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Undersecretary addresses fiscal challenges

by Capt. Chris Sukach
Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

5/12/2011 - ARLINGON, Va. (AFNS) -- Undersecretary of the Air Force Erin Conaton spoke at the Air Force Association's Air Force Breakfast Program here May 11.

Ms. Conaton discussed the state of the Air Force and how the service is approaching the challenging budgetary environment it faces today.

"We're currently balancing a range of missions while looking forward to prepare for what the fights of tomorrow might be," the undersecretary said .

Ms. Conaton said the speed, precision and versatility of the Air Force is being tested and proven every day in every corner of the globe.

"You know the things we're doing around the world right now: the humanitarian mission that we've undertaken to help our Japanese partners; the stability and counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan and Iraq; the support to our NATO partners in the no-fly-zone enforcement and protection of civilians in Libya; and the continuous air sovereignty, space, cyber and nuclear deterrence missions that we're executing every day," she said.

Ms. Conaton also highlighted the Air Force's efforts over the last 10 years to reshape itself to meet anticipated conflicts. She noted that the service boosted its intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capacity; increased special operations capability; added hundreds of new aircraft; funded development of 30 satellites; and added thousands of Airmen for nuclear and cyber operations and acquisition support.

"But to do all this," she continued, "we've had to retire about 1,500 legacy aircraft, cancel major acquisition programs, and shed manpower in less critical career fields while deferring other activities like some much needed military construction."

Ms. Conaton said the Air Force is committed to providing its Airmen with the best tools to do their jobs. As such, it faces a multi-year effort to recapitalize the aging tanker, fighter, bomber and missile forces; modernize satellite constellations; meet dynamic requirements in the cyber domain; and replace aging airframes for pilot training and presidential support.

"Our personnel and fleet size are smaller now than at virtually any time in our Air Force's history while our operations tempo is at its highest," Ms. Conaton said. She emphasized that Air Force leadership is carefully considering the readiness impacts of any fiscal reductions to ensure that the force remain the most capable the service can field.

The undersecretary also said the Air Force is working to acknowledge and combat the discrepancy between the initial estimate of mission costs and costs actually incurred, a difference known as cost growth, within its budget.

"Regardless of any specific reductions that we may take, our Air Force and indeed the broader Department of Defense, must slow the rate of growth in a number of our accounts or we'll find ourselves back here again having to make additional programmatic or force structure reductions just to keep up with the cost growth," she said.

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