Air Force scrambling to protect cyber, other priorities from budget ax

Service eyes reorganization among other strategies to shield its top priorities from spending cuts.

Michael Basla AF CIO

Lt. Gen. Michael Basla says the Air Force is considering reorganizations at headquaters, major commands. (File photo)

As Defense Department leadership looks at ways to implement budgetary and operational guidance outlined this summer in Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's Strategic Choices and Management Review, the Air Force is moving to shield its top priorities, including cybersecurity, from spending cuts.

Among the strategies for maintaining key areas of focus are potential reorganizations among Air Force components, as well as scrutiny of shared infrastructure and services, according to top Air Force officials who spoke at the Air and Space conference Sept. 17 at National Harbor, Md.

"Based on the SCMR that the Defense secretary kicked off some time ago, the Air Force chief of staff has directed a look at our headquarters Air Force organization, as well as the major commands. The chief and the secretary have said nothing is off the table," said Lt. Gen. Michael Basla, Air Force CIO and chief of information dominance.

Basla and other officials confirmed that leadership is considering integrating functions of the Air Force CIO office, or A6, with those of the service's Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance office, the A2. He added that the move could support streamlined operations, including in cyberspace.

"The Air Force management at headquarters has a target of reducing 20 percent; that's kind of what the SCMR asks," Basla said. "I think cyberspace supports all the warfighting domains...a combination of A2/A6 may refocus the attention of what the [A6] has to do and focus on just a portion of mission areas. We're looking at all the possibilities and that may be one of them."

It appears an A6/A2 reorganization may not be the only such consideration on the table, although others were not specified. But officials stressed that any reorganization would undergo careful consideration.

"At the end of the day there are positives and negatives to all the [potential] organizational constructs, and we're just going to have to lay those out and see what we're trying to achieve, and if that construct gets us there, or are there other approaches that are the best way to go," said Lt. Gen. Robert Otto, Air Force deputy chief of staff for ISR.

Basla additionally said he has been tasked with helping to assess budget submissions and make recommendations to DOD leadership to better align operations and help drive savings and efficiencies, particularly in cyber.

"The fact of the matter is the capabilities that my office and others represent, our expenditures are spread over multiple portfolios and we want to make sure that we do get the best opportunity for investments, and that's what my staff and I are undertaking right now," Basla said.

At Air Force Space Command, a similar examination is taking place, according to its commander, Gen. William Shelton. But with sequestration forcing cuts to many programs, it is not a question of if there will be changes, but to what programs and when.

"We're trying to find new architectural solutions that balance required capability, affordability and resilience" in hardware, software and unanticipated events, Shelton said. "Some champion the status quo. Let's just stay the course; let's just keep doing the same things over and over. It's certainly an option, but if you believe that our budgets are really coming down, if you believe that the adversary is going to get a vote in conflict, if you believe that anti-access/area denial is true in space and cyber just as it is in the physical domains, then status quo just isn't going to work for us."

Shelton emphasized the seriousness of the budget situation, with a dire warning that without sequestration relief soon, the Air Force will see severe consequences.

"Because of the way the sequestration law works, which is a cut to every line-item appropriation, I think in fiscal 2015, if we don’t get some relief, every program is going to be broken. I'm out of budgets tricks. I'm out of places I can take risk," he said.

NEXT STORY: The federal funding fail

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