Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Secretary Donley on Air Force Challenges: Part 2

From AOL Defense:

Michael Donley, Air Force Secretary, wrote this second of
four op-eds on the future of the Air Force exclusively for AOL Defense. Today's piece grapples with just how small the Air Force's force structure can get while the service can still accomplish its missions.

Sec. Donley: How Low Can The Air Force Go? -- EXCLUSIVE
By Michael Donley

Like all of our military services, the US Air Force has been through an extraordinary decade of change. Airmen have moved unprecedented amounts of personnel and equipment to remote theaters of operation; built global command, control, and intelligence operations; provided 24/7 close air support to ground forces; and introduced new technologies, including Remotely Piloted Aircraft [RPAs, aka UAVs].

All of this was accomplished as the Air Force retired nearly 1,900 aircraft and downsized by more than 30,000 active personnel. Today's Air Force is smaller than before 9/11, and its base budget after accounting for inflation has been relatively flat since 2005.

Faced with further reductions in defense, Air Force leadership made the decision to become smaller in order to protect a high quality and ready force that will improve in capability over time. The question is, how?

Determining where the Air Force can take additional risk in force structure and fulfill the defense strategic guidance is a challenge. Options are limited because, in most mission areas, our "supply" of forces is equal to the strategic "demand" with almost no margin in capacity.

Fighters and bombers represent 18 percent of total Air Force personnel. Though fighter forces have declined for decades, the force levels outlined in the FY13 budget bring the supply in equilibrium with the demand outlined in the defense strategic guidance. We plan to protect the essential air superiority fleet and fighters with multi-role capabilities. While some reductions in the A-10 air-to-ground fleet and the oldest F-16s have been controversial, there could be more downward pressure on these fleets if budgets decline further. Any significant reductions in the bomber force would be inconsistent with the strategic guidance which values long-range strike capabilities.

Mobility forces, including long-range strategic airlifters, tankers, and tactical airlift comprise 13 percent of Air Force personnel. These forces are sized to move and sustain joint forces over long distances consistent with defense strategy. Congress manages the long-range fleet to a specific floor, currently 301 aircraft, with recent approval to go to 275 pending a report on capabilities. The tanker fleet is largely right-sized to support the joint force.

The tactical airlift fleet is sized somewhat larger than the defense strategy would require, but Congress has been inclined to protect Guard and Reserve C-130 units which make up about 70 percent of this force. If additional active duty C-130s are retired, then Guard and Reserve units could have to increase deployments to meet peacetime demand.

The Air Force provides a number of "enabling" capabilities for the joint force, including command and control; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; and space. These enablers, including cyber (an area where all services contribute), account for 19 percent of Air Force personnel and demand for these capabilities has been increasing. Reductions here would, in general, be inconsistent with joint needs; but potential adjustments in both ISR capacity and capabilities may deserve a closer look once US forces leave Afghanistan.

Read the full article at AOL Defense >>

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