Washington D.C.House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith made the following statement on the Air Force posture hearing today (submitted for the record):

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  And thank you, Secretary James and General Welsh.  We very much appreciate your testimony today and your service on behalf of our nation.  Secretary James, this is your first time testifying in front of the Armed Services Committee in your new job, so welcome.  I would also like to note that Secretary James is a former HASC staff member, so welcome back.  I hope you will both also take our thanks back to the brave men and women in the Air Force currently serving in harm’s way in Afghanistan and around the world.

“About three months ago, Congress voted to pass the Ryan-Murray Bipartisan Budget Act to set the budget authorization levels for Fiscal Year 2014 and Fiscal Year 2015.  While providing DOD with some relief from sequestration for the 2015 budget, it did not repeal sequestration or do anything about it from 2016 onwards.  As a result, DOD and the Air Force had to build a budget assuming continued significant funding reductions mandated by Congress.  For Fiscal Year 2015 alone the Air Force had to find billion in cuts, and more cuts are coming unless Congress does something about sequestration.

“Predictably, many members of Congress have condemned the recently released President’s budget request that meets the caps required by that law for 2015.  Many have pointed out that reducing the budget will likely result in increased risk in executing the nation’s defense strategy, and they are probably right in making that judgment.  But, as the saying goes, “you get what you pay for”, or in this case, what you decide not to pay for.  By choosing to repeatedly resist raising the debt ceiling and refusing to even discuss additional tax revenues as part of larger budget deal, this House has chosen to leave significant defense cuts – which most members voted for – in place.

“Because of these budget cuts imposed by Congress, the 2015 budget request forces the United States Air Force to take some dramatic cuts in force structure. During FY2015, the Air Force will reduce end strength in the Active force by 16,700 people.  The reserve components will also be reduced by over 3,000.  The Air Force is planning to retire substantial number of aircraft over the next five years as well, including more than 280 A-10 ground attack aircraft, 32 U-2 reconnaissance aircraft, 40 C-130 cargo planes, and dozens of other aircraft.

“The reasons the Air Force has chosen to take these difficult steps are sound ones in my view.

“First, they want to be ready for the future through investing in new and better aircraft.  Nostalgia for old aircraft might sound good, but if we want our Air Force to continue to be able to operate anywhere in the world against any threat, we need new and more modern aircraft.  To that end, the Air Force budget supports its plans for the F-35, KC-46, and a new long range bomber – all of which are critical programs to ensure the Air Force retains its current edge over any potential enemy.

“Second, the Air Force is trying to dig out of a serious readiness hole.  The readiness of the Air Force for combat today is far too low in my opinion.  Members of Congress should understand that if Congress forces the Air Force to keep aircraft it can’t afford to fly and maintain that it is creating a hollow Air Force that may look good parked on the ground, but is not ready for combat in the air.  That will put our service members at much higher risk when they are next asked to go and fight.

“Finally, the Air Force – perhaps more than any of the other services – truly needs a BRAC round to get its infrastructure in line with the size of its force.  Air Force officials have previously said they have 20 to 25 percent excess capacity in terms of bases and facilities.  One way to help the Air Force keep more planes would be to let them close bases they no longer need and can’t afford to maintain.  If Congress doesn’t provide for a BRAC round, the DOD may have to take steps on its own as we heard from Secretary Hagel last week.

“Thank you Mr. Chairman. I yield back.”