts to end strength could be in the Air Force’s future if Congress fails to reverse deep cuts to defense spending, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said.
The service’s budget has been cut by $10.8 billion this fiscal year, and it is facing a $1.8 billion shortfall in funding for wartime operations because Congress allowed sequestration cuts to take effect in March. Unless lawmakers reach an agreement on cutting the deficit, the mandatory budget cuts will last for 10 years.
The Air Force’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year calls for reducing end strength by 2,640 airmen, of which 1,860 would be active-duty airmen, but those cuts do not take into account sequestration lasting beyond September.
It is not yet possible to say how many more airmen would have to go if sequestration bleeds over into fiscal 2014, Donley said at an April 23 breakfast with reporters.
“We look at the impact of another $50 billion a year for 10 years across the defense programs, there will be significant force structure and modernization adjustments ahead of us if sequestration remains as it is under current law,” he said.
Currently, lawmakers are having separate debates about national security and reducing the deficit.
“It’s up to the national leadership, I think, to figure out when those streams cross and how to make the right judgments on a budget plan that fit the strategic reality that we might face,” Donley said. “I can’t tell exactly when that might happen.”
Recently, Air Combat Command had to ground one-third of its fleet because sequestration has eliminated more than 44,000 flying hours through September, but Donley maintained the Air Force is ready to respond to a crisis.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that the United States Air Force and the rest of the joint team are ready to make a potential adversary — or if there is a potential crisis that erupts ... we’ll make whoever that provocateur is, we’ll make that their worst day ever,” he said.
Donley was tight-lipped about the Long Range Strike Bomber, which is meant to replace the B-1 and B-52 starting in the 2020s. The Air Force has budgeted $400 million in the next fiscal year for the bomber, which will start as a manned aircraft, but the service could build an unmanned version in the future.
“We’re going to protect the capabilities of this airplane, I think, several years down the road because we think the capabilities that it will have represent advantages not unlike those that we have enjoyed with the B-2,” he said. “ We did not reveal the existence of the B-2 program until it rolled out of a hangar. We’re years from that.”■