By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (April 12, 2005) -- Modernizing the Air Force’s aging systems is the No. 1 priority for the service’s acting secretary.
Michael L. Dominguez recently gained the responsibility as acting secretary of the Air Force, besides his other duty as assistant secretary of the Air Force for manpower and reserve affairs.
"The thing that I see as most critical right now is to recapitalize the force," he said. "That means to try and figure out the balance between deploying advanced weapon systems, like the F/A-22 (Raptor), C-17 (Globemaster III) and a new constellation of satellites, and keeping the old things flying.”
The Air Force is currently involved in several efforts to modernize its equipment. Some examples include the F/A-22 replacing some of the F-15 Eagle fleet, and replacing the Defense Satellite Program constellation -- the nation's first warning against strategic missile launch -- with the more advanced Space-Based Infrared System.
"The problem with modernization is that the upfront investment cost is just awesome," he said. "You say, ‘How can we afford to do that?’ And it's so tempting (to say), ‘We'll just keep those tankers going a couple more years.’ And what you don't see is if you continue to do that year, after year, after year, you finally end up in a place where you're going to have a catastrophe."
Besides the tanker fleet, Air Force officials said they want at least 380 F/A-22s to fulfill their plans for modernizing the fighter fleet. But, recent budget cuts to the program leave the question of just how many of the aircraft the Air Force will ultimately get, Mr. Dominguez said.
"That's a subject that we're wrestling with right now in the Department of Defense," he said. "The F/A-22 guarantees air dominance, and if you don't have air dominance then most (other) capabilities are interesting but irrelevant.”
Recapitalization may be the No. 1 priority, but Mr. Dominguez outlined four other priorities beginning with meeting the fiscal challenges the service faces.
The Air Force lost an additional $3 billion after cuts in the president's fiscal 2005 budget. Mr. Dominguez said the cuts will make it tougher for the Air Force to do its job, but not impossible.
"That one is going to be really tough," he said. "We're going to have to really ratchet back on some things in this fiscal year."
Some cuts may curtail peacetime expenditures, which could include training, temporary-duty missions and moves, Mr. Dominguez said. But despite the cuts, he said Air Force officials would press on with operations.
"It won't be pretty, but we're not going to be out of business, and we won't fail meeting our mission obligations," he said. "We will fight the war. There will be some difficult things, but it won't damage us permanently."
Continuing to make the force the right size with the right mix of skills is another priority for the acting secretary.
“We have gotten our force size back to where it should be in terms of the active component, but we’re decidedly less successful in the shaping,” Mr. Dominguez said. “We’ve made progress and expanded some career fields that are stressed. But we’re still going to have the perennial stressed career fields like (intelligence) and special (operations).”
He said that while leaders Air Force-wide have been very creative and engaged in force shaping, there is some work left to do.
“It’s a tough problem,” Mr. Dominguez said. “It’s just tough and slow.”
Mr. Dominguez’ fourth priority is to sustain momentum in the Air Force’s transformation.
“The Air Force has been the leader in transformation in the DOD, and we're going to continue that,” he said. “But we're going to extend that transformation into the business practices and processes so that we are fast, agile, flexible and adaptable to meet the demands of the global war on terror.”
He said the National Security Personnel System and the continued journey to improve the air and space expeditionary force are two examples of sustaining momentum in Air Force business practices.
His other priority is restoring trust and confidence with Airmen, the American people and Congress.
In the past several years, the Air Force has dealt with several issues where people have failed to live up to the service's core values. Mr. Dominguez said restoring trust involves being honest about what happened and being open with those investigating the issues.
"The first thing we can do is be knowledgeable of the facts," he said. "The facts are that the people who violated our core values have been held accountable. In the acquisition case, for example, there are two people involved. One was an Air Force (executive), the other was a person from industry, and now they're both in jail."
Mr. Dominguez said Air Force officials have been forthright with information about the acquisition process to help aid investigators in their efforts.
"Many of these investigations into acquisitions, we have asked for," he said. "So we are open. We're inviting scrutiny. We're saying look at us, and we'll show you how we do things."
It is unclear how long Mr. Dominguez will fill the role of acting Air Force secretary. A permanent replacement requires a nomination by the president and a confirmation by the Senate. But, Mr. Dominguez said he is proud to serve with the active, Guard, Reserve and civilian members of the Air Force.
“I compliment the people of the Air Force today and the great visionary leaders that you've had before,” he said. “The leaders who preceded us left us this legacy, and it's our challenge today to preserve it for those who will come after.
“We have challenges. But you have the (leaders) in the United States Air Force to be able to figure the path through, to chart our course for the future and to get us there,” Mr. Dominguez said.
“We're the greatest air and space force in history, the greatest one on the planet. We will provide the air dominance,” he said. “We will dominate the global commons of air and space for the benefit of the nation. Those things are guaranteed, they are assured, and they’re going to happen.”