Air Force, Air National Guard Brace For Force Structure Recommendations

By Valerie Insinna

As budget battles heated up over the past few years, the Air Force found itself grappling for resources with its reserve and National Guard components. Now  officials are holding their breath for a handful of reports that will help determine force structure for the 2015 fiscal year and beyond.

During the Air Force Association’s 2013 conference, top brass from the Air Force active duty and reserve corps and Air National Guard downplayed the tensions of the past year, which ignited when the service proposed deep cuts to the Guard in the fiscal year 2013 budget.

"We are migrating towards a better place, obviously, then we were after the [2013 budget] submission,"Lt. Gen. James Jackson, head of Air Force Reserve Command,  said Sept. 18. "We do have some tough choices to make, and we'll continue to make those."

The Air Force originally planned to cut 3,900 active-duty, 5,100 Guard and 900 reserve personnel in fiscal year 2013, but Congress rejected those proposals. The president’s fiscal year 2014 budget would reduce the force by 1,860 active-duty airmen, 480 guardsmen and 300 reservists.

Despite the sometimes public bickering that ensued in the aftermath, officials at the conference alluded to an improved atmosphere among the three arms of the force.  Lt. Gen. Stanley Clarke, director of the Air National Guard, said he had a great relationship with active and reserve leaders.

“Now I have a great relationship with my wife, also. That doesn't prevent me with having a heated discussion with her about things whether it comes to finances or parents or our children or whatever,” he said. “But nonetheless, we have the discussion. At the end of it, we shake hands, we move forward, we do what's right for the Air Force and the nation."

At the moment, all eyes are on two reports that could shape the future force structure and missions of the Air Force, reserve and Guard. The first review, by the Air Force’s Total Force Task Force, is due to wrap up as early as October, Jackson said.

The National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force formed by Congress also is scheduled to submit a report in February on how the components should modify their structure to fit the current financial climate.

The task force will create recommendations for the Air Force’s fiscal year 2015 program objective memorandum (POM), which will help the Defense Department and Obama administration build the budget, said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh. The task force provides information to the commission as requested, but the service is not required to wait for the commission’s report before moving forward on task force recommendations, he said.

Welsh, who has already been briefed on the initial recommendations of the task force, said it “helped us learn an awful lot about how we do business, and led to a lot of internal recommendations, things like … fully integrated staffs. That doesn't mean we get rid of a Guard and reserve front office, it means that we put Guard and reserve officers in the other parts of the air staff." Welsh wants at least one Guard or reserve-designated post in every air staff director’s office, he said.

Another task force recommendation is to create an identifier similar to the joint staffing designator, where certain Air Force leadership positions would be restricted to personnel with experience working with the reserve component or Air National Guard, he said.

While the commission report will be delivered too late to inform the 2015 POM, Welsh hopes it will establish a model the Air Force can use to help determine when to use Guard and reserve forces, he said.

“I would hope that we get some help with the myriad of rules that were put in place to protect something over time, that now make it very difficult for us to do things that make perfect sense within the total force,” such as allowing an active-duty Air Force pilot with firefighting qualifications to deploy, for certain missions, alongside an Air National Guard unit, Welsh said.

The commission could also give the Air Force a perspective on how best to stream funding or what components are best suited to deal with certain mission sets, Jackson said.

Lt. Gen. Stephen Hoog, assistant vice chief of staff and director of the air staff, gave one example of a clash between components over missions.

Because of funding constraints, officials at Shaw Air Force Base near Sumter, S.C., had to swap the deployments of an active duty unit planning to go to Afghanistan and reserve unit headed to South Korea, he said. “That's a great FM [financial management] decision, but the message that sent to the active duty forces was that we can afford to send you to Korea, but we can't afford to send you to the current fight in Afghanistan.”

The commission is also looking at the total cost of an airman in the active duty, reserve or Air National Guard forces. Currently, the Defense Department does not address the lifecycle cost of reservists in their assessments, Jackson said.

“When we get into the cost of a reserve member or an active member is or a Guard member is,we get stuck because we don't have an agreement that we can move past that discussion into the more important discussions of capability and capacity,” he said.

Such estimates would be helpful, Hoog said. But as the service moves from being forward deployed to having more of a rotational presence, it becomes more difficult for the active side to project the lifecycle cost of its airmen, he said.

Throughout the conference,officials such as Welsh talked about the necessity of “vertical cuts” — eliminating an entire program instead of slashing across the board.At risk is one of the reserve and Guard corps’ most beloved aircraft, the A-10 Thunderbird II, more commonly known as the Warthog.

The Air Force had pushed to eliminate five A-10 units in the fiscal year 2013 budget, but Congress put that initiative on hold until the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force releases its findings.

Attempts to put the Warthog solely in the hands of Guard and reserve pilots would save some money on flying hours, but the cost of maintaining the aircraft’s infrastructure would still be a burden on the force, Hoog said.

Clarke, a former A-10 pilot, said that while he has fond memories of the plane, fiscal issues may necessitate the retirement of single mission aircraft like the A-10 as the Air Force puts more emphasis on multi-role aircraft such as the F-35.

“We're not getting any more money,” he said."Something’s got to go if you want to get out there to 2023. As members of total force, I think all of us share the view the Air Force has to have a fifth-generation force out there.”

Topics: Aviation, Defense Department, DOD Budget

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