Lawmaker chides Air Force for fixation on budget woes
Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne and Chief of Staff Michael Moseley, called by the panel to testify on their force's "strategic initiatives," spent much of the morning expressing concerns about budgetary shortfalls and congressional restrictions preventing the retirement of the service's oldest aircraft.
"I'm sorry to tell you I'm disappointed, but we can have a budget hearing any time," Skelton said. The chairman, who said the panel might have to have a second hearing on the subject, said it "would have been helpful" to have received testimony on the Air Force's strategic vision, as opposed to more limited testimony on current budget constraints.
During the hearing, Moseley and Wynne acknowledged that the service's ongoing effort to reduce the force by 40,000 personnel was a difficult budgetary decision designed to allow the service to buy aircraft to modernize its aging fleet. They said the more advanced aircraft the service is buying will need fewer personnel to operate and maintain than their older planes, but they also expressed concerns that the cut in its personnel strength could go too deep.
There is an "unpleasant reality that at some point we will be too small," Wynne said. "Budget pressures are forcing us to be a smaller Air Force," he added later.
In written testimony, Wynne and Moseley said a smaller force will preserve a "strong expeditionary capability," but said it comes "at considerable risk of 'burning out' our airmen."
Wynne also warned against shutting down production lines for the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III cargo plane, arguing that it would take as long as four years and require considerable money to restart the line. At the same time, Wynne, who has stated that the service needs an additional $20 billion a year, said the Air Force cannot afford to request more C-17s in its annual budget request.
The Air Force has supported lifting congressional restrictions on retiring older C-5 Galaxy aircraft to buy more C-17s, despite Pentagon plans to not officially request more of the aircraft.
The C-17 program, pieces of which are produced in 42 states, has long been a favorite of congressional add-ons, which have kept the Boeing aircraft program alive. The House has authorized $2.4 billion to buy 10 more C-17s in fiscal 2008, but the Senate's version of the defense authorization bill does not include more money for the program, setting it up as an issue for the conference negotiations now under way.
Neither the House nor the Senate added money for C-17s in the Defense appropriations bill, but House appropriators have said they will address the issue when they consider the fiscal 2008 wartime supplemental spending bill, which is not expected to come to the floor until next year.