The Air Force is about to unveil a new rule giving wing commanders ― and perhaps squadron commanders ― expanded authority to waive crew rest requirements when necessary.
In the next week or two, the Air Force will release a memo delegating decisions on crew rest waivers to the wing commander level, Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein said Tuesday at the Air Force Association’s Air Space Cyber conference in National Harbor, Maryland. The Air Force will “highly encourage” wing commanders to further delegate those decisions down to their squadron commanders, he said.
“We have squadron commanders who work for Gen. [Robin] Rand [head of Air Force Global Strike Command] that are entrusted with the most lethal weaponry on the planet,” Goldfein said. “We can sure trust them to determine whether the people in their squadron are rested and ready to accomplish their mission.”
The Air Force has rules mandating how much uninterrupted rest certain airmen must get before flying a mission. Those rules can be waived when missions require it, but until now, the Air Force has mandated high-level approval to do so.
In a roundtable with reporters, Goldfein said the Air Force doesn’t have a problem with airmen not getting enough crew rest, and he doesn’t expect the change to result in more waivers being granted.
“The question is, if we are in combat, and we have a mission that‘s required, what is the decision authority where a commander can then make a call on what is required to execute that mission?” Goldfein said. “The secretary and I believe that, for many cases, it is the squadron command that needs to execute that. You fight the way you train, so let’s get this moving in training, so we’re more effective in combat. Be smart, and we’ll back you.”
The move is part of Air Force leadership’s drive in recent months to push decision-making authority down to the lowest level possible, while also cutting down on the number of unnecessary rules and regulations eating up airmen’s time. This includes reducing the amount of computer-based training required of airmen, and restoring support staff for squadrons to take care of administrative duties.
The Air Force is now doing a complete review of its roughly 1,300 Air Force Instructions, or AFIs.
“We‘re looking at getting out of the business of legislating common sense,” Goldfein said, quoting Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson.
Wilson described a recent example of bureaucratic red tape to reporters. A wing commander at Patrick Air Force Base in Florida had to get her written permission to be able to drive a high-water vehicle to his home overnight while Hurricane Irma was bearing down on the area. There is a rule against using military vehicles to drive back and forth to work.
“I will spare you what I actually said in response,” Wilson said. “There is a regulation that says [permission] is required in writing, and it makes exceptions for emergencies or danger to others, but it says ... you should start the paperwork 45 days in advance. So, obviously, we’re just not scheduling our hurricanes well.”
“This doesn‘t make any sense, and every airmen knows it doesn’t make any sense,” Wilson said. “But that’s what the reg says. And so I’ve got a wing commander, facing a hurricane, who has some captain or sergeant doing the paperwork to get written permission from me to take a high-water vehicle to his home to face down the hurricane that night. That’s stupid, and we need to just say that’s stupid, and try to fix it.”
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter at Defense News. He previously reported for Military.com, covering the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare. Before that, he covered U.S. Air Force leadership, personnel and operations for Air Force Times.