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Air Force mulls change to deployments

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — The Air Force is considering sending airmen downrange with members of their home-based unit as part of a new deployment system that could be phased in starting October 2012.

If approved by Air Force leaders, “AEF Next” would be a sea change to the the decade-old air expeditionary force system.

Rather than airmen deploying as individuals or in small groups from many locations across the Air Force, troops would deploy with their unit commanders as part of an “air power team.” In theory, the team would be about the size of a wing, composed of units from several different bases, said Col. John Long, the Air Force’s chief of war planning and policy.

Airmen would be assigned to air power team based on their career field and assignment location.

Air Force officials say the new plan isn’t a major overhaul since the service will still provide the same air power and capabilities as it does now. What’s changing is “who’ll you go with and when you’ll go,” said Maj. Chad Steffey, an Air Force spokesman at the Pentagon.

Air Force leaders say the proposed model would improve unit cohesion downrange and give deployments a greater degree of predictability: airmen, ideally, will know the airmen and commander with whom they’re going to deploy.

For most airmen, the transition will be seamless, officials said, since they’ll still deploy on a rotational basis for about six months at a time.

On the other end, the combatant commander downrange gains a unit that already has experience working and training together, Long said.

The size of the unit deploying – whether it will be an entire squadron or a smaller package – is still being determined, but would likely depend on the unit and skill set. For example, the Air Force probably wouldn’t deploy an entire civil engineer squadron since airmen need to continue to support the training mission at home, officials said. Flying squadrons and maintainers, however, are easier to deploy together.

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“Ideally we’re going to try and align the fighters and maintainers from the same base to increase that unit cohesion and training,” Long said.

If AEF Next is approved, the Air Force would do away with tempo banding, a 2-year-old system that splits the force into deployment categories, denoting how frequently an airman deploys.

A 1-to-2 dwell time ratio of six-month increments would be the target for the typical airman, meaning those airmen likely wouldn’t deploy for 12 months after returning home from a six-month deployment, Long said.

Dwell time, however, would still depend on an airman’s skill set and demand for that capability downrange, Air Force officials said.

Airmen in career fields that are in high demand in combat can still expect to deploy more often than most airmen, Long said. Those include explosive ordnance disposal, security forces and intelligence, he said.

But with AEF Next, the service hopes to be able to better identify how often those skills sets are deploying; that way, it can potentially ask another service to provide the capability if deployments are becoming too frequent, Long said.

Other details of the plan are still being worked out, Steffey said. Senior leaders are set to review the concept in November. The Air Force expects the plan will take about two years to fully implement once it’s approved, officials said.

svanj@estripes.osd.mil

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