Costs, budget cuts pose big challenge for Air Force, leaders say

wcrenshaw@macon.comNovember 7, 2012 

PERRY -- The costs of maintaining the Air Force’s aging aircraft is going up while its budget is going down.

Coping with that is one of the biggest challenges ahead, top Air Force Materiel Command leaders told hundreds of defense industry executives Wednesday.

Lt. Gen. Bruce Litchfield, commander of the Air Force Sustainment Center, and Lt. Gen. C.D. Moore, commander of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, were among the featured speakers at the annual Aerospace Industry Requirements Symposium. It was the first time the two had spoken together about how their newly created centers are working, Litchfield said.

Both said the future size and capability of the Air Force will be determined by its ability to cut costs and maintain aircraft with reduced budgets.

“The cost of readiness will determine the size of the Air Force. The size of our Air Force will determine whether we can fight and win the next war, so we have to do our part,” Litchfield said.

About 900 people attended the event, which is in its 10th year and is organized by the Robins Regional Chamber of Commerce Aerospace Industry Committee. Its purpose is to give industry representatives a chance to learn about the future needs of Robins Air Force Base, so the companies can be prepared to meet those needs. Following the opening speeches, breakout sessions were held and details on specific needs were given. The symposium continues Thursday at the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter.

Also speaking was U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ashburn, whose district includes Robins. Admittedly weary from a late night of watching election results, Scott said he is hopeful Congress can reach an agreement to prevent the across-the-board spending cuts set to take place Jan. 2. However, he said even if the automatic cuts are stopped, cuts are still needed.

“We have to cut spending. We have to cut it now. We should have cut it yesterday,” he said. “The national debt and the annual deficit, if we don’t deal with it, is going to put us in a position where we are going to be vulnerable to other countries.”

His alternative to the automatic cuts, he said, is to ask base commanders to cut spending by 1 percent each year for the next three to five years.

Audience members had some pointed questions for Litchfield and Moore, several of which related to how the Air Force can reduce the bureaucracy that slows down the process to award contracts. Both said they are striving to speed up the process, but there are considerations of selection fairness that are required by law.

“I think we can all say we are frustrated with how long it takes,” Litchfield said. “The manpower that goes into a procurement is incredible. It’s no fun for us either, but the issue is losing a protest is worse fun because then you have to start from square one.”

They also said if the need is urgent, there is an alternative process to expedite a contract award.

Brig. Gen. Cedric George, commander of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex, discussed a few of the needs of the base in general terms, ranging from many buildings on base needing roof repair to cleaning services and ground support equipment.

He highlighted some of the successes at the base, including going from delivering less than half of the aircraft on time to a 98 percent on-time delivery rate.

“I have challenged this team to never let us go back to the day where people are questioning whether we can deliver on our promises,” he said. “We will not go back to those days.”

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