As the U.S. Air Force begins to prepare for potential budget cuts in March, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said he remains “deeply concerned” about the impact of sequestration on the service.
While applauding Congress for reaching a deal on the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Donley told reporters at a Jan. 11 briefing that the uncertainty of the budget is wearing on the service at both a technical and personnel level.
“Our nation’s ongoing budget gymnastics exert costly consequences upon the Air Force and our sister services and create an atmosphere of unease among many of our uniformed and civilian airmen,” Donley said.
While not assuming the “worst-case” scenario will occur, Donley said the Air Force is going ahead with fiscal planning in an attempt to lessen the impact of sequestration.
“We can no longer live under the uncertainty of sequestration and a continuing resolution without taking action now,” Donley said.
Sitting alongside Donley, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said those actions would become apparent in coming weeks.
“We’re gonna put out [sequestration] guidance in the next few days” Welsh said. “We are not making notifications in respect to furloughs, but we do have to consider a hiring freeze, perhaps with some mission-essential exemptions.”
But while acknowledging that the service faces hard choices, Welsh denied having a specific dollar amount he wanted to see reduced from the budget.
“We’re not targeting particular dollar amounts to say, there’s nothing we can do in the next two months, or in the next nine months, the remainder of the fiscal year, to mitigate the impact of sequestration,” Welsh said. “So there are no particular targets. It is simply prudent management steps to start adjusting the way we spend dollars so we literally do not fall off our own cliff created by this sequestration problem.”
In comments made a day earlier, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta bluntly told reporters “we have no idea what the hell’s going to happen” regarding sequestration and said the Defense Department is preparing to ground military aircraft and call ships back to port if sequestration were to occur.
In addition to the discussion of a potential sequester, Donley made it clear the Air Force still plans to move away from the C-27, despite language in the NDAA directing the service to add 32 airlift-capable craft to the fleet.
“I do not anticipate that we’re going to change our position on the president’s fiscal year 2013 budget to terminate the C-27 program,” Donley said. “I don’t think we’re going to revisit that.”
Donley also confirmed plans for the Air Force to base CV-22 Ospreys in Japan.
When asked for specific locations, he replied "I think I’ll beg off of that for now, but the answer is yes."
The Air Force later issued a clarification on Donley’s comments regarding the CV-22.
"Any deployment of the Air Force CV-22 to the Asia-Pacific region is years away and no construction has begun to support such a deployment," wrote Pentagon Press Secretary George Little in a statement.