DICK Newton, a retired lieutenant general now serving as executive vice president of the Air Force Association, has decades of military experience. This gives his insights credibility few can match.
Newton is concerned about the impact of budget cuts on national defense, but he remains bullish on the future prospects of Tinker Air Force Base.
“In terms of the future of the Air Force, is Tinker ever going to shut down?” Newton asked The Oklahoman’s Opinion writers. “No. You can quote me on that.”
While some bases may be closed in the coming years, Newton said facilities like Tinker are “the last place” he expects this to happen. From both an infrastructure and base-capability standpoint, he said Tinker stands out in a good way. The site remains “a world-class business venture” that helps “bring in cost-effective readiness for the nation.” The 552d Air Control Wing remains “globally relevant” even though the Air Force may see aircraft numbers reduced.
Newton’s conclusion: “Tinker is a happening place.”
From a strictly parochial viewpoint, that’s good news for Oklahoma City. Tinker is a major employer and significant factor in local economic activity. City officials have worked diligently to support the base. These efforts are paying off. Unfortunately, Newton also thinks Tinker may be a ray of sunshine in an otherwise gloomy forecast for national defense efforts.
With sequestration cuts still scheduled to take effect in the 2016 budget year, national defense is expected to undergo a $50 billion cut. “That is going to be an extraordinary detriment to national security,” Newton said.
The cuts will require reductions in manpower and operational readiness, and modernization efforts. Rather than making the armed forces lean and mean, the budget cuts could make the U.S. military merely smaller and weaker. This will occur even as the current average age of an Air Force aircraft is 27 years. Newton notes over a dozen squadrons were grounded last year because the Air Force lacked the funds to fuel them. He said that’s “never been done before in the Air Force.” Such problems will likely increase with budget cuts.
Under the sequester, Air Force size could fall to levels not seen since prior to World War II. The loss of military readiness will have a harsh real-world impact for those serving in the military. “You are going to have, in my view, higher casualty rates if we go through sequester,” he said.
Although Newton acknowledges that reducing the national debt is important, he questions why national defense should bear half of all cuts, especially given the consequences. “Why put national security at risk?”
As the United States is downsizing its military, China and Russia are doing the opposite. “They’re not reducing defense expenditures,” Newton said. “They’re growing defense expenditures.”
Newton stressed that U.S. military officials still control the skies, but he added, “I believe it’s going to be hard, though.” The Chinese are “getting better and better.” China is not merely a U.S. competitor, but represents “a distinct threat for the future.”
We hope federal lawmakers will rethink policies that foster deterioration of the U.S. military. As Newton says, “It’s a tough world out there.” While the Oklahoma City community may benefit from Tinker’s continued existence, Oklahomans will benefit far more from a military that’s sufficient to deter acts of aggression.