WASHINGTON — With continuing budget constraints on the horizon, the Air Force needs to use “untraditional thinking” and consider the untapped potential of its highly experienced reserve airmen, the head of a congressionally established study group said Friday.
In a report issued Thursday, the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force recommended a major shift of manpower and resources from the active duty to the reserve component.
But commission chairman Dennis McCarthy, who spoke to reporters in Washington, admitted getting the military to accept such a change would not be a simple task.
“I think the obstacle is traditional thinking, and I think traditional thinking in the Air Force is, ‘We’ve got it about right, right now,’” he said. “So what we’re suggesting is some untraditional thinking.”
The Air Force could shift its component mix from the current 69 percent active duty and 31 percent reserve to 58 percent active and 42 percent reserve, the report said. That change would result in the shift of 36,600 personnel and save about $2 billion a year for the Air Force, it said.
“ ‘Part-time’ force structure … costs less than the force structure provided by ‘full-time’ personnel,” the report said. “Recognizing that some missions must be performed by the Active Component, the Air Force can, and should, entrust as many missions as possible to its Reserve Component forces.”
Among dozens of recommendations, the report called for increasing the number of integrated units with active, Guard and reserve personnel serving together. That would enhance “cultural melding” that began with the components fighting alongside each other in recent wars, McCarthy said.
“The tribes, if you will, are less distinct today,” he said. “But I also think you have to realize that if you don’t keep working at it, the tribalism will reform.”
He added, “People who serve together, who get to know each other, don’t revert to their tribe.”
The commission told Congress that the Air Force needs flexibility to either close bases or shut down unneeded parts of them, McCarthy said.
But that line of argument has brushed off each time Defense Department officials have raised the issue of a new round of the Base Closure and Realignment process.
“We weren’t specific about when, where, but we said, you ought to have the flexibility to do that so that you could make these force structure changes in a smart way,” McCarthy said. “There’s no question that this whole facility issue and infrastructure issue is a tough one, but it’s only one of the tough questions.”