Defense Department Press Briefing on the State of the Air Force in the Pentagon Briefing Room
BRIGADIER GENERAL LES KODLICK: Well, good morning, everybody. I'm Brigadier General Les Kodlick, director of public affairs. I'm privileged to welcome Secretary of the Air Force Mike Donley and the Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh to the Pentagon briefing about the state of the Air Force.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that today likely will be Secretary Donley's final press briefing before he steps down on June 21st. Secretary Donley took the job as secretary during a difficult time, and he's worked tirelessly over the last five years to lead the Air Force and better posture it to address future challenges.
He's been at the helm, leading the world's greatest Air Force during two wars and countless military operations reinvigorating the nuclear enterprise, acquired a new KC-46 tanker, and established a program of record for long-range strike family of systems. He's been a champion of our Airmen and families. He's met with spouses, engaged with support groups, and visited members around the globe. He's a steady and humble public servant, for those of you who've known him and seen him in action. He's not one of flair, but incredible dedication. He's a leader committed to ensuring our Air Force stays strong, ready and capable of delivering the air and space power whenever, wherever the nation calls.
Mr. Secretary, let me just publicly thank you for your service.
Folks, I want to just go over the ROE real quick, when called on, identify your name and affiliation, we’ll start with one question and a follow-up. We're scheduled for an hour here. We'll see how the questions go, both the secretary and the chief have a comment.
SECRETARY OF THE AIR FORCE MICHAEL DONLEY: OK, morning. Thanks for being here.
Well, first, I'd like to say a few words about the situation in Oklahoma, just to convey that our thoughts and prayers have been with the people of Moore, Oklahoma, and the surrounding area, which is quite near Tinker Air Force Base, as they cope with the aftermath of Monday's devastating tornado.
In the wake of this tragedy, we're also very proud of those who have come to the aid of their neighbors, including the local first responders, of course, as well as Airmen and Sailors at Tinker Air Force Base and members of the Oklahoma Army and Air National Guard and many others. We thank them for their selfless service, their continuing service in this time of need in that community.
General Welsh and I have testified before Congress on the Air Force budget proposal for FY13. It's certainly a dynamic environment. We've reiterated our concerns about the impact of sequestration on the force structure, the readiness, and the modernization of our Air Force. The ill effects of sequestration are already taking a toll on our Air Force. Twelve combat-coded squadrons have stopped flying, and important training has been canceled. Weapon system sustainment reductions will delay maintenance, increase costs, and create backlogs. The impending civilian furlough will hamper us further and will impact morale and reduce productivity across the Air Force.
We've been consuming Air Force readiness for several years, and we'll continue to focus the resources that we do have available to meet combatant commander requirements, but with the steep and late FY13 budget reductions brought on by sequestration, the readiness hole that we have been trying to dig out of just got deeper, and we are facing a readiness crisis from which it will take many months to recover.
The modernization challenge facing our Air Force is pervasive. If unaddressed, it will seriously undermine our ability to accomplish the missions the nation asks us to undertake. Last year, in programming the Air Force share of the first $487 billion in defense reductions in the Budget Control Act, the cancellation or delay of modernization programs accounted for 65 percent of total Air Force reductions across the FYDP.
This year, each program was reduced by more than 7 percent in the recent sequestration. Looking ahead, if there continues to be resistance to force structure changes, to base closures, to constraining growth in compensation, and given our current focus on trying to improve readiness, it's very likely that out-year reductions in the Budget Control Act would require further disproportionate cuts to our modernization programs.
As advanced technologies proliferate around the globe, these cutbacks in modernization would put at risk the Air Force capabilities this nation will need in the decades ahead. Despite our near-term and long-term concerns, we are working to ensure that our most significant Air Force priorities remain on track, including the fifth-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the KC-46 tanker, and the long-range strike bomber.
I particularly want to highlight an important milestone in the KC-46 tanker program this week. On Wednesday, we announced the preferred and reasonable alternatives for the formal training unit and the first two main operating bases. This was a disciplined and deliberate process that included an enterprise-wide look that started with 54 bases, narrowed that down to nine, which yielded three good candidate selections for our initial KC-46 basing. The final basing decisions are expected for these bases in the spring of 2014.
Before turning to the chief, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank our Airmen, the active-duty, Guard, Reserve, and civilian personnel who are the living engine of our Air Force. I am so proud to serve with them.
Over the last decade, they have served our country in operations around the globe. They have patrolled the skies to protect America's homeland and have responded to people in need following natural disasters. Our total force has performed magnificently.
Now our nation asks even more. The draconian budget choices we faced during this extraordinary year have forced very painful decisions. But we'll continue to work with our DOD leadership and our Congress to fashion a practical way forward and to ensure that we remain the world's best Air Force with whatever resources are provided. Our Airmen and our nation deserve nothing less.
So we look forward to your questions. General Welsh?
GENERAL MARK WELSH: Thanks, boss. And thank you folks for being here today.
The devastation and the human toll in Oklahoma that the -- that the secretary just mentioned is simply heart-wrenching, and our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone who have been affected.
The homes of 140 Airmen stationed at Tinker Air Force Base were completely destroyed in the storm, and the homes of 196 others were at least partially damaged, so it's had a big impact on our Air Force family, as well. Two of our Airmen lost family members, one granddaughter and one father. And there are just no words that can erase that suffering. We are all so very sorry for their loss.
But we're also inspired by the resilience and the fighting spirit of the people of Moore and the state of Oklahoma. As usual, people have come together and shown a commitment to serve their fellow human beings, which is always noteworthy. Airmen from Tinker Air Force Base and Airmen from the Oklahoma National Guard, both the Army and Air National Guard, including firefighters, medical personnel, and countless volunteers, have been on the front lines of this recovery effort, both search-and-rescue efforts, as well as providing aid to all those affected.
Civil air patrols, flown since immediately after the storm, provide aerial photography to assist in all these efforts. And to all these great Airmen, thanks for your selfless service during this very, very difficult period. They really do make all of us proud.
The boss mentioned this, but our Air Force fully understands that America is working through a debt and deficit reduction problem, and we got it, and we're ready to be -- to accomplish our part of that solution. We just want to get to the bottom line or the new top-line budget, if you will, in this case, and get on with preparing our Air Force to remain the best in the world.
So here's the challenge, as we see it. Operational requirements have really outpaced our resources over the last 10 to 15 years. Air Force readiness levels have declined steadily since 2003. We've been flying continuous combat sorties for over 22 years now. We've been forced to put full-spectrum training on the backburner to support the current fight. And we've also been trading readiness for modernization for the past several years. And the Budget Control Act exposed the management risks that we've been accepting to do that, and now full sequestration has driven us over the readiness cliff. And that's where we sit today.
Sacrificing that readiness negates many of the strategic advantages of airpower that this nation enjoys, and that's always a bad idea, if you can avoid it. And so we've entered into a period from which we must first recover before we can think about what else might be possible down the road.
We've got combat-coded fighter and bomber squadrons flying at reduced rates or not flying at all. We've already delayed aircraft and engines from entering into depot-level repair this year. And we've deferred over 50 non-emergency facility sustainment projects across 24 states and three different countries. And sadly, we've just asked a critical part of our Air Force family to take an involuntary 20 percent pay cut over the last 11 weeks of the fiscal year.
And our readiness continues to decline, even while calls for potential no-fly zone or air policing operations in response to Syrian violence are reaching a new crescendo.
We're still the best Air Force in the world. And our great Airmen will rely on experience and their unmatched dedication to succeed in any operation that we're asked to execute. But atrophied skills elevate risk, and stagnant proficiency will only grow over time if we can't restore some sense of budget normalcy. And so that's what we're hoping for.
And while we do all we can to minimize the readiness slide, we'll also remember that modernization isn't optional if we expect to be a viable Air Force in the future. We have to figure out how to make that happen while maintaining a ready force along the way.
That makes the success of current modernization initiatives, like the KC-46 and the F-35, all the more important. The KC-46 is a long-overdue capability that our current and future force desperately needs. It's important to emphasize that in 2028, when the final KC-46 is delivered, only about one-third of our then-65-year-old tanker fleet will have been recapitalized, so the work isn't over in 2028. There's much more that needs to be done if we want to keep the global in global vigilance, global reach, and global power.
The F-35 program has remained steadily on track over the past two years. Sequestration's impact on the RTD&E money for the program will likely impact software development to some degree, and sequestration cuts to production accounts will cut up to five new F-35As this year. The F-35 is a vital capability that we believe the nation needs to stay ahead of adversary technological gains, and it provides the multi-role capabilities that the anti-access and aerial denial environment of the future will require.
The multi-service international nature of the program will also reap huge interoperability gains and future combat and will save us a lot of money along the way, just like the F-16 program did with the benefits of the multinational fighter program, et cetera.
Currently, 22 F-35s are flying at Eglin Air Force Base, forming the backbone of our training fleet. They've flown over 1,200 sorties so far. We have four F-35As that have also been delivered to Nellis Air Force Base to begin operational testing. And we're excited that this program is on the road to success, and we're grateful that our international partners remain as committed to the Lightning II as we are.
The future of the United States of America is an air space and cyberspace future. That's my opinion. In the years ahead, those domains will be the most contested, the most congested, and the most competitive, both commercially and militarily. They're also where the United States Air Force happens to do our job.
Secretary Donley and my job is to make sure America's Air Force is capable, credible and responsive enough to meet national security objectives in those three domains, and we'll work hard to ensure whatever resources the Air Force receives will be used responsibly to attain the absolute best balance of force size, modernization, and readiness.
Our nation demands the timely, effective and precise delivery of the world's greatest airpower by America's Air Force. Thankfully, we're blessed with 690,000 fantastic men and women who will provide just that. They amaze us every day, and it is really an honor to stand beside them.
On their behalf, Mr. Secretary, as you enter your final month as the leader of the world's greatest Air Force, I'd like to publicly say thank you to you for your steadfast guidance for five years of rock-solid leadership and for your patience and personal mentorship. I've learned more than I can even begin to express during our time together these last nine months.
I'd also like to thank you for bringing your wonderful wife, Gail, into our Air Force. She has been a joy to work with, and she has been taking care of Airmen and their families since the day the two of you walked through the door. She just rocks, and we're going to miss her, too. You're a great Airmen, Mike Donley, and all of us are proud to have followed you.
Ladies and gentlemen, can we answer any questions for you? Yes, sir. Why don't we start here?
Q: Thank you very much. Raghubir Goyal from India Globe and Asia Today. My question is that, first of all, what's going on between India and U.S. as far as your department is concerned, Air Force is concerned? Any trainings going on or any deals going on right now? And, second and finally, any comments on the recent Chinese space missile? And Chinese are going -- and their budget is going up and U.S. budget is going down. And you know that most of the countries depends on the U.S. power, U.S. airpower, U.S. military, U.S. Air Force, and -- so what do you think the future will be?
SEC. DONLEY: I'll just offer that we follow Chinese military and especially their air and space developments very carefully, as well as other activities that have been discussed in the cyber arena, as well. So no specific comments for you there, but we do track this on a regular -- regular basis. I'd maybe ask the chief to talk about the relationship with India, which is very important.
GEN. WELSH: So the relationship between our air forces is one of the real focal points for our Pacific Air Force's commander, General Hawk Carlisle. He and Air Marshal Browne have become very closely attached and affiliated professionally. I hope to meet the Indian air chief here within the next two months, as he travels to the states on his next trip. We have exchanged letters, and I think that meeting has been arranged now so that I can get a chance to meet him and talk to him about this relationship.
Recently, we had to cancel a red flag exercise that the Indian air force planned to participate in, and we were very sorry that we didn't have the resources to conduct that exercise. We will try and get India back into one as soon as we can, because it will be very valuable, not just for them, but for us. We'll learn from the Indian air force.
Q: Quickly follow-up. There was some kind of deal between U.S. and India on F-35. Is that still on? Or what is the future of some of these modernization of Indian air force or Indian forces, and also if India is on the list of buying or purchasing more U.S. arms?
SEC. DONLEY: I believe India's made different choices on its fighter force structure, but we'll see if we can get you an answer for the record.
Q: (inaudible) has India shown interest in F-35? And are -- is the U.S. willing to provide F-35 to India?
SEC. DONLEY: Let me get you an answer for the record on that. Thank you.
Q: Thank you. General Welsh, when you talk about sequestration has driven the Air Force over the readiness cliff, is it your understanding that members of Congress understand the gravity of that? Because so far, there really hasn't been much of a reaction to the standing down of 17 squadrons.
GEN. WELSH: Jeff, I think the members of Congress are pretty smart people. I think they understand the impacts of this. It's a very difficult problem. I think we all understand that. And everybody is looking for a solution, and we're doing the best we can to live with the resources we've been given at this point in time. I think the members of Congress are looking for a solution so that the best defense can be provided for the nation over time. And they'll come up with something. We'll get there.
Q: And when you say it's driven us over the readiness cliff, are you saying the Air Force cannot execute all the missions the nation expects of it right now?
GEN. WELSH: No, I'm saying that we -- what we have focused on to this point are the missions that we know about and that we're committed to. And we are executing all of those. My concern is the unknown, because we are -- we are -- we are funding the known and taking risk in the area of the unknown. New contingencies could be a problem for us, especially the longer this goes and the less training our people have compared to what we would normally require of them to be fully combat ready.
STAFF: Back over here.
Q: Yes, General, thank you. John Tirpak, Air Force Magazine. Congress doesn't seem to be in a hurry to fix the situation. If you go past September and sequestration continues, what are your next steps, in terms of flying stand-downs, force restructure reductions, modernization cuts?
GEN. WELSH: John, we're looking right now -- the secretary will have a comment about this, I'm sure, too, but we're looking at every modernization program, every acquisition program we have, whether it's a new buy or an upgrade to an old system, and determining which of the ones can we afford to continue, which ones would be the first to go if we had a continuing problem?
We're looking at the reality of next year's expectations for deployment support. Where could we support them? Where would be the biggest impact if we continued to have squadrons not flying at fully mission-capable rates? We're going through that discussion with the combatant commanders inside the services and with the Joint Chiefs to make sure everybody fully understands that.
I think that picture will play out here over the next couple of months, and we'll see where we go. All of us are hoping for a budget solution that provides at least an ability to plan ahead, and then we can mitigate most of the major concerns.
SEC. DONLEY: As you probably know, the whole department is involved in an ongoing discussion in the strategic choices and management review to assess the potential impact of budget reductions at various levels, including full sequestration, which would include, obviously, sequestration continuing from '13 into '14.
So that's an ongoing discussion at the departmental level, so we're not just looking at '14, but all the way, you know, for the next 10-year period, roughly '13 to '23. And I'll just offer that, any way you slice it, the impacts are significant and negative in just about every aspect of -- of our military capability. There will be force structure impacts, modernization, readiness impacts across the military, including the United States Air Force.
So we're kind of working through what that would look like in more detail. And specifically with respect to '14, the deputy secretary has us focused on what we call the fin plans, or the financial plans, the execution plans for fiscal year '14, at -- at levels potentially below the president's budget to reflect the potential for sequestration continuing from '13 into '14.
Q: (inaudible) if I could follow up, what -- what -- to give us some idea of what the danger is, what do you think would be most at risk in the early months of the next fiscal year? Would it be modernization programs that you've tried to shield those so far, or would the readiness situation persist?
SEC. DONLEY: Well, I think our biggest concern is that the readiness situation persists and that we have to figure out someway forward to either -- to start digging out, create a ramp for improvement, and perhaps not at the beginning of '13 -- or at '14, but later in the year or into '15. So the negative situation we're in this year would continue into '14. There's no question about that; we know that already.
If sequestration hits for '14, that could be extended through that fiscal year potentially. We'd like to -- we'd like to figure out ways to mitigate that, but we're -- we're, frankly, not -- not there yet.
And we also -- I think, speaking for the Air Force leadership, the rest of the DOD leadership, we would like to be making strategic decisions that inform how we approach resource planning and force structure planning for the next decade, but we really don't have, except for the worse situation, if you will, in Budget Control Act extending without change for the next decade, we -- we don't have a solid set of top lines to work against.
So just moving from month to month or from quarter to quarter is not the way we would like to operate. And that -- that was the chief's, I think, reference to -- we need sound top lines that we can plan for in the department with Congress.
Back over here.
Q: Jon Harper with the Asahi Shimbun. Mr. Secretary, are the F-22s that were deployed to Korea during Foal Eagle still there? Or have they returned to Japan? And if they're still in Korea, how long do you anticipate that they'll remain there?
SEC. DONLEY: Chief? I'm not sure of the specifics.
GEN. WELSH: We'll have to double-check that. I believe they're back in Japan. I'd have -- I've have to get you an answer on that.
SEC. DONLEY: Yes, ma'am?
Q: Elaine Grossman, with National Journal. With everything on the table for consideration in this so-called skimmer (strategic management choices review) I wonder if you might address your responsibility for nuclear forces. They've been protected somewhat, as I understand it, this fiscal year from the harshest effects of sequestration. But going forward, do you all have what I would call Plan B (inaudible) you can sort of dust off the shelves when it comes to modernizing both the bomber and the ICBM legs of the Triad, so that you wouldn't have to necessarily eliminate those legs that could do modernization a little bit more cost-effectively?
SEC. DONLEY: Well, I think the short answer is that the department and -- and the nation's way forward on this still is dependent on some national-level decisions that the president plans, as I understand, to make next year.
So we've conveyed to Congress that nuclear force structure issues will not be sorted through, in terms of how we would implement the New START Agreement until probably summer of '14, I think that was the -- was the guidance. Let me -- I'll check that date for you.
But with respect to how it impacts Air Force planning, I think it's a little bit more -- has a little bit more effect on the ICBM side of the force structure, because on the bomber side, we already know that we're going ahead with a long-range strike bomber that we're -- we're focused on its conventional capabilities, but it will also be nuclear-capable, so -- so we have a way forward on the bomber side that is -- is really independent in some respect from the nuclear decisions that are still pending.
Q: Can I just follow up? If asked, do you have ways in which you could execute both of those modernization programs more cheaply?
SEC. DONLEY: I'll just -- I'm -- yes, there are ways to -- to address different aspects of the nuclear enterprise and how to modernize it, how much, what's scheduled, and we have lots of options for -- for that. There are many programs involved.
But I'd just offer a broader context here, that what folks are focused on, the -- the size of the nuclear enterprise and sort of the balance between air-breathing, sea-based, and land-based forces, but all legs of the triad need modernization in some fashion. So there's still a sort of overhanging requirement to upgrade and modernize these systems, including the command and control that goes with them.
Q: Colin Clark, Breaking Defense. Are either of you at the point where you are growing concerned that a competitor may misjudge our ability to respond should we need to, because of the sequestration cuts and the budget uncertainty?
SEC. DONLEY: I would offer that it is very important, as we undertake all of the very challenging fiscal issues confronting the nation and -- and our military, that we continue to engage with allies and partners around the world to collaborate on international security matters in various regions, to continue to ensure effective partnerships, to deter potential conflicts, to get ahead of international security problems, and do that in a -- in a team-based coalition approach.
And each of our military and political partners has -- is in a different place with respect to their militaries. They offer different capabilities. They offer different real estate. They're in a different place for modernization. But we work with each as an independent partner, and we work with them in regional contexts to address the issues in -- in their region. And I think we share a common goal of getting ahead of, deterring conflict where we can, addressing conflict, terrorist organizations that are operating in various regions, as the president outlined yesterday, and doing this with partners. It's very important to us.
GEN. WELSH: I would hope that before someone made that calculation that they would think very carefully about the risk associated with it, because it's significant. Clearly, the longer we go through this situation where readiness is degrading, the greater the opportunity for someone to make that unwise decision.
SEC. DONLEY: (inaudible) in the back (inaudible)
Q: (inaudible) from South Korea. As you know, South Korean Air Force is planning to acquire next-generation fighters, and there's a fierce competition between (inaudible) F-15s and F-35s (inaudible) fighters. Would you find any problem if South Korean air force (inaudible) Europe fighters as next-generation fighter in (inaudible) operations or exercises?
SEC. DONLEY: Well, these are individual national decisions. And we continue to support our South Korean allies in -- in their selection process, providing the data that they need to make their decision. And as you mentioned, there are competing aircraft in that, more than one American platform involved in that. And our job is to just provide the information that they need to make their decisions. They are strong partners and allies and I think would remain so in any situation going forward.
Q: Yes, Amy Butler, Aviation Week. I'd like to get a little more discussion about the F-35 going, if possible. We've got the SAR out now. We've been told for a couple of years now, since (inaudible) took office, that O&S was something that the department needed to get its arms around, that it was a big problem. And I know that each of the services have done their excursions to look into how they can contribute to a solution, but the SAR does not reflect that. According to the SAR, it's the same O&S costs, the same costs per flying hour, with some sort of a normalization to the F-16.
So how should we take that? Does the -- does the department have its hands around this problem? What are some of the fixes to get the cost per flying hour and the O&S costs down? And then I'd like to ask a follow-up, as well, on where you guys are on IOC and whether or not you're going to take the 2B or the (inaudible) software.
SEC. DONLEY: So just to start off -- and I'm sure the chief would -- would have some comments, as well on your last question, we will make an IOC notification to Congress next week. We owe them a report by June 1st. That's on track. It's been coordinated between the Air Force and the Navy, both the Department of the Navy and the Marine Corps. So we're working on that, and a report will go to Congress next week, I think on time.
First question was O&S cost. It continues to be an issue in the department. You didn't -- you saw the numbers that came out in the SAR. But I'll just offer that there is no final answer on O&S costs. I mean, we continue to work on O&S costs and efficiencies in the program, discussing ways to share costs, mitigate costs, make smart choices between how we structure contracts and logistics support between blue-suit and contractor support.
So there are lots of issues and opportunities to continue to work O&S costs. So, you know, I think it continues to be an issue that we look at, and we'll continue to work toward driving this cost down.
Q: OK, well, I guess the disconnect, it seems, is that we continue to be told this -- we, not just the media, but international partners, people who might want to buy this aircraft. But the official documentation doesn't reflect any of this. So what -- what about this discussion? How do we reconcile that? How is this not just rhetoric?
SEC. DONLEY: Well, it's ongoing discussion inside the department, and if -- if and as we have better data, that'll be reflected in program estimates going forward. So it just is a matter...
SEC. DONLEY: ... it is a matter of continuing discussion. We're always trying to drive down the costs where we can, and are always questions internally to the program about how we do logistic support and how we cost operations going forward. So there's no single number that -- that, you know, sort of locks in for the lifetime of the program. This is a 30-year program-plus, so these numbers will adjust as we get smart, as we continue to deploy the aircraft, as we find efficient ways to operate it.
Q: OK. Well, General Welsh, can I get your input on this and your assessment of the normalization process for the F-16 cost per flying hour vice the F-35?
GEN. WELSH: Amy, I think that what's been going on for the last year almost now is trying to come to agreement on an apples-to-apples comparison between the two numbers. This has been worked very hard by the program office, by the Lockheed Martin program office, by OSD AT&L. There's a lot of people involved in this discussion, and I think we've normalized to a couple of numbers now, about $25,000 per flying hour for the F-16 C/D model and about $32,000 roughly for the F-35. That number may continue to adjust itself slightly, as we decide what factors are in or not, but that gives us an idea now.
That number is down from the original estimates, which is a good thing. We are also getting more and more practical data based on the number of sorties we're now flying, actually flying the airplane, and over time that will give us a much better feel for the long-term costs.
We're not flying in a fully operational mode yet. It's still in test. We're just starting our training programs. So that data has to mature. Just like every airplane program that has a projected cost for support and sustainment, we don't really know until we support and sustain it for a while.
Some of the equipment that will help with that process is still being developed, and once we get more fidelity on that over the next couple of years, I think we'll have a much better feel for what the airplane's going to cost.
Yes, ma'am? Yes, sir, I'm sorry. Let me come over here. Yes, ma'am.
Q: Hi, I have a question. The Air Force recently delivered -- sorry, Maggie Ybarra, Inside the Air Force -- the Air Force recently delivered a report to Congress saying that, you know, the cost difference between the Global Hawk (inaudible) what it was about. Now, my understanding is that the Air Force says it's $487 million to fit the U-2 sensors onto Global Hawk, but Northrop's made a deal -- or has offered a deal to (inaudible) one-tenth of the cost. Is that something you guys are considering (inaudible) what are your thoughts on that?
SEC. DONLEY: We have seen it. I don't recall that it was what I would describe as a complete offer or estimate of -- of what the full cost would be. And there were operational implications from their proposal of using sensors off the -- you know, bringing down U-2s and using sensors off of U-2s to put on the Global Hawk, so there are operational implications there.
I'll just offer that this continues to get close attention in the department. It is an issue on the Hill. We recognize that, continues to be debated inside the department. And we continue to try to get the best fidelity and the best understanding of -- of cost and operational comparisons between the platforms.
Q: Thom Shanker with New York Times. I have a two-parter on the rebalance to Asia. Even before the current sequestration and other problems with the budget, a lot of people in the analytical world -- I'm thinking of a CSIS study -- said that the pivot to Asia was an emperor with no clothes, rhetoric without reality. Given the downward pressures in the budget, how will that affect your plans to rebalance toward Asia?
And then within that, anti-access area denial is clearly a problem, not only in Asia, but in the Persian Gulf, as adversaries improve their capabilities. What's your assessment of current stealth jamming anti-radiation missiles to deal with the A2AD problem? And do you need either new technologies or new tactics?
SEC. DONLEY: Well, I'll let the chief address the tactical capabilities. At the theater level, we -- for the Air Force -- we are sustaining the force structure and presence across the Asia-Pacific that we have had for decades now, so I'll -- we'll get numbers here to clarify, but I'll just -- I'll try to remember some off the top of my head. For Pacific Air Forces, that's between 43,000-46,000 airmen, I want to say, 9 to 12 bases, but we'll get you the numbers, Thom. But we -- we continue to remain engaged and present forward in the Asia Pacific region.
If you look at our high-value assets, the F-22, where it's deployed, its -- its time in the theater, about 60 percent of that capability is in and around the Pacific theater at any given time. We have done routine theater security packages up and down the Pacific. We patrol bombers out in that region on a regular basis. So this -- this work continues.
Looking forward, the department has announced that the first location overseas for the F-35 will be in the PACAF area, or PACOM area of responsibility.
So I -- you know, we are focused on potential A2/AD challenges in a number of theaters around the world. And the capabilities we're developing for more contested environments apply in a lot of places around the world, in the Middle East, in the gulf, potentially in Asia, potentially in other -- other areas, as well. So -- so we're developing a more effective capability across our Air Force that will also be of use in the Asia Pacific.
GEN. WELSH: I think on the A2AD side, all A2AD means, really, is that threat sensors, threat weapons systems are getting longer ranges or becoming more capable. And we have to worry about that, as you said, globally, Thom. This isn't -- this isn't a Pacific-only problem.
But what the Pacific does do for us is it makes us look at the problem in terms of range. How do you extent ranges of things like sensors, of weapons systems, et cetera? How do you become more interconnected so that you can plug into a network or a system or a sensor system that's already in place? And that's what A2AD capabilities really mean to us as an Air Force.
We also need to look at things like speed and stealth that you asked about and how they affect kill chains, because that's the business we're in, either disrupting or accelerating kill chains, depending on whether we're talking about ours or theirs. Speed compresses kill chains. Real speed really compresses it. It makes it harder to execute.
Stealth confuses or complicates kill chains. They're good things. None of it stands alone. But we need to continue to look at what those two things can do for us in the future, as we modernize.
A big question for us in the S&T area is, what does stealth really mean in 2035 or 2040? And how do we start moving in the direction of having capabilities in that regard?
On the rebalance, it -- it points us toward developing capabilities that operate in that kind of an environment. It may, in the Pacific, push us to develop new or strengthen existing partnerships, because there are -- there are new and emerging partners available in the Pacific. And there are capabilities they're developing that we can help them develop, and there's things we can learn from our partners there.
And then, finally, it -- it pushes us toward a different type of training than we've been doing for the activity in the Middle East, training for a much more contested, congested environment, for example, something that we have to do to kind of get back to full-spectrum readiness in our Air Force.
SEC. DONLEY: Yes, sir?
Q: (inaudible) from (inaudible) India. Post-2014 Afghanistan Air Force will not be ready to support -- provide the necessary airpower to the security forces. What kind of presence U.S. Air Force is trying to have after 2014?
SEC. DONLEY: I'll let the chief address that, except -- just to provide sort of a setup for this. One of our important missions is to help train the Afghan -- emerging Afghan Air Force, and that's an active part of what our Air Force is -- is doing in Afghanistan and helping deliver the capabilities that they will need for the future.
They are -- they are rebuilding an air force, so we're very interested in -- in the development of new pilots and of a professional Afghan air force that'll be able to meet their needs going forward. They are coming up the capability ramp. They have shown increasing capability with the Mi-17 in particular. We hope to get the C-130s into Afghanistan soon, and we also hope to get the LAS delivered next year, as well.
GEN. WELSH: I think the -- I was in Afghanistan a couple of months ago. I met with the chief of the Afghan Air Force, as well as one of their regional commanders, and went to the training bases. I think that our role will be to continue to train the Afghan Air Force as they develop into a force that can stand alone and support their security apparatus.
How long we stay, in what numbers will be determined by the commander of ISAF in association with the coalition leadership and U.S. leadership. And we'll be part of the solution.
I'll tell you this. I was struck by the talent level of the pilot force that was going through the training, particularly at Shindand Air Base. There are a number of Afghan air force members with huge experience in things like the Mi-17. I met one gentleman who has over 9,000 hours flying the Mi-17 helicopter. That is an awful lot of flying time in one platform.
And so their expertise in actually executing the mission is not insignificant. Most of the people who are being trained now or who are in the Afghan Air Force don't have a lot of expertise in running and managing an air force, so it's the larger logistical support, the infrastructure management, those kind of things that most of them didn't do because they were much younger when the Afghan Air Force was up and operating in the past.
And so they're trying to learn that now. And those are the things we think we can help them with over time. They have no problem flying airplanes and helicopters. They're really good at it.
SEC. DONLEY: Yes, sir?
Q: Carlo Munoz with the Hill. Just wanted to, one, get a quick update on what the Air Force's participation has been in STRATCOM review of nuclear operations at Barksdale. I understand that's underway right now. Can you give us sort of a snapshot of where things stand and what sort of (inaudible) needs to be done? And I have a follow-up, as well.
GEN. WELSH: Just to clarify, STRATCOM's review of nuclear operations writ large or...
Q: (inaudible) of the incident that resulted in (inaudible)
GEN. WELSH: Oh, the exercise? OK. Yeah, the issue that was the 17 and then two more -- we had 19 crew members at Minot Air Base who were not on full-up missile cruise status and were in a retraining program. Four of those 19 as of today were reinstated. The others are progressing very well in the retraining program. They just haven't completed it yet.
The leadership at Minot is very happy with how that is going so far. They're very happy with the effort that the crews who are in the retraining process have put into this. And the encouragement they're receiving, by the way, from the rest of the missile crew force.
The commander of Global Strike Command, Lieutenant General Kowalski, has been involved in this from the very beginning, as has General Bob Kehler, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command. And he has -- General Kehler and I spoke from the first day we heard about this. His inspector general has been connected to the Global Strike inspector general.
In fact, one of the things that collaboration led to was, during Global Strike Command's command-wide exercise last week, they actually did no-notice inspections on all of our missile units, again, including the one at Minot, and just to look at them all one more time, when no one was inspecting them to arrive. And those inspections all went very well.
By the way, the wing at Minot also was selected to go out and do an actual Minuteman III launch in the Glory Trip series out in California from Vandenberg earlier, and actually I think it was the 22nd of May, is when that was conducted, and it went exceedingly well. So lots of good news over the last couple of weeks, which has been good to see.
Q: And a quick follow-up. Senator Donley, you mentioned the continued resistance to the situation such as BRAC and other sort of benefit issues coming from Congress. Your counterpart in the Army, Secretary McHugh, basically -- in terms of BRAC specifically -- said he has a number of base facilities that are basically bleeding this service dry in terms of upkeep and maintenance. Is the Air Force in that same situation? And do you see that push-back coming from the Hill on those BRAC issues kind of contributing to that -- to that situation?
SEC. DONLEY: Well, we do have currently an impasse with Congress on the way forward for BRAC, so that needs to be worked. We've estimated we have 20 percent of our infrastructure that is exceed to need. And depending on the changes that we have to make if there's a Budget Control Act here that continues with sequestration for the next decade, we'll -- we'll have more excess capacity and probably a smaller Air Force and, therefore, excess capacity. So we're working through those issues now.
I would just offer that, in this area and force structure adjustments, compensation areas, as I mentioned in my remarks, are sort of three very difficult and hot-button issues, if you will, with Congress right now. As -- as we develop at -- at the national level, with Congress, with the Department of Defense, our national leadership, the way forward on the budget and what it means for the Department of Defense, we need a broader discussion with Congress on the strategic choices we're going to have to make as a nation to make sure that we retain an effective and capable military and, for us, maintain our role as the best air force in the world over the next 10 years, so that we end up at 2023 a strong air force and -- and able to do the nation's business as called upon to do so.
I don't think we have a consensus with Congress, and certainly -- on how to do that and what the choices will be. But I think it's very -- it will be very important for the department and the Congress to have that conversation at a strategic level so that the services don't necessarily have to fight on foot on every single individual issue that will come up, because if sequestration does continue for the next decade, we have to take $1 trillion out of the defense program over a 10-year period, we will face significant strategic decisions about the size of our military and what programs need to continue, the readiness that we will need to maintain going forward, and will have tough, tough decisions to make on the size of the force, modernization programs, compensation, base closures, all these things. And it's very important that we have a strategic approach to this work.
I think this is what the Joint Chiefs most want from the strategic-level discussions in the department and -- and -- and, obviously, with the Congress, as they mark individual bills. They need -- we need together a strategic approach for how they approach the challenges that we're presenting to them.
Q: Mr. Secretary, just another quick follow-up. Given that kind of consensus you're looking for with Congress, and also given these -- the highly partisan environment on the Hill right now, do you think there that there's -- there's enough political room to reach that consensus, that you, DOD, is looking for, to kind of get past these tough issues?
SEC. DONLEY: Well, not yet. What -- what we need, I think, is the -- is the alternative to the Budget Control Act. We're going to -- I think we're going to be able to see and to describe for Congress the devastating impacts potentially of having to proceed with another $500 billion reductions over the next decade. That -- that work is ongoing in the department. And the secretary will see that later in the weeks ahead, the months ahead. And I'm sure the Congress has been asking for this information, and I'm sure at some point will be -- that information will be conveyed and -- and shared.
But we need the Congress to reach the budget agreement that sets those top-line numbers for the next decade or so that helps frame what the military needs to do to plan. And when we develop that plan, they need to buy into the strategy for how to implement it. And -- and because if we -- if we have annual fights on -- on these kinds of fundamental issues, every single year, that's kind of a recipe for hollowing out the force, because the military will try to build -- will build a balanced program, but tries to buy save for this -- this kind of resource level, you get about this size military.
And inside this size military, it's going to be ready to do these things. And there has to be this much amount as part of that for modernizing the force, developing the capabilities that we need in the decade ahead and the decade after that.
So it's that strategic approach that we'll just absolutely have to develop in concert with the Congress. And if we fail to do that, we're really running the risk of a hollow military. That's what will happen every single year. We'll fight on these individual issues. We'll move hundreds of millions this way, that way. We'll stop this. We'll start something we didn't plan on. We'll be blocked from making important changes that we think need to be made. And those things will produce a hollow military.
Q: Brian Everstine with Air Force Times. Can you talk about the Defense Department's reprogramming request and impact it would have on the grounded combat-coded squadrons and other aspects of Air Force readiness?
SEC. DONLEY: Our focus -- I think the Air Force piece is about $1.8 billion, as -- yeah, $1.8 billion, and the reprogramming. We need these funds to address operational shortfalls for the remainder of this year. We would try to buy back some of the readiness of units that are -- that are flying at a basic military capability, but we would like to take up to full combat mission readiness. We try to buy back some of that.
We would still have some grounded units going forward. Obviously, we do not have the resources to buy back the furloughs. This is -- was a very challenging and difficult decision. But we were able to get the furloughs down to 11 days. The secretary would like to revisit that later in the fiscal year, to see if we can mitigate that further, if opportunities present. But the reprogramming is a big priority for the Air Force and the department, and we've asked for urgent congressional consideration of this.
Q: (inaudible) grounded squadrons, if any of them, how many of them would remain grounded if it did go through and if they would all be fighters or bombers?
SEC. DONLEY: This is ongoing work. I think we can provide -- we'll try to get you something for the record here, but I think there is some number we can provide. But we do continue to revisit our expenditures on a month-to-month basis. There's a lot of focus on how to finish fiscal year '13 over the next four or five months. Intense focus on that. And then how it bleeds into -- into '15.
But we're -- all the services are dealing with severe shortfalls in their O&M accounts. And the reprogrammings will not fix everything. So we're -- we're very focused on -- but we'll get you...
GEN. WELSH: Step one is to take the seven squadrons that we're flying at the basic military capability rates and bring them back up to full combat mission readiness. But that would be the first step. And then we're -- as the boss mentioned, we're aggressively managing literally by squadron day to day, as money is either reprogrammed, made available, we find savings in working capital funds, anything we can do to find money to put back toward readiness, we're doing. And so the number of squadrons will adjust itself up and down a little bit as we go, but not in a meaningful way, unless money appears from somewhere.
BRIG. GEN. KODLICK: Ladies and gentlemen, we have time for about one more question. I think we've worked the well pretty -- the room pretty well (inaudible) secretary (inaudible) closing comments.
Q: Hi, sir. Both of you have said that there's a readiness crisis. Is there a danger of that turning into -- the readiness crisis turning into a retention crisis, turning into sort of a morale crisis? And what does that -- I mean, how does that worry you, A? And, B, specifically about civilians, it's furloughs this year. Are you looking at perhaps reductions in force next year?
SEC. DONLEY: You know, I think -- I think I have confidence right now that our airmen know and understand that we're working through a very severe financial constraint for fiscal year '13. I think it would be of concern to all of us, if the readiness challenges we have today continue into '14 or get worse in the future.
There's a broad understanding that, as the chief outlined, we're -- you know, the nation faces fiscal challenges. DOD is going to be part of solutions to get the nation's fiscal house in order. But it -- it is very important that our airmen and military members have confidence not just in the defense leadership, but the national leadership, that we are working through these issues, and with the -- and the Congress and the president will settle on the resources that are going to be made available for defense and that the defense leadership will have the opportunity to make the right strategic decisions to shape the military going forward with whatever resources are -- are made available. In the -- in the absence of that confidence, I think we would be worried about how these overall impacts might affect the morale of our airmen in the months ahead. And if the -- if and as the economy improves, and there are opportunities for airmen to depart, or other military members to leave the military, then those become issues.
We have specific areas like pilots, where we're anticipating we may have some shortages, as airline -- the demography, if you will, of the airline pilot cohort changes. So we're concerned about the number of pilots that we have over the next several years. So we have micro -- micro areas like that that we need to work very, very carefully.
But for -- for this time period, I think I'm confident that our -- our airmen understand that we're going through an extraordinary time, we're having to make very difficult decisions that we don't want to make, but that we have the right focus on -- on doing what we can to take care of our airmen, military and civilian, as best we can in this situation.
There's -- there is that understanding that it -- it could get more difficult. We're going to -- we may ask more of them. They just need to have confidence that we have a good plan and that the nation has a stable way forward in resource-planning for defense.
Q: (inaudible) reductions in force?
SEC. DONLEY: Don't -- don't want to talk about those issues just at this point, but just would offer, you know, in terms of the need for a plan and the need for an agreement on budget, et cetera, in the personnel world, you want as much time as possible to plan for those things. So our -- our personnel managers are asking those questions. They would like to establish the correct ramp for military manpower and civilian manpower. We can't quite give that to them just yet, but the more time we have for that purpose, the better.
BRIG. GEN. KODLICK: Mr. Secretary, any closing remarks?
SEC. DONLEY: Well, as Les indicated, this is probably my -- was my last scheduled press briefing. I just want to offer thanks for those of you who have maintained such an enduring professional interest in the future of our Air Force and in our airmen and in our national security establishment.
What you do is extremely important to us and to our military community, to the national security community writ large. We are going through challenging times, so we'll depend on you to help tell the story of what is going on in our military, the difficult choices that we face and the rationale and the intentions, the goals that we are trying to achieve in the difficult choices that are -- that are being made.
And, finally, I'll just take another opportunity to thank the men and women of the Air Force for this great opportunity to serve them. Thanks.