Deborah James, US Secretary of the Air Force, visited the Council on Foreign Relations last month to discuss the present and future of the Air Force.
James, who became the 23rd Secretary of the Air Force in December 2013, spoke on a wide range of issues related to the Air Force - from the nuclear enterprise reform to proposed platform retirement. According to the official, available resources fall far short of growing responsibilities of the Air Force.
In operations against the self-proclaimed Islamic State, the Air Force has conducted 70 percent of the roughly 2,800 coalition airstrikes across Iraq and Syria. Additionally, the Air Force's intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms have helped coordinate the missions and actions of all other coalition partners.
Less visibly, the Air Force has also provided virtually all aerial refueling-95 percent of all tanker sorties-throughout Operation Inherent Resolve. This has formed the logistical backbone of the entire operation.
This sustained capability comes at a cost. The U.S. Air Force is the smallest it has been since its inception in 1947. The aircraft are the oldest they have ever been; the average aircraft is twenty-seven years old.
The equivalent of the sixth-generation fighter, intended to ensure air dominance past 2030, may not be an aircraft at all. Hypersonics, quantum computing, and directed energy are just some of the potential "game-changers" under discussion. James emphasized the need to combine air, space and cyber in order to make this happen.
Nuclear capability is the Air Force's number one modernization priority. In the FY16 budget, as well as the accompanying five-year plan, there is an increase of $5.6 billion allocated for nuclear enterprise. In addition, James would like to bolster the mission set with 8,800 additional airmen.
Impossible choices loom in the event of budgetary sequester. The Air Force has requested $10 billion dollars above the Budget Control Act's mandatory caps. If a compromise is not reached, according to James, the Air Force must make ends meet with likely elimination of the U-2, Global Hawk Block 40, and KC-10 fleets.
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