Panetta Takes Strategy, Budget Message to Troops
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 17, 2012 Fresh from three days of Capitol Hill testimony, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta today flew to Louisiana, where he shared his strategy and budget vision in a more dressed-down setting.
Speaking with a bit more salt than he had used on the Hill, and with his normal suit coat swapped out for a wind jacket, Panetta stood in a Quonset hut at Barksdale Air Force Base and told airmen and civilian employees how he will cut defense spending while shaping a stronger future force.
Standing with bombers behind him and uniforms in front, the secretary told the troops, “You are the part of the strongest military force of the history of the world, and we’re going to keep that.”
The airmen and their fellow service members have been part of significant achievements in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and around the world over the past decade, Panetta said.
Despite those successes, the nation faces a wide array of national security threats from volatile regions, space and cyber, he said, while “we are a country of heavy deficits, and debt.”
“Our responsibility in national defense is still to protect this country, to keep our kids safe for the future. That's the challenge we face,” he added.
The combination of factors dictates a smaller, more agile force backed with great technology, Panetta said. The defense strategy sets priorities for that force, and the budget request is set to those priorities, he added.
Barksdale is home to Air Force Global Strike Command, which is tasked to support combatant commanders with combat-ready forces, capable of strategic nuclear deterrence and global strike operations.
The command includes the nation's three intercontinental ballistic missile wings, two B-52 Stratofortress wings and the only wing of the B-2 Spirit aircraft. The Stratofortress is a long-range, subsonic, jet-powered strategic bomber; the Spirit is a stealth, long-range heavy bomber.
Those planes represent a key piece of future defense, Panetta said.
“Frankly, that’s one of the reasons I’m here at Barksdale, because of these babies here behind me,” he said, adding they are “absolutely essential to the kind of future force we’re going to need.”
The secretary said future wars will rely on sea and air power to react swiftly to global threats. While ground forces will be critical, Defense Department leaders do not plan in future conflicts to include a “huge stability force” like that used in Iraq, he added.
The military always has the option to mobilize more service members through reserve component forces, Panetta noted, and strong National Guard and reserve forces are also central to defense strategy.
The department is investigating both manned and unmanned capabilities for the next-generation long-range bomber, Panetta said. In his view, he said, “You don’t just lock in one or the other,” but manned bomber flights will continue for a very long time.
The department has committed to maintaining the bomber fleet, putting money into developing a new bomber, and perfecting the F-35 -- now in testing -- for its stealth and precise targeting capabilities, the secretary said.
“The Air Force is going to play a very important role … [in the] strategy I just talked about,” he said.
Panetta also responded to troops’ questions, which included, “How close is Israel to going to war with Iran?”
The secretary, again echoing his Hill testimony, said the United States will not tolerate Iran developing a nuclear weapon or closing the Strait of Hormuz, which provides passage for a fifth of the world’s oil.
“And frankly, we don't want an Iran that basically spreads violence around the world, that supports terrorism, that conducts acts of violence,” he said.
Nations have joined together in applying diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran to convince that nation’s leaders to change their behavior, act according to international rules and laws, and negotiate an agreement on nuclear capability, he said.
“So that pressure needs to continue, and Israel has been part of that,” Panetta added. “And my hope is that for the future … Israel will be part of that international effort to keep the pressure on. That's the most effective way to isolate Iran.”
If Iran crosses one of the lines he described, Panetta continued, “We, the United States, have all options on the table. But, as the prime minister of Israel himself said, [military action] ought to be the last option, not the first.”
Panetta again thanked the troops for their service, and administered the oath of reenlistment to six airmen.
The secretary also was scheduled to meet with strike command officials and attend briefings on nuclear deterrent capabilities during his visit to the air base.