France: civilian presence complicates Libya air strikes


US Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said he had not received orders from the White House to further cut defense spending in 2013, but pressure on the defence budget was clearly mounting.

Donley, speaking at a defence writers breakfast, said the Air Force urgently needed Congress to pass a defense budget for the fiscal 2011 year, noting that the current month-to-month spending extensions meant the service was stuck at 2010 budget levels and could not start any new programs.

Washington is bracing for a shutdown of the federal government after Friday, given major differences between lawmakers on a long-overdue budget plan for fiscal 2011 that would cut $33 billion from current spending levels, Reuters reports.

Defense analysts are also forecasting bigger-than-expected cuts in coming years. Congressional Republicans on Tuesday unveiled a plan to cut nearly $6 trillion from the budget over the next decade, largely by cutting Medicare and Medicaid.

The House Budget Committee’s plan maintains US$78 billion in deficit-reducing cuts released in February by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, but a rival plan by Tea Party-backed Republicans due out later this week could cut defense even further.

Donley said the climate in Congress had changed dramatically, given lawmakers’ serious concerns about deficit spending and the national debt.
“I have not seen any specific new fiscal guidance, but we do see and anticipate increasing pressure on the defense topline,” he said. “It’s a different environment this year.”

At the same time, he cautioned against repeating the deep cuts in defense spending made in the 1990s at the end of the Cold War, noting that the United States faced far more complex and dynamic security challenges now.

At that time the Pentagon had also completed a large military buildup and owned “a fairly modern force” that could withstand cuts, but that was not the case now.
“We do not have a fairly modern force today. We’re not in a position where we can delay modernization without some significant risk,” Donley said, noting that the Air Force urgently needed to replace its fighter aircraft, buy more unmanned surveillance drones, and start work on a new bomber.

Forty members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan last week urging him not to cut the Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) F-35 fighter, arguing that further cuts could raise the cost of the program.

Jamie Morin, Air Force assistant secretary for financial management, said the 2011 budget impasse was preventing work on 75 military construction projects valued at about $1 billion, and could affect a wide range of procurement programs.

For instance, further delays in replacing radars on F-15 fighters could lead to groundings as early as 2014 because parts for existing radars were no longer being made, he said.

The Air Force also could not test the durability of F-16 fighters to determine what fixes were needed to keep them in service until the F-35 fighter was ready for deployment, and a number of corporate pricing proposals for new weapons were also expiring, which could drive up procurement costs, he said.
“We’re striving to be as efficient as we can, but the lack of clarity on how we’re going to operate in 2011 is pushing us in the exact opposite direction,” Morin told Reuters.

Donley said current US overseas operations underscored the complexity and diversity of operations that the military can be called on to perform, often at extremely short notice.

He said the Air Force’s share of the military operations in Libya to date was around US$75 million.

He said the Air Force had also spent about US$8 million to US$9 million on humanitarian assistance to Japan, which would be reimbursed by the State Department, as well as about US$40 million for the evacuation of US personnel from Japan.