Budget Crisis May Prompt Air Force to Cancel Flight Training by April
Sequestration and already paltry funding levels under a continuing resolution constrains the Air Force’s ability to “move resources to where we need them the most … in all the areas of readiness across the entire force,” Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael L. Moeller said at a Washington, D.C.-area breakfast hosted by the Air Force Association.
Training for combat air forces and mobility air forces will stop if the crisis is not resolved soon, he said. “What that means is unless you’re deployed or getting ready to deploy, flying training is going to be almost zero.”
Cancelling training flights causes a ripple effect of delays at the service’s maintenance depots, which will not be receiving aircraft on a regular schedule. There is a minimum two-year lag time on processing aircraft through depots, which would be the minimum time in which the Air Force could return to optimum strength if funding ceases to flow, he said.
“No matter how many resources we put into that, it’s still going to be two years because of the time lag for putting aircraft in the depots,” he said.
The Air Force is running a deficit of investment in future technologies and sustainment of legacy systems, from which it could take four years to recover, he said.
“We have underinvested in readiness over the past five, six [years]. I would even argue longer than that,” he said.
“What that means is I’ve got a readiness challenge today … and from FY 15 on, it’s going to take us three or four years to reinvest in readiness to make sure we can get up to the levels our nation demands of us across the board, in all of our weapon systems and our people,” he said.
The Air Force was forced to neglect some of its other areas of operation and responsibilities because it was needed to support the wars of the past decade. Those conflicts relied heavily on airlift between the United States, Europe and the Middle East and within both theaters of operation. The strategic shift to the Asia-Pacific region is underscoring the difficulty the Air Force is likely to experience in trying cover such a vast area with its current resources, according to Moeller.
“We’ve delayed or mortgaged some of readiness in order to support the current fight,” he said.
Air Force leaders are weighing their options to fulfill the service's obligations as a globally deployed response force. Its most senior officers are designing a strategic plan to achieve “the most capable Air Force against a high-end threat that’s affordable by 2023,” Moeller said.
Over the course of two days during the week of March 4, Air Force three-star generals gathered to hash out the service’s priorities. They came up with a list of 28 “strategic questions” that they then prepared answers to and will present the service’s highest officials, both civilian and uniformed, Moeller said.
Leaders also created a “total force task force” that is studying its balance of active, guard and reserve airmen that will inform the service’s future force structure.
An intra-theater airlift working group has come up with recommendations for reducing airlift capacity in Afghanistan, of which Moeller said there was an excess.
The service is also burdened with excess infrastructure and installations, Moeller added. Base realignment and closure, also know as BRAC, could relieve the Air Force of at least a portion of that dead weight, but senior leaders are not counting on it, he said.
“We have excess capacity in installations and infrastructure, there’s no doubt about it,” Moeller said. “External pressures have forced us to have excess capacity in certain areas. Force structure and force posture … all of it is on the table.”
Moeller listed medium-altitude intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft as one area that experienced a glut over the past decade. He added redundant capabilities among sister services as another possible are that could be cut with little impact.
“It really comes down to balance … between new capabilities and capacity. That’s something the four-stars are going to have to wrestle with as we move forward. … Like all good organizations, in the face of uncertainty, we’re planning like crazy. I have no idea whether it’s the right plan. I can tell you the only wrong answer is not to plan.”
It will be at least three months before Air Force leadership is able to hammer out a path forward, Moeller said, especially operating under the “understanding that new initiatives in this [fiscal] environment are almost impossible for us to accomplish.”
Photo Credit: Air Force