Air Force faces $2.8B cut if defense budget fails to pass, chief says

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 5, 2017, before the House Armed Services Committee hearing: ‘Damage to the Military from a Continuing Resolution.’ (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Caption
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 5, 2017, before the House Armed Services Committee hearing: ‘Damage to the Military from a Continuing Resolution.’ (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Wright-Patterson would feel the impact of a year-long continuing resolution in key areas, officials said.

The Air Force would ground most flight training exercises, suspend a drive to boost the ranks of airmen, defer military bonus payments and stop moving families to new duty locations this summer if Congress fails to pass a defense spending bill, the service branch’s top military leader says.

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Speaking at a House Armed Services Committee hearing Wednesday, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein was joined by his three military chief counterparts in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps to lobby Congress to pass a fiscal year 2017 defense spending bill and avoid extending a stop gap measure that funds the government until April 28.

Without putting more funding in place, Washington lawmakers face a partial government shutdown, as happened in 2013 and sent thousands of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base civil service workers home. The military chiefs warned congressional leaders of the potential consequences of a year-long continuing resolution that caps spending at last year’s spending levels and stops new programs from starting.

“The world is a dangerous place, it’s becoming more dangerous by the day,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told the committee in a televised session. “Pass the budget.”

Wright-Patterson impact

Wright-Patterson would feel the impact of a year-long continuing resolution in key areas, officials said.

Marie Vanover, a base spokeswoman, said a freeze on spending at last year’s levels would defer non-essential spending and hit maintenance, restoration and modernization budgets, among some impacts.

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In one example, hypersonics research funding at the Air Force Research Laboratory to develop a next generation weapon would stay at the $50 million budgeted last year versus the $93 million set aside for this fiscal year, noted Michael Gessel, Dayton Development Coalition vice president of federal programs.

“AFRL is forced to follow last year’s budget priorities and they can’t meet the technology changes of today unless a spending bill is passed,” he said, adding: “It makes it hard for the men and women who are working at Wright-Patterson to effectively do their jobs when they don’t have clarity on their budget.”

Gessel said its “anybody’s guess” if there will be a government shutdown, noting a litany of controversial issues, from the appointment of a Supreme Court nominee to Planned Parenthood funding could become legislatively entangled with the passage of a final deal on defense spending.

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“We’ve never had a full year (continuing resolution) for defense in modern budget history, so this would be highly unusual,” said Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

Even so, he said in an email, the prospects of a continuing resolution or a government shutdown “are relatively low right now.” The House and Senate worked out a compromise defense appropriations bill prior to the election and “the odds are good” the two sides can strike a deal before the April 28 deadline, he said.

‘No-fly zone’

Goldfein said the Air Force would have to cut $2.8 billion in just over five months before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30 under a continuing resolution.

The fallout of a cut that large would mean, among other consequences, stopping the start of 60 new programs, delayed depot maintenance on aging planes, and cancellation of flight training exercises this summer except for those airmen and squadrons deploying overseas, he said.

For bases with a flying unit that’s not deploying, he said, “you will have the equivalent of a no-fly zone over your base.”

By the end of the fiscal year, the Air Force will be 1,000 fighter pilots short and 2,000 additional recruits will be deferred from joining in the midst of unresolved budget woes, he said.

Some 13,000 families in the Air Force would have permanent change of station moves delayed or canceled. “That puts stress on our families that actually can’t be quantified,” he said.

Air Force cuts this summer won’t deter deployments, Goldfein added. “We don’t stop the deployment because that’s what the nation calls us to do,” he said. “We just go less ready.”

Fellow service chiefs voiced similar concerns, with fewer Army brigades and Navy ships and aircraft ready to fight, military leaders said. In the Army, training would stop by July, suspending boot camp for recruits. And a drive to boost the number of troops by thousands would be deferred, Milley said, a point that drew the concern of U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, at the hearing and who has supported legislation to boost Army troop strength.


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