As commander of Air Force Materiel Command, headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, I lead an organization of some 80,000 military members and civilian employees whose work touches every aspect of the Air Force. Robins Air Force Base is one of the bases in my command.
When the warfighter calls for a new capability, we think it, we build it, we break it, we make it better, we deliver it to the fight, and we keep it there as long as it's needed. My people research, develop, buy, test and maintain systems and capabilities the Air Force needs to carry out its mission -- from uniforms to fighter aircraft.
The on-going sequestration impacts every piece of the AFMC mission and, as a result, the entire Air Force in a multitude of ways. The cuts levied by sequestration will hit AFMC hard on three fronts – our mission, our people, and our bases such as Robins AFB.
I do not yet know the precise reductions AFMC will take under sequestration, but, for planning purposes, cuts for the remainder of this fiscal year ending Sept. 30 are about $300 million, or 29 percent of our remaining operating account, and $1.4 billion, or 40 percent of the remaining readiness account we operate on behalf of the Air Force.
It is impossible at this point to estimate AFMC cuts beyond Fiscal Year 2013 over the 10-year life of sequestration. But we do know that sequestration impacts will be far-reaching across AFMC.
Impacts to Our Mission
Recapitalization and modernization of the aging Air Force fleet, primary missions of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, headquartered at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, will be slowed. Acquisition programs will be delayed or cancelled, some costs will rise, and much-needed capabilities will take longer to get into the hands of our warfighters.
At the Air Force Test Center, headquartered at Edwards AFB, Calif., the developmental test mission will be significantly impacted as we reduce operations at AFMC test ranges, stop all flight testing (except for the F-35) and test support toward the end of the fiscal year, and determine the status of upcoming Summer Test Pilot School classes at Edwards AFB.
Within the Air Force Sustainment Center, headquartered at Tinker AFB, Okla., we will have to reduce sustainment operations at our three depots by as much as 40 percent for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2013. Rough estimates include deferment of 297 aircraft and 197 engines for depot maintenance and major modifications. Depot operations will slow down, aircraft availability and mission capable rates will drop, and some aircraft will simply be grounded. It could take up to five years for depot operations to "catch up" once fully funded.
In the Air Force Research Lab, with locations across AFMC, sequestration cuts will force our labs to slow research; new technology transitions will be delayed to the warfighter for both their immediate needs and their longer term requirements to execute critical Air Force missions in the years to come.
Impacts to Our People
AFMC's workforce is 77 percent civilian (about 60,000 of some 80,000 people). Like no other Major Command in the Air Force, the majority of AFMC will be hit hard by the planned civilian furloughs that will cut workers' pay by 20 percent through September 30. The impacts on my people will be significant. I don't know anyone who can take a 20 percent cut to their income, with minimal notice, and not feel it.
Many of my employees live paycheck to paycheck. A 20 percent pay cut is driving the majority of my workforce to face fears of how to pay their household bills. Many have expressed the need to work a part-time job to help cover the impact or withdraw from their retirement accounts to make ends meet. This will be devastating; we are breaking faith with our civilian Airmen.
The following are some specific quotes from some of my people:
"I will have to cancel my life insurance policy and reduce health care insurance coverage to cover the 20 percent loss of salary."
"I will be tapping into my 401K Retirement Plans for hardship loans, which will impact future retirement plans and cause me to incur new debts to pay off old debts. I may need to resort to "pay-day loan" stations to pay bills."
This also impacts the communities surrounding our bases. Less money in the pockets of our civilians means less money to spend at the local grocery store, restaurant or movie theater. Less money will go to local taxes that pay for roads, schools and infrastructure.
Impacts to Our Bases
I am responsible for nine bases in my command, in nine different states across the country. The budget reductions will cut into my ability to maintain these bases where my people live and work, forcing my air base wing commanders to make tough calls on what to repair. Only true emergency repairs will be accomplished. Preventative maintenance on everything from buildings to communication networks will essentially halt. My people will come to work at bases where streets, buildings and housing will see all but emergency upkeep delayed.
The potential impacts on defense contractors will also be felt. Thousands of contractors provide goods and services to AFMC and the Air Force. Sequestration will cause some contracts to be modified. Small contractors, who provide everything from office supplies to bomb fuses, will be hit especially hard since they do not have the financial depth of larger defense contractors.
If the House of Representatives Fiscal Year 2013 budget bill becomes law, its impact on sequestration translates into taking a step toward more regular order and removes uncertainty associated with the budget environment to date for this fiscal year. It will end the continuing resolution and finally give us a fiscal year 2013 budget. While not all that we requested, we hope the bill, when eventually reconciled with a Senate version, will give the Department of Defense more clarity and more flexibility as it carries out sequestration reductions.
Simply put, the impacts of sequestration are severe -- to our mission, our people, and our bases and local communities.
This Op-Ed was written by Gen. Janet C. Wolfenbarger, Commander, Air Force Materiel Command