WASHINGTON — The Air Force released its fiscal 2013 budget Feb. 13 and stressed the need for difficult budgetary cuts to meet the new defense strategy while maintaining the service’s agility, flexibility and readiness. These cuts include several impacts to force structure in Europe.
The Air Force is requesting $154.3 billion in the president’s 2013 budget, a reduction of 5 percent from the $162.5 billion the service received in fiscal 2012. The impact of this reduction to U.S. Air Forces in Europe will include the inactivation of the 81st Fighter Squadron at Spangdahlem Air Base and the retirement of its 20 A-10 fighter aircraft. The Air Control Squadron at Aviano Air Base in Italy will also inactivate. More details on Air Force wide force structure changes and the impact on personnel will be announced in March. Both units will inactivate by the end of fiscal year 2013.
According to officials at U.S. European Command, the U.S. has an enduring interest in supporting peace, prosperity, unity and freedom in Europe, as well as bolstering the strength and vitality of NATO. Despite the announced force structure changes, the U.S. will maintain a robust military presence in Europe.
Budget reductions affect the entire Department of Defense and Maj. Gen. Edward L. Bolton Jr., the deputy assistant secretary for budget, said “the Air Force made some very difficult choices. But it was our priority to tightly align with the new strategy and also stay within the fiscal environment as a result of the realities we are facing economically.”
The “Air Force Strategic Choices and Budget Priorities” paper, released by Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz Jan. 27, calls for streamlining of the force, making it smaller and more efficient with care to not create a hollow force.
While the Air Force is working to adjust to a new strategic environment, the USAFE commander emphasized the continuing importance of USAFE’s forward presence.
“Despite the changes to our force structure and budget, close cooperation with Europe remains key to our national security strategy, and USAFE is a major part of that,” said Gen. Mark A. Welsh III. “We are strategically located and provide critical capabilities to NATO, EUCOM, AFRICOM and CENTCOM. From mobility, to communications, to logistics, to command and control, to contingency response — USAFE remains vital.”
Under the Budget Control Act, the Department of Defense is required to reduce expenditures by $487 billion over the next 10 years with a reduction of $259 billion over the next five.
“It is worth noting that our budget has reduced by 12 percent in real terms since FY09,” Bolton said. “So we have seen a consistent trend of reductions in the budget.
“The Air Force budget portion of the Budget Control Act reductions over the next five years is $54 billion,” Bolton continued.
The Air Force’s portion is not a result of simply dividing responsibility between the services. Instead, the budget amount is strategy driven, while maintaining a properly equipped force with the ability to deter, deny and defeat an opportunistic aggressor in a combined campaign anytime, anywhere, he added.
“The strategy requires a different force structure and different tools; the Air Force is realigning the total force to address the future,” Bolton said.
The service has drawn down many times in the past, but never as a nation still at war. Previous size reductions focused more on maintaining force structure, which left the Air Force with a hollow force, he said.
“It is really about balancing risk among the themes of force structure, readiness, modernization and taking care of our people,” Bolton said. “We have sized the force to the strategy within the fiscal constraints we are facing.”
The Air Force is looking at a nearly $3 billion reduction in procurement cost because the service divested and is purchasing less hardware. Also, there is a reduction of about $500 million in research, development, testing and evaluation, but the Air Force continued its focus on modernizing key components that will maintain the service’s technological edge, Bolton said.
“Funding for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and space remain a priority,” he said. “We will continue to develop programs in ISR, ensuring we are supplying this skill set to the joint warfighter and coalition partners.”
Funding also remains in place for the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter — the centerpiece for future modernization to be able to prevail in contested environments.
“Ensuring fiscal goals are met and fleet modernization continues are only half of the goal in the new strategy,” Bolton said. “Taking care of Airmen and their families is a key component and cannot get lost in talking of mere numbers.
“We are reducing the force by 9,900 Airmen, which will reduce the end strength of active duty, Guard and Reserve to around a 501,000 total force,” he continued. “This allows us to appropriately size the force structure to the strategy and hardware we are going to have in the inventory.”
The Air Force is proposing a 1.7 percent military pay raise in fiscal 2013 and a 4.2 percent raise in basic allowance for housing and 3.4 percent raise in the basic allowance for subsistence as a continuing growth of compensation for service.
“We are budgeting more than $700 million for family programs, including child and youth programs and child development centers,” Bolton said. “We will continue to take care of our folks. We just need to ensure it is being done efficiently under tighter fiscal constraints.”
Housing is a key ingredient to taking care of Airmen, and the Air Force is close to reaching its goal of 53,000 privatized housing units force-wide with more than 40,000 units in place and the remaining units to be ready in fiscal 2013.
“We’ve increased our family housing budget by $93 million and this will allow us to meet our goal,” Bolton said. “Completing this transition is important because we have found through privatization we are able to increase the quality of housing for our Airmen and their families.”
Looking back to the 2011 requirements — military action and support in Iraq and Afghanistan, supporting NATO missions in Libya, along with humanitarian support to Japan following a major earthquake — Bolton reinforced the reach and responsibility placed on today’s Airmen and emphasized the importance of providing them the tools required for a versatile force.
“We will continue to do everything we can to provide them with the tools they need to continue to be the best Air Force in the world for decades to come,” Bolton said.
(The U.S. Air Force Public Affairs Agency, USAFE Public Affairs and EUCOM Public Affairs contributed to this story.)