The nation needs to be “really very careful” about further deep cuts in defense, said Air Force Secretary Michael Donley Thursday. In a Capitol Hill speech, Donley said “there’s not a lot of fat in the defense budget” anymore, and while the search for overhead cuts will go on, only by slashing programs, people, and force structure can deficit-reduction targets be met. The 2011 Budget Control Act’s sequestration mechanism will trigger if the congressional supercommittee on deficit reduction fails to agree where to make cuts across the federal government. Already the act has cut some $450 billion from the defense budget over the next 10 years; the sequester could essentially double that. “Based on . . . what we’ve seen” of the extreme difficulty in finding further cuts, the sequester “introduces a whole new level of risk” in military capability and a total rethink of national strategy, Donley warned. “These levels of reduction are significant,” and will affect all aspects of what the Air Force does, he said. While compensation issues such as healthcare and retirement will be “settled” by various commissions “in the next year or two,” the sequester would mean “we will get smaller yet . . . and we will cut back further on modernization,” he said.
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.