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Priorities emerge as budget woes intensify

Nov. 29, 2011 - 01:30PM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 29, 2011 - 01:30PM  |  
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Partnerships with foreign nations and a few key programs will be critical in the coming years as the Air Force faces an increasingly tight budget, one of the service's top generals said Tuesday.

Lt. Gen. Dick Newton, the assistant vice chief of staff and director of the Air Staff, said during a speech at an Air Force Association breakfast that building international partnerships is crucial "particularly with a distressing economy that persists in convergence with other geopolitical uncertainties that are out there."

The Pentagon already faced more than $450 billion in defense-spending cuts over the next decade before a congressional supercommittee failed to come to a consensus last week on another $1.2 trillion in cuts to reduce the federal deficit.

That failure triggered a sequestration that could result in another $600 billion in defense cuts over the course of a decade. However, the first sequestration doesn't start until January 2013 — giving Congress a little over a year to potentially reverse course.

Newton said the Air Force is committed to its key programs, naming specifically long-range strike systems, the Joint Strike Fighter and the KC-46A refueling tanker.

"We're going to wait see how that plays out, but the Air Force remains absolutely committed to long-range strike," Newton said in response to a question about the systems.

He added that it remains important to the Air Force to avoid "breaking faith" with airmen in terms of their benefits and pay despite potential financial challenges.

"We are committed to making sure regardless of whatever fiscal environment — there are some unknowns out there — that we first communicate with our men and women that we support them," he said.

The financial cuts faced by the Air Force could lead to a number of significant changes within the service, Newton said, such as decreased defense purchasing power, fewer strategic options and investing more in critical programs at the expense of others.

International alliances will be essential to maintaining the service's capabilities going forward, with pooled equipment and manpower used for multiple nations' collective benefit, Newton said.

One recent agreement between the U.S. and an ally nation happened earlier this month, when President Obama announced an increased military presence in Australia that includes plans to have more aircraft rotate through the nation and the added presence of 2,500 U.S. Marines. The move has largely been seen as an attempt to counter an increasingly aggressive China, although top U.S. officials say the decision is simply part of a restructuring of U.S. troops in the Pacific.

Newton said that there has been a lot of interest in the Pacific region, which he says will remain in the foreseeable future for the U.S., and especially for the Air Force.

One challenge in the Pacific is that it includes a huge area of responsibility, Newton said, but increased partnerships will help to boost U.S. presence in the region.

"It's not just the capabilities that we have present in the Pacific, but it's the relationships that are important," he said. "It's the joint aspect of how we as the Department of Defense and certainly the Air Force partner with our joint teammates in the Pacific with whatever will come our way."

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