A Strategy Focused on Balance
A Strategy Focused on
Remarks at the Air Force's National
Security Forum, Maxwell AFB, Ala., May 17, 2011 by Secretary of the Air Force
Thank you Colonel Fullmer for the kind introduction. General
Peck, General Kane, General Hanson, forum visitors, and Air War College students
- very soon to be graduates, including members of our Joint and coalition team:
Thank you all, and welcome to this year's National Security Forum. I look
forward to this event every spring, and this year the leadership has another
great line-up of events and speakers, so I hope that you enjoy the week and gain
valuable perspective during your stay.
I am proud and humbled to be associated with you and with all
of the dedicated men and women who serve this great institution. Our Air Force
is, in fact, a world-class institution. And as its stewards, we are committed to
ensuring that the United States continues to have the world's finest air force
for generations to come.
That is why we cannot ignore the serious long-term financial
challenges confronting our Nation, the Department of Defense, and the Air Force.
The task ahead of us will be far from easy and comes with its own set of
challenges and opportunities. Many difficult choices loom on the horizon.
Secretary Gates often says that since Vietnam, we have an
absolutely perfect record in forecasting where we will use military force next.
We have never once gotten it right! Acknowledging the difficulty in predicting
the future, a strategy focused on balance has become a prudent way to
accommodate the challenges of the future - balance across core functions,
balance across investment categories, and balance across components. I'll
discuss each of these today.
Air Force Today and Strategic Context
But, as I begin, I want to take a minute to describe the
environment in which we operate, the current posture of the Air Force, and some
of the challenges we may expect in the months and years ahead.
Today's complex strategic environment calls for military
forces ready to conduct a multitude of missions, on short notice, across the
globe. As part of the Joint team, America's Air Force continues to provide the
Nation's unmatched Global Vigilance, Reach and Power across the full spectrum of
From the humanitarian relief operations supporting our
Japanese friends in need; to the ongoing stability and counterinsurgency
operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the no-fly zone enforcement and
protection of the civilian population in Libya; and to the continuous air
sovereignty, space, cyber and nuclear deterrence missions - the speed, precision,
and versatility of the U.S. Air Force is being tested and proven daily.
As the Air Force and the other services fulfill today's
mission requirements, we also have a responsibility to plan for the future. But
it is a simple fact that no matter how much planning we do, the future is
defined by uncertainty. In trying to determine what's coming around the corner,
and how to shape our forces accordingly, we must frequently use partial
information, intermingled with limited experience, combined with inherently
Nevertheless, there are some things we do know.
First, we are living in an era of very rapid change. While
some aspects of rapid change may offer positive opportunities, from a defense
perspective it also means our world is full of rapidly evolving threats. Future
trends associated with economic globalization, demographics, environmental
change, information technology, shifting balances of power, and key regional
developments will impact U.S. security interests, DoD and Air Force strategic
planning, and the way we engage with the rest of the world. In the past decade,
we have already seen mission impacts in homeland security, in 24/7 counter-terror
operations, in new requirements for space situational awareness and missile
defense, in ISR, and in the evolution of the cyber domain.
Second, given our Nation's focus on economic recovery as well
as our history of federal budget deficits, we know that our Nation will face
significant fiscal constraints for the foreseeable future. In fact, last year,
the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen, identified the
national debt as the single biggest threat to our national security. If it
wasn't evident before, the President's recent speech on fiscal policy made it
very clear that defense expenditures will not be exempt from efforts to reduce
spending at the federal level. Of note, the timeline for the President's goal of
finding $400 billion in defense savings extends to 2023, confirming the long-term
commitment that will be required to get our Nation's fiscal house in order.
In fact, it is likely that every part of government and every
citizen will feel the impact of the federal budget policy decisions coming our
Reshaping the Air Force
I've stated before, and would still argue, that the Air Force
is at an inflection point in its history. The evolution in the security
environment, resource limitations, and new technologies are combining to
transform our capabilities and set us in new directions.
Over the past decade, the Air Force has substantially
reshaped itself to meet the immediate needs of today's conflicts and position
itself for the future. While we have grown in some critical areas, it has been
at the expense of others.
We have added ISR assets, bolstered special operations
capacity for counterinsurgency, added 160 F-22s and 120 C-17s to our inventory,
funded over 30 satellites, added 2,000 Airmen for critical nuclear and cyber
operations and acquisition support.
At the same time, we have also retired 1,500 legacy aircraft,
cancelled or truncated procurement of major acquisition programs, shed manpower
in career fields less critical for the fight. Overall, in the past seven years
we have reduced our active duty end-strength by 26,000 personnel, and our budget
-- excluding the wartime supplemental funding to support current operations --
has been flat.
For the future, we face a multi-year effort to recapitalize
our aging tanker, fighter, bomber, and missile forces; to continue modernizing
critical satellite constellations; to meet dynamic requirements in the cyber
domain; and replace other aging airframes, like training, vertical lift, and
presidential support aircraft. These recapitalization and modernization programs
are essential to core Air Force capabilities. Their requirements are largely
understood; we know when we need them; and in many cases we have settled on an
acquisition strategy. The issue confronting us is financing: how can we, how
will we, afford all these programs?
Meeting our Nation's security needs has been a significant
challenge over the last decade, but now the fiscal effects of the economic
downturn and mounting federal budget deficits, and the call for more constrained
defense budgets, will compound the difficulties we face going forward.
Historically, we have long recognized that U.S. defense
budgets have gone up and down, fluctuating significantly as policy makers react
to events, whether meeting wartime or peacetime needs. And knowing that the
defense spending levels of the post-9/11 era could not continue indefinitely,
planning for a more constrained defense budget has been going on for some time.
For example, as it became clear that the U.S. would begin to
draw down operations in Iraq, we knew it was time to start reducing our reliance
on supplemental wartime appropriations, known as the Overseas Contingency
Operations or OCO budget, and make sure our needs were met in the baseline
budget. In FY12, for example, we have proposed moving operational funding for
the MC-12 from the OCO to the base budget.
Last summer, Secretary Gates launched his Department of
Defense efficiencies initiative to root out waste and improve efficiency and
effectiveness. And as part of this process, the Air Force identified $33 billion
in efficiencies, most of which was reinvested across the Future Years Defense
But in the environment we now face, efficiencies alone may
not be enough to meet the size of the fiscal challenge we are likely to face.
This makes it even more critical for the Air Force and the entire defense
establishment to not only continue with any further efficiencies we can find,
but also to make the right strategic choices to get the most of every scarce
Making the Right Strategic Choices: A Balanced Approach
We are in the business of managing risk, and this process
involves setting priorities and making trade-offs. We have to make smart choices
that enable us to meet a range of potential contingencies that we cannot
accurately predict, and to identify and hedge against those areas where our
nation may be willing to accept more risk. Balance is the key feature of our
resourcing strategy to accommodate the uncertain and fiscally challenging
future. Balance between core functions; balance among force structure, readiness
and modernization; and balance among our Active Duty, Reserve, and Air National
Balance Across Core Functions
Uncertainty in the international environment calls for us to
build a balanced force that, in essence, hedges our bets. We must build-in the
flexibility and versatility that enables our forces to operate effectively
across the potential spectrum of operations. This includes the enabling
capabilities on which the entire Joint force depends at any level of conflict,
capabilities like C4, mobility and air refueling, personnel recovery and ISR, to
name a few.
It also reflects the need for a broad range of capabilities.
For example, while we are currently reinforcing our counter-insurgency
capabilities, we're also building the Joint Strike Fighter. While working on
command and control for missile defense, we're building the Light Attack Armed
Reconnaissance and Light Air Support aircraft to more effectively train nascent
Air Forces. While recapitalizing the tanker fleet, we're strengthening space
situational awareness and cyber defense. And, while building up language and
cultural competency, we continue research on directed energy weapons.
Of course, building a balanced force also has a temporal
dimension. We must balance our operational focus on winning today's fight with
the necessary investments for tomorrow's fight, and preserve the personnel,
training, acquisition, and other institutional foundations upon which our
capabilities are built.
Balance Across Force Structure, Readiness, and Modernization
Anticipating the challenges and decisions ahead, Air Force
leaders have begun a discussion on how best to balance our investments into our
Force Structure, our Readiness, and our plans for Modernization at whatever
level of resources we are provided. And, as General Schwartz and I have
previously noted, the key term here is balance.
If our Force Structure - the size and composition of our Air
Force - is too large given the resources available, then we risk not being able
to sustain the costs of ownership, such as providing for pay and benefits,
training, and materiel readiness. If it is too small, we could unintentionally
drive some mission areas and career fields to unsustainably low levels, lose the
flexibility to accommodate new or evolving missions, or risk our ability to
sustain expeditionary operations.
If we allow Readiness to slip, we risk not being prepared for
the rapidly developing contingencies that characterize the current security
environment. And shortages in flying hours, other training and spare parts would
demoralize our Airmen and threaten our ability to retain a quality force. But if
we focus too much on near-term readiness, and on preparedness exclusively for
today's fights, we risk undermining the longer-term investment and modernization
necessary to sustain our technological edge, and to build the Air Force we will
need to meet future challenges.
If we fail to modernize our forces at an adequate rate, the
cost of maintaining and upgrading our legacy fleets will grow, crowding out
longer-term investment; our warfighting advantages in technology could shrink,
and the costs of new equipment would likely increase further and be stretched-out
even more. But if we put too many resources into modernization as budgets
decline, we could risk driving the size of the Air Force to unacceptably low
levels, and perhaps not sufficiently sized or ready for the unforeseen
contingencies immediately ahead.
Balance Across the Air Force Components
I don't need to tell you that the Air Force depends on the
Air Force Reserve Components, and that we will remain committed to the Total
Force Enterprise - the powerful combination of the Active Duty and Reserve
Components that together make up the United States Air Force.
We do, however, have an obligation to consider whether we
have the right balance and mix of missions across the components, as well as how
we can best organize that mix to maximize the capability and efficiency of our
Total Force. Accordingly, we have set in motion several initiatives to help work
through these issues.
For example, we are currently collaborating across the Air
Force headquarters, Air Force Reserve, and Air National Guard staffs to develop
personnel management policies that recognize and accommodate a longer and more
flexible Continuum of Service. Recognizing that our Airmen's personal and
professional demands change over time, and that this impacts a member's ability
to serve either part-time or full time, we need to facilitate movement across
components and position the Air Force to retain the skills and talents of
trained and experienced personnel.
A related personnel management initiative started last year
is known as 3-1 Integration. By integrating 3 existing Air Force Component
Personnel Management Systems into a single system, we intend to improve
efficiency, but also promote uniformity in policies, reduce barriers across the
components, enhance career opportunities for a Continuum of Service, and provide
better service to our Airmen.
But there's probably no better evidence of our attention to
the Total Force Enterprise than our work to improve Total Force Integration.
Last year, we began to fully institutionalize our approach to
the Total Force Enterprise, setting in motion an Air Force-wide process in which
Total Force initiatives to formally associate Active Duty and Reserve units are
more explicitly linked to Air Force planning to meet mission needs, are then
linked to the Air Force Corporate Structure for approval, and are then linked to
resource allocation to ensure the initiatives approved are appropriately funded.
Part of the enterprise-wide planning includes a comprehensive review of each of
our existing initiatives, including a Business Case Analysis.
This more deliberate approach is helping us decide how and
where to grow new missions, and how to fine tune and better balance Active Duty
and Air Reserve Component contributions in each of our core functions.
Clearly, significant challenges are mounting, and mounting
quickly. Efforts to forge a bipartisan deficit-reduction package as a step
towards Congress raising the Nation's borrowing limit are underway. And as
Secretary Gates has noted, we must avoid the temptation to make this a simple
math problem. The situation calls for a strategic review and careful analysis so
that DoD can continue to meet our Nation's security needs, and our Air Force can
continue to fly, fight, and win in air, space, and cyberspace. This will require
us to make increasingly difficult decisions, at a time when it is increasingly
important to get it right.
Balance will serve as a hedge against the uncertainty we
face: balance across the core functions which will enable us to remain prepared
for the full spectrum of operations; balance in force structure, readiness, and
modernization; and a balance across components, to find the right mix among
active, reserve, and guard personnel that will maximize both effectiveness and
As we confront these challenges, we can remain confident
because we know that our Air Force is blessed with smart, dedicated,
professional Airmen from across the Active Duty, Guard, Reserve, and Civilian
workforce. And we know we will not do this work alone; national and
international security is a team sport and we will have the benefit of Joint and
Coalition partners, many of whom are represented here today. I appreciate all
that you have done, and will continue to do as you move onward in your careers,
using all your experience here at Air University and elsewhere, to take on these
thorny, complicated, critical issues--we are counting on you. And, we are a
fortunate Air Force to have such great supportive networks in communities across
the country supporting our Airmen--thank you again to our Civic Leader guests
for giving of your time and participating in this Forum.