Washington D.C. - Congressman Adam Smith (WA-09), Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee, released the following statement at today’s hearing on the Air Forces’ Fiscal Year 2012 Budget Request:

“Yesterday the committee heard from Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen about the many challenges faced by the Department of Defense and how the fiscal year 2012 budget will allow the United States to meet these challenges.  The issues they laid out fell into two broad categories: threats we face abroad, and difficulties we face here at home – including the economic challenges and enormous budget pressures our country faces.

“Today the committee will hear from the leaders of the Air Force about their portion of the budget and how it impacts the Air Force today and in the future. 

“Overall the Air Force request looks good, but it must be looked at in the context of the many pressures the Air Forces faces.  Like all the services, the Air Force is under significant strain as it attempts to both meet today’s requirements and prepare for tomorrow. Additionally, we must review this budget proposal in the broader context of our overall federal budget challenges and be sure that every taxpayer dollar spent is spent wisely and effectively.

“While it is commonly said that the nation has been at war since September 11, 2001, the Air Force has in fact been involved in constant combat operations since Operation Desert Shield in late 1990.

“Success during this challenging 20-year period for the Air Force has, however, come at a cost.  

“The first cost is the impact on our Airmen and their families.  Lengthy and constant deployments place stress on families that few Americans outside the military family can truly appreciate.  Even when not deployed, our Airmen conduct difficult and dangerous work every day here at home, keeping aircraft flying, our nuclear deterrent strong, and vital satellite systems up and running. 

“As a result, in past years this committee has focused closely on pay, benefits, and family support programs.  The committee must fully understand the impact of the 2012 budget request on the more than 690,000 military and civilian members of the Air Force.

“The second impact on the Air Force of two decades of combat is the stress and wear on the aircraft and other equipment that the Air Force relies on to accomplish its missions.

“No matter how efficient we are in terms of maintenance and logistics, at some point mounting flight hours on aircraft has an impact, and today’s operations are especially harsh on our airlift, ISR, and fighter aircraft.

“While our aircraft are by and large performing well, the current operational pace is creating a future bill the Air Force may have to pay in the form of increased reset and replacement costs as aircraft wear out. 

“In his testimony yesterday, Secretary Gates cited this mounting future cost of recapitalizing the Air Force as a significant issue.  I share his concern.

“A final impact is found in readiness.  While there is no doubt the Air Force of today excels at providing global logistics, ISR support, and close air support to ground forces, the focus on these critical tasks has come at the expense of training and readiness for other missions. 

“The risk of this focus on current operations is likely manageable, but there must be a constant dialogue between Air Force leaders and Congress to ensure that sufficient resources are made available to the Air Force to prepare for tomorrow’s conflicts as well as today’s.

“As the committee proceeds with its consideration of the Air Force’s budget request, it is my hope that we can understand how this request will help deal with these three broad areas of stress on the Air Force, and how it positions the Air Force for the future.”