Budget may cause Air Force to postpone programs, not hire 4,000 airmen
The Air Force would be forced to postpone dozens of programs and not add 4,000 airmen to its ranks if federal lawmakers fail to pass a defense spending bill and keep funding where it is now for the next year, top-ranked leaders said Monday.
"If we don't get a budget, it's going to affect lots and lots of programs," Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lees James said Monday at a State of the Air Force press conference with Gen. Mark Welsh, the service branch's chief of staff.
Without a spending bill, as many as 50 programs might be affected, James said. Those cross the spectrum of fighter, bomber and cargo plane modifications to launch dates for satellites, the Air Force said.
The military branch also hoped to add more airmen to bulk up areas such as cyber and nuclear forces. It would argue to avoid cuts to personnel, but James said everything would be on the table if the budget doesn't rise.
Congress has an Oct. 1 deadline to pass a defense spending bill, the date the 2016 fiscal year begins and sequestration, or automatic spending reductions, would return under the Budget Control Act of 2011.
If congressional leaders vote to keep spending levels consistent with this year rather than pass a new spending bill, the Air Force could buy no more F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and upgraded C-130 transport planes next fiscal year than it did this year, Welsh said at the press conference, live-streamed from the Pentagon.
The need to modernize the Air Force was "imperative," he said.
"We're at the point where we have trouble having enough funding and aircraft to keep our air crews trained," Welsh said.
"The idea that we would run a Formula One or a NASCAR race with a car built in 1962 is ridiculous," the four-star general added. "But we're going to war with airplanes built in 1962. We have got to modernize the Air Force."
James also announced Air Force civilian employees for the first time will be able to file both restricted and unrestricted reports with sexual assault response coordinators at bases around the world.
Before the change, only civilian employees stationed overseas, and their dependents age 18 or older, could use sexual assault response coordinators services if they filed an unrestricted report, according to the Air Force.
An unrestricted report allows for prosecution of an alleged perpetrator. Restricted reports place an assault on file, but do not seek prosecution.
Don Christensen, president of the advocacy group Protect Our Defenders and a former Air Force chief prosecutor, said in a statement to this newspaper the military had "ignored the plight of thousands of civilians who are victimized every year."
"They have failed to include civilians in their survey of sexual assault," he added. "It took (New York Democratic) Senator (Kirsten) Gillibrand's extraordinary effort to overcome the Pentagon's unwillingness to disclose assaults on individual bases. It is high time they took this one step towards transparency and support for victims, but more needs to be done."
In other areas:
Welsh acknowledged the Air Force will rely more on civilian contractors to operate drone missions. However, he said, they will be restricted to intelligence missions and not target enemy troops.
- The Air Force's aerial bombardment in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State had pushed the militants back in a quarter or more of the areas the fighters occupied in Iraq, James said. The Air Force has counted 48,000 sorties in Operation Inherent Resolve in the year since it began, she said.
- "The precision that we have used in this campaign is unprecedented," James said, but added "… Air power can and has done a lot of things but it cannot hold territory and it cannot govern territory."
- Ground troops and political leaders in Iraq must work toward a solution, she said.
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