The political gymnastics have subsided and a government shutdown that once again produced furloughs at Tinker Air Force Base and throughout the Department of Defense has ended. The agreement that produced this delayed major budget and debt decisions until 2014. The budget agreement maintains the disabling sequestration cuts to the DOD that caused the Air Force to cancel much of its training, stand down flying units and furlough thousands of government workers at Tinker and throughout the nation earlier this year.
These devastating cuts, mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011, weren't supposed to happen but have now seemingly been institutionalized. While deemed appropriate by many to correct rampant overspending by the federal government, an impact in the near term must be recognized. The funding levels now imposed on the Air Force significantly hamper its capability to meet the requirements levied on it to be ready and able to fulfill its mission to deter potential adversaries and to prevail in combat should deterrence fail.
The world remains unsettled and potentially hostile. The reality is that our adversaries five years from now may not be known today. In 1988, few people would have predicted that within two years we'd engage in a major war effort against Iraq. Yet in 1990, what ultimately became know as Desert Storm began with the surprise Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The U.S. military was able to respond with massive forces; it deployed halfway around the world to engage and defeat a sizable and well-equipped enemy. But that was a Department of Defense and Air Force much larger than the ones in existence today.
Desert Storm was fought with weapon systems robusted by President Ronald Reagan. Since then, many weapon systems (including the F-117, F-111 and F-14) have been retired. With the looming continuation of sequestration budget cuts, the Air Force is forecasting the likelihood of even more retirements of entire weapon systems, such as the A-10 and the KC-10, and reductions in many other fleets.
This budget-mandated action carries with it a reduction in the capability of the Air Force to respond when needed. The government's continuing resolution that sustains the sequestration cuts will carry with it a consequence, whether intended or not, of significantly impacting Air Force readiness — which is the heart of our deterrent posture against potential adversaries.
The reduction in readiness capability means our nation must accept an increase in risk. At risk is our national security and interest in arenas that may not be apparent today. Such was the case in 1988, but then we had a Cold War-ready and capable force to massively respond to open aggression.
Whether that will be the case in the years ahead is debatable, and that is the essence of our increased risk.
Tarpley is a retired Air Force colonel and a former inspector general for Air Combat Command at Tinker AFB. He is a defense marketing consultant and president of the Air Force Association, Gerrity Chapter.