Air Force communications feels budget pinch

An Air Force initiative to upgrade its global communications capabilities had a low priority during the fiscal 2000 budget process, because of the need to focus on broader concerns about maintaining the service's readiness, an Air Force official said Friday.

While the Air Force still plans to upgrade the underlying network systems at bases around the world, the fiscal 2000 budget shifts money to boost salaries and take other steps to maintain manpower levels. The Air Force also needs to carry out another round of base closures, as required by the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC) of 1990, while still buying the equipment needed to maintain an adequate force.

The Air Force began its Global Grid program in 1997, earmarking $1.2 billion over five years to fund the installation of fiber-optic cabling, Asynchronous Transfer Mode switches, hubs and routers at up to 108 bases. This year, the Air Force's $79 billion budget includes $123 million for base information infrastructure, only $2 million more than the fiscal 1999 budget.

"We didn't get to do fiber [optics] to the desktop," a senior Air Force official said. The Air Force plans to put "the very next dollar" that becomes available in future budgets toward infrastructure, the official said.

According to a senior DOD official, the department is just beginning to realize savings from the four previous rounds of base closures. The Air Force has placed $235 million in its fiscal 2000 budget for BRAC activity, including the closure in fiscal 2001 of McClellan and Kelly Air Force Bases, according to budget documents.

Additionally, the Air Force this week will seek $53 million in emergency funding—funds not included in the Air Force's fiscal 2000 budget—to cover the cost of replacing 92 missiles used in Iraq this year during Operation Desert Fox .

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