By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (March 04, 2005) -- The acting secretary of the Air Force spoke on Capitol Hill March 2 about recapitalizing aging systems, the death gratuity and recent problems within the service.
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Peter B. Teets explained the importance of modernizing the service's fleet of aging aircraft.
"The Air Force's No. 1 challenge is to recapitalize our aging systems," Mr. Teets said. "Our aircraft fleet averages 23 years old -- ranging from fairly young F-117 (Nighthawks) and B-2 (Spirits), to venerable B-52 (Stratofortresses) and KC-135 (Stratotankers). Flightline and depot maintenance crews work magic to keep many of our legacy aircraft flying, but we cannot fly those planes forever."
Mr. Teets told senators that it is clear the Air Force's fleet needs to be modernized and that the service is already making headway in achieving that goal.
"The F/A-22 (Raptor), for example, will recapitalize our F-15 (Eagles); the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will recapitalize our F-16 (Fighting Falcons) and A-10 (Thunderbolt II) combat capabilities; and the C-130J (Hercules) will modernize our intratheater airlift," he said.
In recent weeks, cuts to the F/A-22 program appeared in the president's fiscal 2006 budget. Mr. Teets said the Air Force will continue to focus on the aircraft, however, and will build a case for continuation of the program.
"This is going to be one of the key items studied in the Quadrennial Defense Review," Mr. Teets said. "The budget we have suggested in fiscal 2006 does not decrease the flow of manufacturing F/A-22s."
Another prime topic discussed was proposed changes to death benefits.
New legislation on Capitol Hill aims to increase benefits to families of those killed while in military service. One bill would raise the military's death gratuity to families from $12,000 to $100,000 and will increase the payout from the Service Members Group Life Insurance policy to $400,000. The cash increases are just part of a total benefits package to survivors.
"This death gratuity . . . is part of a total benefits package," he said. "I'd like to see what that total benefits package is. I've heard rough numbers calculated that say the death benefit is several million dollars, cumulative over a period of time.
“I think the benefit is attractive and good; I'd like to try and understand what is the magnitude of the cost. We will have to defer something else in order to pay that cost," he said.
The acting secretary also touched on recent controversies affecting the Air Force.
Mr. Teets told legislators he felt it was important to be open and honest with both Congress and the public about the Air Force's own internal and ethical issues.
"We must be forthright about some of our recent problems," he said. "The Air Force has suffered from the misdeeds of a few. Acquisition improprieties, problems at the Air Force Academy and other issues weigh on us all.
"Air Force leaders have a strong obligation to ensure our trust within our ranks, within the Congress and with the American people. I am pledged to this aim, and to the core values that guide us: integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do."