The Air Force will have fewer airmen and civilian employees and entire fleets of aircraft may be pulled out of the air because of sequestration reductions, the service’s top civilian leader said.
“If the sequestered numbers are the new normal, we’re too big of an Air Force,” said Acting Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning. “The military is too big for the budget so we’ll have to reshape, resize.”
In an exclusive interview with the Dayton Daily News, Fanning said sequestration has impacted “everything” in the service branch. The Air Force may buy fewer fifth generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, and pilots may be grounded periodically two to three months in rolling rotations of a tiered-readiness model if the sequester persists, he said. The automatic cuts amount to roughly 10 percent reductions a year for a decade.
Fanning said the “real pernicious effect of sequestration” remains “the lack of flexibility. It’s all across your accounts. And even more so it’s the immediacy. There’s no ramp. It takes a while to get money out of an organization this size unless you’re just lopping off limbs and doing really long-term damage.”
Pentagon leaders haven’t seriously considered a new round of furloughs, Fanning said.
“I think furloughs were the hardest and worst decision that we made last (fiscal) year, and I’ve seen the worst-case planning for all three of the military departments,” he said. “And nobody is talking about furloughs as an option. The word is hardly even mentioned in planning.”
Most of the Defense Department’s civil service workers, including 10,000 Wright-Patterson employees, were forced off the job for six days last summer without pay. A partial federal government shutdown in October sent more than 350,000 Defense Department workers, including 8,700 at Wright-Patterson, home for four days. They were given back pay for time off during the shutdown.
Fanning, a 1986 Centerville High School graduate, said political and military leadership have a “tremendous recognition” furloughs have damaged morale.
“We have some repairing to do,” he said. “We don’t want to do any more damage to it.”
Fanning did not offer specific numbers on how deep the personnel cuts will go, but a “broad range of numbers” are under consideration while the Air Force waits to find out how much money Congress will allocate this fiscal year. The military continues to operate under the last fiscal year’s spending caps. The new budget year began Oct. 1.
The Air Force, he said, would use “every voluntary incentive available” to reduce the size of the workforce.
“I don’t suspect that will get us all the way there, but I think it will get us close enough, especially on the civilian side, that anything that’s involuntary will be very targeted and relatively small,” he said.
The Air Force aims to protect as much as possible the top three acquisition priorities: the KC-46 aerial tanker, the F-35 and a new long-range strike bomber, he said. While he declined to talk about specific aircraft or platforms, Fanning said fleets that may be retired operate in the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and mobility and refueling tanker communities.”That’s the only way we can achieve those (sequestration) numbers because you have to get the whole tail that goes with it,” he said. “We’re going to have to take out entire fleets.”
The Air Force is in talks with the other services to determine what to cut because they rely on air power in their warfighting plans, he said.
Congress has balked at a Pentagon and Air Force push for a round of base closures in 2015 and 2017 to cut costs. Fanning said the best chance may be 2017.
In the last base realignment and closure round in 2005, the Air Force determined it had 20 percent more bases than it needed “and we’re smaller than that now than we were then,” he said. “It starts based on Congress’ direction with a look at our European footprint, which we’re doing right now. I think we’d start there, but that would just be a small portion of what we need to do (in the) Air Force globally, including the United States.”
Wright-Patterson, home of the Air Force Material Command and the Air Force Research Laboratory, would be well-poised in a base closure process, he said.
“Wright-Patt, I think, is such a critical base to the Air Force and there are so many different, diverse activities that take place on this base, it’d be very hard to… recreate that someplace else,” he said. “I can’t think but of a handful of bases that are as important to the Air Force as Wright-Patt.”
Combating sexual assault
In an annual report released last week, the Department of Defense reported a 46 percent increase in sexual assaults last year. Fanning said combating sexual assault remains a top priority.
“I think what you’re seeing is an increase in reports which is different than an increase in incidents,” he said. “I actually take the increase in reports as a good sign that the changes we’re putting in place are making some people more comfortable coming forward if something happened that shouldn’t. … It doesn’t mean that we don’t have a lot of work to do to get the incidents down, but the number of reports is not in my view a direct correlation to an increase in incidents.” He said some of those reports include assaults prior to airmen joining the military.
An Air Force special victims counseling program has raised the number of victims who seek unrestricted prosecution by about 50 percent, he said.
Fanning, who is reportedly the highest ranking openly gay official at the Pentagon, said the elimination of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy to allow gay service members to openly serve has gone much smoother than he expected, but the military needs to recognize and extend benefits to same sex partners faster.
“The military is incredibly professional and when told this is the new rule, this is the new norm, they adapt pretty quickly,” he said.