OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The emphasis on the ground war in Iraq and Afghanistan is depleting much-needed funding for the Air Force to continue its mission into the future, the secretary of the Air Force said Tuesday.
``As our air and space assets continue to age, I am beginning to get concerned,'' Secretary Michael Wynne told more than 600 attendees at the sixth annual Oklahoma Aerospace Summit and Expo in downtown Oklahoma City. ``I'm not concerned for today. We are trained and ready to be the strategic shield that our nation expects.
``I'm concerned for the future. We're simply not funded to maintain and do everything that everyone wants us to do.''
Among the top five funding priorities for the Air Force, Wynne said No. 1 is the KC-X program to replace the aging fleet of KC-135 Stratotanker refueling aircraft, many of which are housed at Altus Air Force Base in southwest Oklahoma. Used to refuel other planes in-flight, the tankers are critical to the Air Force's global mission, Wynne said.
``Tankers really put the 'E' in expeditionary,'' he said. ``With it, our reach is truly global.''
Other Air Force funding priorities Wynne outlined were development of a combat search-and-rescue helicopter, space-based platforms, replacing the aging fighter fleet, and the development of a new long-range bomber.
Wynne also praised Oklahoma for the intricate role it's played in working with the military, particularly the Air Force. He said the positive relationship between Oklahoma's residents and the military and civilian workers at the state's three Air Force bases _ Altus, Vance Air Force Base in Enid and Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City _ has become known as the ``gold standard.''
``I want to say thank you to Oklahoma for continuing to take good care of our airmen and their families,'' Wynne said.
``Since World War II, we've trained our pilots and maintained and sustained our aircraft engines in this great state. Since then, we've formed a special partnership that remains very strong today.''
Tuesday's summit at the Cox Convention Center provided an opportunity to bring together military officials and civilians involved in the aerospace industry, said Ralph Monson, a spokesman for Tinker Air Force Base, one of the sponsors of the event.
``It's a chance to showcase all the things the state officers in the aerospace industry,'' Monson said.