Opening Statement of Senator Carl Levin, Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on the Fiscal Year 2010 Department of the Air Force Budget Request

Thursday, May 21, 2009

I want to welcome Secretary Donley and General Schwartz back to the Committee this morning to testify on the plans and programs of the United States Air Force in our review of the fiscal year 2010 annual budget and overseas contingency operations request.

Please extend, on behalf of the Committee, our gratitude to the men and women of the Air Force and their families for the many sacrifices that they have made and will continue to make on behalf of our Nation. And thanks to both of you for your long careers of leadership and service.

A number of critical issues confront the Air Force. Although not at the same operating tempo as the Army and the Marine Corps, the Air Force faces a difficult challenge in balancing its modernization needs against the costs of supporting ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The previous Chief of Staff of the Air Force, said that something like an additional $20 billion per year beyond the fiscal year 2009 budget request would be required to maintain and modernize the Air Force. We know that each of the other Services is facing its own modernization and readiness challenges. We would like to hear from both of you this morning about the risks that will, in your opinion, face future secretaries and chiefs of staff if your budget proposal is adopted. General Schwartz, I note that your unfunded priority list this year totals roughly $1.9 billion, a significant decrease from the roughly $20 billion level of General Moseleys comparable list last year. We know that the Air Force is providing forces to the Central Command war efforts in a number of traditional roles, but is also providing airmen in support of land component tasks in the so-called in lieu of, or ILO, missions. At this time last year, there were more than 6,000 airmen performing ILO missions in the theater. I think we should hear from the witnesses about what systems are in place to cushion the impact of this on the organizations who are giving up these airmen for these ILO deployments.

On the acquisition front, one of the challenges facing the Air Force is in space systems. All of the Air Force space satellite systems are in the process of modernization and replacement and all have seen substantial cost growth and schedule delays. In many instances the initial cost and schedule predictions were unrealistic, in others the technical risk was greater than previously thought or not well understood, and others suffered from poor management and execution. Some of these programs are showing improvement but most are not out of the woods yet. As a result, space program costs have increased substantially overall.

Another challenge facing the Department is the potential closure of several production lines and what effects those closings might have on meeting future war fighting requirements. Such proposed closures are but a few of the Air Force programs in this budget that generate significant interest here in the Committee. Among the many announcements that Secretary Gates made on April 6th, and that are reflected in the Presidents budget, are:

  • Decisions not to buy additional weapons systems, like the F-22 and C-17;
  • Program delays, like the Next Generation Bomber;
  • Program reductions, like the early retirement of 250 tactical fighter aircraft;
  • Program terminations with substitutes, like the Transformational Communications Satellite (TSAT) program, to be replaced with additional Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellites; and
  • Program terminations with no replacement program, like the new Combat Search and Rescue helicopter (CSAR-X) and the Airborne Laser (ABL) aircraft.

Many of these will require tough choices by Congress. We will need to hear from our witnesses clear explanations of how these weapon systems changes are derived from the new strategy as espoused by the Secretary of Defense on April 6, 2009, and at our hearing with him and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff last week, and about the Air Forces plans for each of these mission areas.

One program that appears to be moving forward as planned at this time last year is the strategic tanker modernization program. After the Air Forces unsuccessful attempt to award a contract last year, the Secretary of Defense decided that the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics would manage the tanker acquisition program. We would welcome any comments or clarification of how you both see this program moving forward and whether the Under Secretary of Defense will remain in charge of that acquisition program.

Underlying all of these major acquisition concerns is an acquisition management issue. Secretary Donley, a central point in your predecessors (Secretary Wynne) agenda as Secretary was improving the Air Force acquisition corps. He knew that he would have to take significant steps to build up the acquisition work force and restore confidence in the Air Force acquisition system after the abuses and poor decisions that were previously documented on the tanker lease program. We would like to hear from you this morning about what steps you are taking to make progress on this front.

I want to note that the Air Force has taken the initiative to explore and demonstrate concepts that are consistent with DOD and the committee's efforts to reform acquisition and reduce the cost and time we take to develop and field major systems. The Air Force originally sponsored the study by Dr. Paul Kaminski on Pre-Milestone A and Early-Phase Systems Engineering. Dr. Kaminski presented this work to us at a full committee hearing earlier this year. That work has strongly influenced the Acquisition Reform bill that we expect to go to the President later today. The Air Force has begun to make sure technologies are more mature and proven before they are inserted in major systems - driving down technical risk and costs. And finally, I note that the Air Force's fiscal year 2010 budget request includes roughly $50 million to address many of the issues that we are struggling with as we work on reforming acquisition - including producing more extensive cost analysis, performing systems engineering activities early in programs, and strengthening acquisition planning processes. I commend the Air Force on its initial steps in this area and look forward to seeing how these initiatives will affect the results of Air Force acquisition programs in the future.

In the operational arena, the Air Force has been challenged to review the procedures under which it manages and protects access to nuclear weapons. One of the findings of both the Air Force Blue Ribbon Review and General Larry Welshs study was that at both the Air Force and Department of Defense levels the seriousness with which nuclear weapons are viewed had substantially diminished. One recommendation aimed at reversing the decline is the recreation of a single point of contact for nuclear coordination. The Air Force has made various organizational changes to bring focus to their management of the Air Force nuclear enterprise. I would hope that each of our witnesses would describe the changes the Air Force has made since last year to deal with the problems you found upon arriving in your current position, both in making corrective actions and in holding accountable those responsible for the incident.

I look forward hearing your testimony this morning on these and other issues that face the United States Air Force.