NEW YORK CITY --- The Air Force's senior civilian addressed the importance of modernization and the challenges ahead for the Air Force at the 2012 Aerospace and Defense Investor Conference here Nov. 29.
"Among the most difficult challenges facing the Air Force is the need to modernize our aging aircraft inventory as the defense budget declines," said Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley. "New threats and technologies require new investments."
Donley conveyed the careful strategic choices made in crafting the service's budget, highlighting the importance of research, development, procurement and construction -- "investments in future capability."
He specifically addressed the need for modernization among fighter, tanker, bomber, space and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms as "high priority investments," while other important capabilities like a new trainer and joint surveillance and target attack radar system are not yet funded.
"The plans and resources available for modernization are not optimal, but we are making tough choices to keep them workable with the right priorities for the future," he said. "Further reductions in defense would make these choices even harder."
Among these choices is readiness, which the secretary stressed is one area the service is not willing to taking additional risk.
"We see readiness -- in personnel, training and materiel dimensions -- already frayed. We have made important efficiencies and we are programmed for more," he said. "There are few options for reducing the size of our forces and still being able to execute strategic guidance."
In line with defense guidance, the Air Force has set a clear picture of its investment spending and priorities -- priorities that the joint force and the American public depend on, Donley said. For example, the service's ten largest investment programs include four space systems critical for access to space, secure communications, missile warning, and navigation and timing.
"America's Air Force remains the most capable in the word, but modernization can't wait," Donley said. "These new threats and investment needs, like cyber and missile defense, are not theoretical possibilities for the future. They are here, now."
Amidst the challenges and emerging requirements involved with modernizing the service, Secretary Donley stressed the importance of balancing effectiveness and efficiency, containing program requirements and costs, and continuing to be responsible stewards of taxpayer resources to make it work.
The two-day conference featured speakers from industry and the Department of Defense, including remarks from Robert Hale, undersecretary of defense and chief financial officer; and Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.