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Dayton-area native to lead Air Force Research Laboratory

The new civilian leader of the Air Force Research Laboratory said he’s “comfortable” with the White House commitment to the high-tech laboratory’s budget in the next fiscal year, but the Wright-Patterson-headquartered command might have to rely on private sector or academic research more often if sequestration remains intact in the years ahead.

With his new job, New Lebanon native and AFRL Director Ricky L. Peters faces a $175 million cut this year to the agency’s $5 billion budget. The agency has cut travel and utility expenses, among other things, to compensate.

“I can tell you we’re comfortable with where the president’s going with the (fiscal year 2014) budget,” said Peters, who took over the $173,000-year job as an assistant senior executive to the military commander in March. “I think science and technology is secure. I don’t worry about that. I think the investments we are making are sound.”

AFRL has more than 10,000 military and civilian employees whose research includes sense-and-avoidance technology and challenges with maintaining stealth aircraft.

Wright-Patterson has half the AFRL workforce and more directorates — four — than any other base: aerospace systems, materials and manufacturing, sensors and the 711th Human Performance Wing.

If sequestration, or automatic across-the-board cuts persist in the years ahead, AFRL will have to choose what to spend where, Peters said. The Pentagon must cut $41 billion, and the Air Force $10 billion, by the end of September. The military faces half a trillion dollars in sequester spending reductions over a decade. Last week, the White House pitched $100 billion in spending cuts over a decade to replace the sequester.

“I think we’re just going to have to make decisions,” Peters said. “We can’t lead every technology here. There’s some we’re going to have to follow in and there’s some we’re going to have to rely on what industry and what other folks are doing and just adapt what their findings are to suit the military needs. We just have to decide that: Do we need to lead, do we need to follow, do we need to adapt.”

Peters is believed to be the first Miami Valley native to take over the top civilian post.

“I’m telling you this is my dream job,” said Peters, 52. “Absolutely my dream job. I love working around the researchers. … They’re awesome and they’re powerful.”

Peters was formerly director of the Air Force’s test and evaluation division at the Pentagon, and one-time executive director of the Arnold Engineering Development Center in Tennessee. The married father of two adult children spent most of his 33-year career at Wright-Patterson.

He started as an AFRL co-operative student while at Sinclair Community College. He was torn between following his father, a retired machine repairman, into skilled trades at General Motors or choosing the Air Force, but decided to stay the course with his first employer. The Dixie High School alumnus has academic degrees from Sinclair, Wright State University and the University of Dayton.

“I’m a product of this whole area,” he said.

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