As prepared for delivery:
"Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I join you in welcoming our witnesses today and thank them for their many years of service.
"Secretary Donley, thank you for all you have done for this country and the Air Force over the past four-and-a-half years. I appreciate your friendship and wish you and your family the best as you enter the next chapter of your lives. I’m confident that you will continue to contribute to our country and to the men and women of our military that you care for so deeply.
"Today’s hearing comes at a pivotal time for our Air Force. Declining defense budgets and the ongoing effects of sequestration are having a significant impact on the capabilities and readiness of our airmen. I look to our witnesses to provide the committee with their candid assessment of what this new budget reality means for the Air Force and the risks that they’re being forced to accept, as well as what is being done to manage that risk.
"General Welsh, you recently stated that “The need for modernization is pervasive across our Air Force.” I couldn’t agree with you more. America’s combat air assets are worn out and spread too thin after two decades of modernization programs being deferred or cancelled. The Air Force must replace its aging aircraft inventory, field new tankers and fifth generation fighters, build a new bomber and increase our long-range strike capability. We must maintain our space based capabilities, enhance our ability to operate in the cyber domain, and ensure that our airmen are trained and ready to execute combat operations across the spectrum of conflict. Sadly, these efforts are being undermined by a broken acquisition process.
"The way we develop and buy new weapons systems is an arcane and cumbersome process that continues to saddle the taxpayer with billions of dollars in cost overruns while delaying the delivery of much needed technology to our warfighters. Congress, the Pentagon and the defense industry must come together to reform and streamline the process.
"The greatest near-term threat to the readiness and capabilities of our Air Force is sequestration. In order to meet the budget caps associated with sequestration, the Air Force is raiding its readiness and modernization accounts. We learned last month that flight hours have been cut by 94,000 and 17 combat squadrons – nearly one-third of the active-duty combat fleet—have been grounded. The Air Force estimates that it will take 6 to 12 months at a minimum to return these squadrons to mission ready status.
"This is unconscionable at a time when we are facing a global security environment that is as dangerous and complex as any time that I can remember.
"Finally, it is critical we take care of the most important component of our Air Force, our airmen. We must ensure they are properly trained for full spectrum operations, they and their families receive the medical care they are entitled to, and that their rights are protected.
"Your written statement details several actions the Air Force has taken to combat sexual assault. I agree that providing a safe, respectful, and productive work environment is the responsibility of every airman at every level. But let me be clear: I am not satisfied with progress to date. More must be done to eliminate this scourge. Sexual assault undermines morale, hurts readiness, and breaks the trust of those who have volunteered to serve our nation.
"Thank you, Mr. Chairman."