Without question, today’s United States Air Force is strong. It is proud, professional, and ready, due in large part to the buildup of the past five years. In several important areas, we have succeeded in both setting and accomplishing our goals. Let’s review our record.
Without question, our greatest strength as a military service is the quality of our people. We have made a very successful effort over the past years to recruit, train, and retain high-quality people and to keep their morale high. For example, in our enlisted ranks, fully 98.5 percent are high school graduates, and forty-one percent have the equivalent of a year or more of college. And we currently have more than 30,000 already signed up in the job bank, ready to come in this year. In the officer corps, forty-four percent have graduate degrees, and among new general officers over the past two years, eighty-five percent have advanced degrees. Moreover, well over half of our first-termers reenlist.
But beyond their high quality, the things that most impress me about our people since coming on board as Secretary are their motivation and dedication. During my recent visits to SAC, TAC, and MAC, I have flown missions with them, watched them respond to often difficult and always challenging jobs, and observed their skills. I have had the chance to talk with airmen, lieutenants, captains, and generals. In sum, I am reassured by their high spirit, enthusiasm, and dedication.
To keep our good people, we are continuing our efforts to improve their quality of life. We have steadily expanded opportunities for women, and last year, seventeen percent of our recruits in the enlisted ranks were women. We have more than 400 women pilots and navigators, either actually flying or in training. Last year, the Air Force opened up the security police specialist ranks to women, providing about 38,000 security police positions Air Force-wide, and we have now trained ninety-six for this career field. Two years ago, we put women in the front and back on crews of AWACS, and it was only recently that an all-women crew took a C-141 across the Atlantic. All but five percent of Air Force jobs are currently open to women. Only those excluded by law are closed.
We, along with the other services, have worked hard with Congress for improvements in the quality of life. Although we are short 25,000 units of family housing at some fifty installations, Congress approved 1,800 new units for this year at six locations, and we have requested 523 units for next year. We’ve built new commissaries, base exchanges, gyms, and other support facilities. We’ve increased the amount of time our people are spending in one place, and there is a substantial increase in voluntary requests for extension of assignments, both in the continental United States and overseas.
Finally, we have pursued a number of initiatives to upgrade and structure vital components of our team—Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve, and Air Force civilians—as part of a Total Force” policy. I’m proud of our people. They are the best of any air force in the world.
Modernization and Reform
The Air Force has an outstanding record in modernizing and improving its forces, both strategic and conventional. Success stories in our B-1 and Peacekeeper development, acquisition, and deployment, together with improved capabilities demonstrated by our fighter and airlift forces, have done much to ensure deterrence. And this is really what our improvement programs are all about—not to get stronger than our opposition by outspending them, not to rattle sabers, but to deter our potential enemies from the fatal miscalculations that could bring on a catastrophe for us all.
We have instituted a number of reforms in the way we do business that are producing excellent results. For example, the dollar level of contracts we awarded competitively has almost doubled. The percentage of contracts we compete is up from sixty-eight percent in 1981 to more than eighty-two percent through August 1985. Our percentage of dollars spent noncompetitively is down from 18.6 percent in 1981 to less than thirteen percent.
As a result of Multiyear Procurement Contracts, we estimate savings of more than $3 billion from FY ’82 through FY ’89 in such systems as the F-16, B-1B, KC-10, various satellites, and spares acquisition for B-lB and F-16 aircraft. Spare-parts price-challenge programs, such as Zero Overpricing and Pacer Price, have resulted in identification of items for which we have paid too much.
A landmark acquisition reform took place early last year when the Air Force instituted the R&M 2000 action plan. In the past nine months, the Air Force has taken extraordinary measures to ensure that the commitment to reliability and maintainability (R&M) within the service is permanent. Reliability and maintainability are now the number-one concern in the source selection for our weapon systems.
In sum, the Air Force has made many improvements and great progress over the past four and one-half years through programs and initiatives I enthusiastically endorse and intend to continue emphasizing as Secretary. We have a great force, but we can make it better. Let me highlight what I consider our most important challenges.
Areas for Attention
The threat continues to grow. From 1977 through 1983, the Soviets acquired 1,500 ICBMs, 1,300 SLBMs, 250 bombers, and 5,000 fighters while we, over the same period, added less than ten percent of their number of new ICBMs, one-third their number of new SLBMs, no strategic bombers at all, and only sixty percent of their fighter production. Soviet efforts to develop advanced systems continue at the same pace and cover the full range of technologically advanced weaponry they need to modernize all their forces.
• To meet this threat, we must first restore public and congressional confidence in our management of defense resources. Acquisition reforms already begun—and which I will continue to strengthen—will help. We must reaffirm and reemphasize, both with Congress and with the public, the end result of our procurement program—increased combat readiness and operational capabilities to meet the threat.
• Second, we must be smarter and more precise in how we define weapons requirements and what we need to meet the threat. In the face of challenges abroad, we are faced here at home with the possibility of declining defense growth. Pressures for reduced deficits and balanced budgets will, no doubt, take their toll on our defense programs. We could find ourselves caught in the squeeze of lower budget levels and increasing costs to operate and maintain the systems we have been buying over the past five years. That could mean the threat of less funding for modernization programs at the very time we need most to continue them.
• Third, we must continue to maintain high morale among our people. It makes little sense to spend millions training pilots, missile launch officers, or radar technicians just to have them leave the service because we’ve failed to spend a few hundred thousand dollars on quality-of-life improvements in housing or support facilities or because we’re slow to recognize and accommodate career irritants, which might be resolved with a little more attention and interest. In this regard, we must continually emphasize the value of pay, compensation, and retirement programs to the maintenance of a high-quality force.
• Fourth, we must institutionalize the steps required to meet the emerging threat of terrorism and low-intensity warfare. Our capability will be crucial in future conflicts, since low-intensity warfare is the most likely form. We must also acknowledge terrorism as a form of warfare and take steps to counter it, such as increase our security and intelligence capabilities.
• Finally, we must continue to maintain our strong Air Force space program. The Air Force budget contains almost seventy percent of the Total Obligational Authority for all DoD space activities in FY ’86. We have the experience and the expertise to serve our nation well in space.
We must all realize that in this year and for the foreseeable future, defense spending, programs, benefits, and organization will fall under increased scrutiny. In many instances, we will be required to do more with less and to intensify our efforts so that the gains of the past half-decade are not allowed to evaporate.
As we go into this era of deficit reductions, let us keep in mind the words of Abraham Lincoln: “The defense and preservation of our nation under adverse circumstances require the utmost in dedication and resolve.” I have no doubt that those of us in the Air Force will meet these new challenges, for meeting and succeeding at new challenges is, after all, the very proud tradition and heritage of the United States Air Force.