Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to join Senator Wicker in welcoming Secretary Barret and General Goldfein to the Committee this morning to testify on the plans and programs of the Department of the Air Force in our review of the Fiscal Year 2021 President’s budget request. We are grateful to all the men and women of the Air Force for their service, and to their families for their continued support.
I want to particularly note that this will probably be General Goldfein’s last appearance before the Committee as Air Force Chief of Staff. I want to thank you, General Goldfein, for your many years of distinguished and dedicated service to the men and women of the United States Air Force and to this nation.
In preparing this budget request, the Air Force faced difficult decisions in balancing the need to modernize and keep the technological advantage over near peer competitors, and the need to support ongoing operations and sustain today’s readiness. This budget request tries to maintain that balance by increasing funding to address readiness concerns and munitions shortfalls but also funding technologies for the future fight, and modernization of our strategic deterrent capability. I am interested in the witnesses’ views on what the most difficult decisions were. I also understand that the Secretary of Defense has asked the Military Departments to undertake a review to find resources and I would like to know the status of that review.
I would also note that because significant levels of funding are being transferred to build the wall on the southern border, some Air Force modernization efforts will not proceed as planned, making it harder to find savings to apply to high priority programs and activities. I am interested in hearing if the Air Force has a plan to mitigate this issue.
This year, the Air Force is proposing to retire and realign a number of aircraft systems, presumably to free up resources for other programs. The budget request would reduce or alter force structure for A-10s, B-1s, C-130s, KC-135s, KC-10s, Global Hawks, and Reapers. Any Air Force proposal deserves our careful consideration, but we must consider it against the recent history of abrupt Air Force changes of direction on such programs as A-10, U-2, Global Hawk, JSTARS, Compass Call, AWACS, light attack aircraft, and C-27 airlift aircraft, several of which were reversed by Congressional action. I hope the witnesses will provide the Committee with their reasoning for these retirements and realignments and assurances that decisions are well thought out before disruptions to the force structure begin.
Perhaps most troubling to me among the force structure adjustments is the planned reductions in the air refueling tanker force in the near term. The Commander of TRANSCOM recently testified before this committee that the scarcity of available tankers has sorely taxed his command’s ability to keep up with peacetime demand, let alone manage support for major contingency operations.
As we all know, while the KC-46 is being accepted by the Air Force and taking air crews, it is only operating with significant restrictions. Coupling that with the early retirement of KC-135s and KC-10s creates significant risk in our refueling capability. I will want to hear why you have proposed this in the face of TRANSCOM’s significant concerns.
I am also interested in hearing about your continuing effort to improve the shortfalls within the remotely-piloted aircraft operator community, and how the Air Force has addressed shortfalls within the larger pilot community and maintenance personnel. Certainly, if the Air Force were to retire a large number of Global Hawks and Reapers, that action would help the shortfall by reducing demand for pilots. However, I am interested to know whether you have had a reduction in demand for Reaper support from the Combatant Commanders and how their input has affected your decision.
Two years ago, the Air Force budget request proposed to truncate the Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System, or JSTARS, modernization program, and replace it with a combination of other systems, including unmanned systems and overhead sensors. That program has since been named the Advanced Battle Management System, or ABMS. I look forward to receiving an update on progress of the ABMS system.
Secretary Barrett, General Goldfein, thank you again for appearing before our committee and I look forward to your testimony.