The Air Force has been engaged in combat in the Middle East for more than 16 years—from Desert Shield through the no fly zone operations to today’s fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq—and funding constraints of the past few years are hurting readiness. Of all but a handful of USAF units reporting, only 68 percent were “ready” in Fiscal 2004. In 2005, the number of units fell to 63 percent, and last year, it was down to 56 percent. A senior service official showed reporters in a background briefing USAF “traffic light” charts, in which red is bad, yellow is cautionary, and green is good. In Fiscal 2004 through 2006, the number of units in the “red” was 15 percent, 19 percent, and 20 percent, respectively. “Yellows” rose from 17 percent to 19 percent to 25 percent over the same period. And, yet, today’s defense budget request hits accounts that impact Air Force readiness—flying hours will be cut 10 percent; aircraft depot maintenance will be funded at 77 percent of required levels; base operating support at 68 percent; and contractor logistics support cut 10 percent.
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.