Civilian and military leaders of the U.S. Air Force outlined priorities they plan to defend against potentially severe budget cuts, citing the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, remotely piloted aircraft and a future long-range bomber specifically, among other systems and capabilities. In keynote addresses on successive days at the Air Force Association conference last week, Air Force secretary Michael Donley and chief of staff Gen. Norton Schwartz warned that a “hollow force” could result from indiscriminate budget cuts.
Donley said leadership is looking 10 years ahead and attempting to achieve “balance” among core functions, force structure, readiness and modernization and active duty, reserve and Air National Guard components. “There are certain capabilities we will protect. We will apply best military judgment to oppose reductions that would cause irreparable harm,” he said.
The Air Force Secretary said that intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) is an area that should be sustained, through “development of remotely piloted aircraft and sensors, operating concepts and infrastructure and force development.” With a fighter fleet averaging 22 years old, the service depends ever more on the fifth-generation capabilities of the F-35, he said.
“Simply put, there is no alternative. It must succeed,” he declared. Similarly, “developing the Long Range Strike family of systems, including the new bomber, is essential to maintaining conventional long-range strike capabilities into the future.”
Schwartz also strongly endorsed the F-35. “Our fiscal environment and the pace of development have made it necessary to temper the procurement of Joint Strike Fighters,” he said. “We will mitigate any delays by modernizing our fourth-generation fleet with structural enhancements, advanced sensors, radars, communications and avionics.” He added, “We are committed to” the Joint Strike Fighter, But “our nation’s only active fifth-generation fighter procurement program.”