Investing today to ensure tomorrow
By Col. Scott Henderson, 45th Launch Group
/ Published January 25, 2008
PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The budget is going to get bigger next year. Start making plans on how we'll spend the windfall. Well, not exactly...instead, it looks as if we are once again heading into an extremely challenging year as we try to maintain America's edge while fulfilling the Air Force's top priorities: fighting and winning the Global War On Terror, developing and caring for Airmen and their families and recapitalizing and modernizing aging aircraft and spacecraft.
This will be especially tough in an environment where the force is shrin-king (down to 328,000 active duty personnel--our lowest since the ad-vent of the USAF) and over 40 percent of our active duty forces are "on line" for combatant command operations.
Many of you may not realize it, but since 9/11 the Air Force has lost more than 130 aircraft during contingency and non-contingency ops. At the same time, there are a number of challenges arising such as the proliferation of integrated air defenses, growth of fourth generation combat aircraft throughout the world, a proliferation of low observable cruise missiles and threats to our ability to leverage space and cyberspace.
To add to the challenge, there are significant fiscal and operational pressures stressing the traditional foundation of our service. As we try to develop our people, maintain our readiness and modernize our infrastructure, the fact that we have been seeing continuous operations from the beginning of Operation Desert Storm to the present is beginning to take its toll. Examples noted by the director of Air Force budgets are widespread to include:
· The lowest level of gross domestic product (GDP) for defense seen in decades
· A severe decline in modernization funding
· Declining readiness--the average aircraft age has grown to 26+ years
· At our current rate, it will take 50 years to recapitalize the fleet.
The resource picture does not look good, as many key indicators show the true stress the Air Force is under. One problem is the rising costs of personnel. Despite an 8 percent decrease in end strength over the past 10 years, our personnel costs have risen 57 percent. Similarly, our operating costs are up 179 percent, which continues to cut into our ability to recapitalize. Over the past 22 years, investment funding has declined 19 percent as a percentage of total Air Force budget authority, putting a severe strain on modernization. This is significant when you realize that many of our aircraft are over 45 years old--much older than the pilots flying them. Nearly 15 percent of the fleet is grounded or has mission-limiting restrictions. Finally, the percent of the GDP the nation is spending on defense has dropped below 4 percent.
As we work to fulfill our 45th Space Wing motto, "Control of the battlefield begins here," we must all realize where we fit in the larger context of our Air Force mission. The bottom line is that our Air Force is ready and engaged in meeting our nation's objectives. However, just as we face challenges to executing our wing mission, fiscal constraints will challenge our Air Force's ability to ensure dominant air and space power through the next century. Let's do our part to get it right!