Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Highlights from May Session of AF Breakfast Series

All things will be considered when it comes to budget cuts was the message Under Secretary of the Air Force Erin Conaton left with her audience after this morning's Air Force Breakfast Series session at the Sheraton Crystal City.

The Air Force Breakfast Series is a monthly event that allows senior Air Force and Department of Defense leaders to address issues and communicate directly with industry professionals and the press.

The main topic of today's session was the looming budget cuts and the current fiscal environment. If we can't get a handle on these cost issues, our successors will have to revisit the same situations that we face today, Conaton said. From reducing the civilian workforce and contractors to investing in modern equipment, tough decisions are inevitable and will require a vigorous strategic review that lays out the consequences and implications of each decision made in regards to efficiency efforts. 

The military is currently balancing a range of missions, i.e., humanitarian efforts in Japan, air strikes in Libya, insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq, while still preparing for wars of tomorrow. In considering where to trim spending, military leadership must also take into account the responsibilities the nation wants to assign to the Air Force.

In the past 10 years, the Air force has adapted to the many conflicts that we’ve seen. At present the operations tempo is high and increasing. They’ve had to retire aircraft and defer activities (like much needed military reconstruction), all to retain, maintain and update others resources to meet the current climate needs. But to meet the billions of dollars in proposed defense cuts, all sectors will be thoroughly analyzed to see where reduction in spending could be best efficient and least disadvantageous. A priority, however, is to remain committed to giving our airmen the best tools.

On progress with the bomber: To remain a world class power, we need to be able to have not just a bomber force, but a penetrating bomber force while being very conscience of costs, she said. But tiny advances have been made in the development of the next generation long-range strike bomber. They are currently on the front end of sending requirements on the bomber, having received a mandate to set minimum requirements for production capabilities.

An attaché from Japan raised a question on how budget cuts will affect our international partnerships.

“Our global partnerships are a pretty important part of what we are doing,” she responded, adding that it will be important to maintain the partnerships we have created.

Conaton also gave an update on the advancements in energy renewal that has been carried out by the Air Force. DOD is the largest consumer of energy in the government, with the Air Force leading the pack in consumption. But in Fiscal Year 9 to 10, the cost of oil has risen 28%. The Air Force is working to diversify their source of energy, now certifying 99 percent of their fleet to be compatible with a mix of synthetic fuels. Solar and wind power usage by the Air Force has also increased. (The Air Force is one of the nation’s top purchasers of “green” power.) 

The force is 7 percent smaller than it was seven years ago, while personnel spending has risen 16 percent. The same trend can be seen in energy and industry expenses. Conaton said we will have to work with our industry partners to develop a better process for buying.

Check out the AFA site later this week for an audio transcript of this session.

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