Retired Lt. Gen. Dick Newton says he believes the Department of Defense budget is going to get smaller whether or not there is sequestration.
Sequestration is the federal government automatic spending cuts.
Newton, now executive vice president of the Air Force Association, spent a number of years of his 34-year military career at the Pentagon, including as assistant vice chief of staff.
Military members at Minot Air Force Base listen Aug. 1 to Gen. C. Robert Kehler, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, highlight the importance of the 91st Missile Wing’s mission of nuclear deterrence, shown in this photo by Airman 1st Class Kristoffer Kaubisch.
He said there's always the constant challenge of maintaining operations and maintenance cash flow to keep absolutely valid important key missions going as the B-52 and Minuteman III ICBM missions at Minot Air Force Base. There's also the challenges of recapitalizing the force or infrastructure at installations, as well as modernization of equipment.
He said the five top priorities for modernization within the Air Force is the new KC-46A tanker that the Air Force is to get in a couple years; the F-35 stealth fighter; and a new long-range bomber that the Air Force should get around 2020 to 2025; and the J-STARS command-and-control aircraft. He said Gen. Mark Welsh, chief of staff of the Air Force, has announced to make plans for a new lead trainer to replace the T-38.
Within operations and maintenance is the people account and how to pay for all the people.
"That is taking up nearly, if not more than 50 percent of any Department of Defense budget, particularly as our retired population grows. As we get to be a growing retiree population, it's going to be a resource that we are going to have to continue to follow through in our commitment to our retirees for retiree benefits that they've earned by serving this nation for years and years," Newton said.
He said the largest and perhaps the fastest growing aspect of cost in the Department of Defense is in the people account.
He said the Air Force is going to have to make choices in terms of quality of life versus paying for capability.
"That's where the Air Force Association can come in to help," he said. He listed a number of ways including AFA providing resources for wounded airmen, spouse scholarships, helping airmen and their spouses transition from uniformed life to civilian life.
"We are still responsible for certainly maintaining a high quality of life for our airmen and their families but really at the end of the day what you want an Air Force to do is to go out and fight and win our nation's wars," Newton continued. But, he said, there's going to be an evergoing struggle of how do you balance between capability and trying to maintain a high quality of life that this country's airmen and their families deserve?
"We've got to pay close attention to the quality of life for our people but at the same time we've got to make sure we're able to win our nation's wars," said Newton. He said the nation needs to make sure that every ounce of energy it has now is dedicated toward making sure it can win today's fight, come home and be prepared for the next fight.
"I'd hate to have to explain to a mom or dad, or husband or wife that we lost their airman in battle because they didn't have the equipment, they didn't have the training and they didn't have the resources to win. That was always on my mind when I served on active duty but also on the mind of our current Air Force," he said.
The sequestration issue has had an impact on the military.
"Up until a month or two ago, we had up to 33 squadrons that were at any one time not allowed to fly and to maintain their operational readiness. That's extraordinary," Newton said.
He said he's sure the bomb wing and missile wing commanders at Minot AFB are now having to balance limited resources or limited funding not only based on the same conditions that he had when he was commander of the 5th Bomb Wing at the base, but added to their stress regarding funding is the sequestration. "The unknown is what impact will sequestration have on the 2014 and following fiscal year budgets? We don't know that," he said.
Newton said the current government shutdown is affecting hundreds of thousands of civilian workers and if he were a civilian worker, he would be very worried about it, but it's an issue in and above itself not necessarily affecting the larger issue of sequestration budgets.