ARLINGTON, Va. — The Air Force Materiel Command must shed about 720 civilians no later than Oct. 1, swiftly followed by 3,000 active-duty airmen in fiscal 2007, or risk an annual budget shortfall of as much as $150 million, its commander said Thursday.

The command will start the downsizing by offering voluntary retirement packages, followed by RIFs — reductions in force, the federal government’s euphemism for layoffs — if too few people take the retirement package, Gen. Bruce Carlson said.

Carlson estimated that it would cost taxpayers $64 million in order for the command to put together sufficiently attractive voluntary early release bonus awards packages.

If too few people take the offer, the command’s budget shortfall in fiscal 2007 to cover unfunded payroll costs could be as much as $150 million, he said.

“It’s a very, very complex problem, and because the money is gone already (in next year’s budget), there’s a real sense of urgency to it,” Carlson said.

Located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, the Air Force Materiel Command is responsible for the Air Force’s research, development, test and evaluation programs, as well as providing repair and other logistics support for the Air Force’s aircraft and other weapons systems.

The command has a personnel roster of 80,000, of whom about 56,000, or 70 percent, are civilian, Carlson said.

Materiel Command’s personnel cuts are just one snapshot of a “force shaping” program to reduce the Air Force by 40,000 total personnel by fiscal 2011. Officials plan to channel the freed-up funds into upgrading its aging fleet of fighters, tankers and other aircraft.

As is the case at Materiel Command, throughout the Air Force the heaviest chopping is coming early in the program: in fiscal 2006, the first year of the plan, the Air Force’s active-duty roster is supposed to be cut from 347,624 today to 334,200 airmen by Oct. 1 — a loss of 13,424 people.

Another 2,000 Air Force civilians will have their positions eliminated, including the 720 civilians who work for the Materiel Command.

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