What the FY13 Budget means to USAFE

  • Published
  • By Gen. Mark A. Welsh III
  • U.S. Air Forces in Europe commander
Since the first Gulf War, the U.S. has been engaged continuously in combat operations and U.S. Air Forces in Europe have played a critical role. Not only have we deployed thousands of our Airmen and assets, we have also served as an essential support platform enabling the long-term projection and sustainment of combat power throughout the U.S. Euprean Command, Central Command and Africa Command areas of responsibility. At the same time, NATO has increased both in size and scope of operations. Through all this, USAFE has steadily increased engagement and strengthened relations with our partners and Allies. We demonstrate the value of forward-based forces every day.

However, our challenges today are many and changing: a global economic slowdown, shrinking defense budgets, continuing operations in Afghanistan and the rise of missile threats to the U.S. and our allies. We're also witnessing a significant transition in the command's mission as we inactivate 17th Air Force and assume the role of air component to U.S. Africa Command in addition to our traditional role as the air component to U.S. European Command. We must meet these challenges head on to maintain our effectiveness and capabilities within a much larger area of responsibility.

Dealing with the same challenges on a global scale, the Department of Defense recently concluded a thorough review of our defense strategy and has begun a transition to a new approach that emphasizes future challenges, supports federal deficit reduction, and accounts for the declining costs of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Operating within constrained budgets is simply a reality. On February 13, the President presented a proposed budget to Congress that reflects these strategic changes and reductions, and includes a reduction of about $8 billion, or about 5%, in FY13 for the Air Force. Over the next 10 years, the DoD will need to cut more than $487 billion; $54 billion will come from Air Force accounts. Further, within the next year, the Air Force will bring the Total Force end strength down by around 9,900 Airmen.

What do these reductions and strategy changes mean for USAFE?

For the DoD and the entire Air Force, all of this means a shift in focus and a change in how we do business. Our senior leaders, including the President, have determined that our national focus needs to emphasize Asia and the Middle East. However, the new strategy also calls for continued engagement in Europe and Africa. As recent operations in Libya proved, USAFE's forward presence and close relationships within NATO and throughout our entire area of responsibility are of critical importance.

We must also target investments to ensure we have the resources to execute the missions of the future. We will be smaller, but we will be effective and well-trained. Let me be clear, even with these budget cuts, our military and our Air Force are by far the best resourced, best trained and best equipped in the world. We can and will adapt to the new paradigm. And as we always have in the past, we will meet these challenges head on.

Of course, changes to our strategic focus and reductions in Defense spending will change how USAFE looks in the future. The 81st Fighter Squadron at Spangdahlem will be inactivated as part of an overall reduction of five A-10 squadrons. In addition, the 603rd Air Control Squadron at Aviano will be inactivated. While personnel reductions Air Force wide will often hit close to home, what that means for USAFE is still unclear.

However, this is not just about downsizing. It's about adapting to a changing environment. As Ballistic Missile Defense becomes more critical, our investment and participation in Integrated Air and Missile Defense in theater is increasing. We are also taking a hard look at all of our installations to ensure we are operating efficiently at every location and that we are postured to support future operations. There are certainly more changes to come, but we will work through them all carefully and we will ensure our people are taken care of.

The bottom line: USAFE has been and will remain critical to our national defense strategy. We have an expanding mission in terms of geography and operations, and the new strategy will continue to draw heavily on our forces and our enduring capabilities -- mobility access and throughput; communications throughput; logistical support and throughput; contingency response; and command and control in Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, Air Operations, ballistic missile defense, and humanitarian response. We will also continue to rely on and partner with our close friends and Allies, especially those who host our bases, personnel and families.

I know change is never fun, but it is necessary ... it is an opportunity to get better at what we do and there is no doubt in my mind that we will. As we move into the future together, let me thank you for all you do to ensure freedom's future.

Additional Info

The FY13 budget overview available on-line at http://www.saffm.hq.af.mil/budget/ provides a great look at many of the efforts we will continue to pursue from training, to building partnerships, to supporting our Allies, and more.