New Jersey Air National Guard members receive training on drop zone procedures at Fort Drum, N.Y. The Air Force is encouraging active-duty members to transition to the reserves. (Tech. Sgt. Matt Hecht)
The Air Force is expanding its efforts to assist airmen transitioning from active duty to the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve, but it is not ready to commit to a recommendation to increase its force mix from the current 31 percent reserve components to 42 percent.
The Air Force by the end of 2014 expects to have evaluated 80 percent of its force, on a mission-by-mission basis, to see where it can transfer more active-duty jobs to Guard and Reserve airmen.
“We totally agree that we need to make it easier for people to flow between active, Guard and Reserve and back, at different times in their career,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.
The committee called James and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh to Capitol Hill to go over the recent force structure recommendations of the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force, an independent committee created by the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act.
James noted that the Air Force has only two major disagreements with the report.
The first major disagreement is with a recommendation to change the service’s force mix to rely more heavily on the reserve components, with an example target of 58 percent active duty and 42 percent Guard and Reserve. The current ratio is 69 percent active duty and 31 percent Guard and Reserve.
“General Welsh and I both feel that we have not done enough analysis to agree with that,” James said. “It might be right, it might not be right. We need to do a mission-by-mission approach, and that’s the path that we intend to take. So for now, certainly for [fiscal 2015], we would disagree with that ratio.”
The chairman of the commission, retired Lt. Gen. Dennis McCarthy, said the 58-42 number is more of a guideline than something mathematically locked in, and he acknowledged that the force structure needs an in- depth look.
“I understand that the mix has to be figured out weapon system by weapon system or mission area by mission area, and it’s going to be different across all the mission areas,” McCarthy said. “I personally believe you need some kind of target that you have to reach, and people who are looking mission area to mission area are going to need some kind of target that they need to reach.”
The Air Force also disagrees with the commission’s recommendation to disestablish the Air Force Reserve Command.
“We’re all for integration but we feel again in FY15 we don’t have a good alternative way to manage and provide for and take care of 70,000 members of the Air Force Reserve, so we would disagree with that proposition, at least for now,” James said.
Welsh echoed James’ comments that the command could not be disestablished quickly, but McCarthy noted that neither he nor the commission as a whole were advocating for the command to go away in short order.
“The report does not say we should do it right now, and I know that the intent of the report was that as unit integration proceeds, the need for an Air Force Reserve Command becomes less and less,” he said. “We also said very clearly that the need for a three-star chief of the Air Force Reserve with all of the resources to manage and advise the leadership on reserve issues becomes even more important.”
“We said start now,” McCarthy continued, “start with pilot programs in the Air Force Reserve, learn what it takes to create integrated units, advance that throughout the Air Force Reserve and the Air National Guard, and when you get to a point when you don’t need the Air Force Reserve Command anymore, then it should be disestablished.”
Those in favor of doing away with the command have said it could save money and help achieve Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s goal of reducing the services’ headquarters staffs by 20 percent in the next five years.
Overall, McCarthy said he was pleased that the Air Force is supportive of the majority of the commission’s report, and signaled that the two major disagreements could be overcome, particularly as the service moves forward with force shaping efforts.
Some lawmakers said that savings from changing the force structure could be used to offset the unpopular fleet reductions proposed by the service, especially the retirement of the A-10 fleet.
“If you’re going to be saving billions of dollars, which is what the plan is from this analysis, you wouldn’t need as many, I presume, divestitures,” said committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.
But Welsh said savngs from the commission’s recommended force structure mix are not enough, considering the service needs to save $20 billion over the next five years under sequestration.
“If we went today to a 58-42 percent mix, as the commission recommends, we would save about $2 billion a year,” Welsh said. “That doesn’t get anywhere near ... the $20 billion less we have available.”
James said that while the Air Force continues to study the right force mix, it has taken steps to increase its reliance on the Air National Guard and Reserve, including:
■ Integrating three force support squadrons at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.; March Air Reserve Base, Calif.; and Pease Air National Guard Base, N.H. At each base, there is one unit that serves all three components in the geographic area.
■ Increased the number of associate units to 124, a 22 percent increase from 102 three years ago. An associate unit is a unit where the aircraft is shared by active duty and reserve personnel.
“It’s a form of integration and we’re kicking it up a notch and doing more of these in the future,” James said.
■ Increased the reserve intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance presence to 24 percent of the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper squadrons from 17 percent last year.
■ In fiscal 2016, the Air Force will add three reserve cyber units — a 30 percent increase from current structure.
■ Under the fiscal 2015 budget proposal, the Air Force would decrease its active end strength by 17 percent, but only decrease the Reserve by 3 percent and the Guard by 0.4 percent.
Some of the efforts will mean more money to retain certain airmen. The Air Force has opened up its Palace Chase Service Commitment Waiver Program, James said. The Palace Chase program normally makes active-duty enlisted airmen serve two years in the Guard or Reserve for every year of active duty they have left, and active-duty officers serve three years for every year they have left. But the newly expanded Palace Chase program only requires one year of Guard or Reserve service for every year of active duty service remaining.
“Bottom line is we’re making it easier and more attractive to people to enter the Guard and Reserve,” James said.
The service has also asked the Defense Department to extend the Aviator Retention Pay program to traditional reservists, so as pilots leave active duty they can be eligible for the bonus if they enter the Guard or Reserve. Last year, the service changed the program to offer eligible fighter pilots a $225,000 bonus in exchange for a nine-year commitment.
James said that she recently delegated authority to Lt. Gen. Stanley Clarke, director of the Air National Guard, and Lt. Gen. James Jackson, director of the Air Force Reserve, to approve indispensability accession for the grades of colonel and below to speed up the transfer between components.