Air Force chief argues against diverting funds to Army

In a pre-emptive move that signaled the beginning of a possible budget war among the armed services, Air Force Chief of Staff Michael Moseley has warned lawmakers against raiding his accounts to pay for the needs of the heavily deployed Army and Marine Corps.

During a Jan. 18 closed-door meeting with the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Mosely said the Air Force already is facing a budgetary crisis and needs significantly more money to maintain the force and prepare for future threats. In an 11-page opening statement obtained by CongressDaily, Moseley emphasized that the Air Force is vital to overseas operations and urged that air superiority is crucial to protecting ground troops.

"Those who argue for shortchanging the Air Force to finance a national ground forces 'reset' would, quite literally, risk the lives of soldiers and Marines -- not to mention sailors, Coast Guardsmen and airmen," Moseley said. The Air Force, he added, reassures allies, while deterring and defeating enemies. "Its recapitalization is an urgent national security need, not a discretionary luxury," he said.

Moseley's remarks follow moves by Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker to increase his service's share of the defense budget. The technology-heavy Air Force and Navy have traditionally enjoyed the largest share of the basic annual Defense budget -- roughly 30 percent each -- while the manpower-intensive Army typically receives less than 25 percent. But the Army chief, who is expected to retire soon, has argued that he does not want to prompt a battle among the services for defense dollars.

Moseley cautioned that the Air Force is now capable of meeting operational demands but "is being forced to assume significant risk in force structure, infrastructure and readiness for the future." While current operations are largely ground-intensive, Moseley made the case that the Air Force still is in high demand.

The Air Force flies roughly 300 missions a day in Iraq and Afghanistan. And the service has roughly 25,000 troops deployed to U.S. Central Command, which includes Iraq and Afghanistan. Approximately 5,000 of those troops are driving trucks and performing other nontraditional Air Force missions.

Only 56 percent of Air Force units are fully mission-capable, or militarily "ready" to deploy, compared to 68 percent in 2004, Moseley said. "Unless significant changes are made to our budget, we're risking their ability to keep these units combat ready," he told the House panel.

Meanwhile, much of the service's equipment, including in-demand intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, are beginning to wear out, while aging is affecting its satellite assets and its fleet of aerial refueling tankers, Moseley said.

Air Force efforts to divest itself of older planes have largely been thwarted by Congress, forcing the service to spend money on "obsolete aircraft." Without hefty investment in new technologies, the service runs the risk becoming technologically outmatched by potential adversaries, he said.

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