Military Update: Wartime downsizing ‘painful’ for Air Force
The Air Force has pared its active-duty force by 25,500 personnel over the last two years. It will cut another 17,000 personnel over the next two years to reach a self-imposed strength target of 316,500 by October 2009.
The idea, service leaders say, is to free up budget dollars through manpower cuts and organizational streamlining in order to afford replacement of a dangerously aged fleet of aircraft for the next conflict.
The day-to-day manager of this controversial wartime drawdown, now past its halfway mark, is Lt. Gen. Roger A. Brady, Air Force deputy chief of staff for personnel. He discussed the drawdown, and the reasons behind it, during a Nov. 7 address to a group of Air Force leaders, congressional staffers, defense analysts and press. It was part of the Air Force’s Defense Strategy Seminar Series which it conducts periodically on Capitol Hill.
Trained as a logistician as well as a pilot, Brady quipped that managing the drawdown “is a lot like managing parts, except these parts each have an e-mail account, an attitude and a congressional representative.”
He immediately turned more serious, noting the “painful” effect a force reduction has on individuals. A 12 percent staff cut over four years might not be perceived as “a big deal” to the chief executive officer of a corporation, Brady said. It is to a service in wartime, he suggested.
Air Force leaders came reluctantly to their force drawdown decision while preparing for the last Quadrennial Defense Review which assesses service missions, budgets and resources.
The dilemma that the Air Force faced, Brady said, “became increasingly obvious. We had a high operations tempo that was not going to change. We had an infrastructure that was OK but ragged by Air Force standards. We had growing personnel costs … and requirements that exceeded our resources.”
Unless Congress was ready to back a significant budget hike for the Air Force, which was unlikely given the rising costs of ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the service would have to make itself smaller to afford modernizing equipment for the next conflict.
Brady quoted Gen. T. Michael Moseley, chief of staff, that the Air Force could stay at 359,000 “and fly 75-year-old aircraft.” The more prudent course, Brady said, “was to reduce manpower, making every effort to streamline our organizations and processes, and manage the attendant risk.”
Into its third year, the drawdown is on track. Active-duty strength had fallen to 334,000 by October this year. The officer corps is down by 3,600, with another 4,400 slots to disappear by 2009. To achieve this, force managers have had to use a mix of voluntary and involuntary initiatives.
One tool to thin career officer ranks in overmanned skill areas has been Voluntary Separation Pay. The cash is double the value of separation pay if an officer risks instead being selected by a reduction-in-force board. In fiscal 2007, the Air Force offered VSP to several hundred officers with five to six years in service or 11 to 12 years. About 1,700 officers who had either passed on VSP or applied too late were selected by a RIF board.
In fiscal ’08, the Air Force will look at officers in overmanned skills who have 12 to 15 years’ service. Two hundred of them first will be offered VSP.
The Air Force last January also convened for the first time since the early 1990s a Selective Early Retirement Board. It reviewed lieutenant colonels twice passed over for promotion and colonels with more than four years in grade who had not been selected for brigadier. Nearly 200 were told to retire early.
Cuts to enlisted strength, which have exceed 22,000 so far, have all been voluntary but Air Force is using various force-shaping initiatives, said Capt. Tom Wenz, an Air Force spokesman.
A “Blue to Green” interservice transfer program between the Air Force and Army also is available for officers and enlisted. Its success has been “underwhelming,” Brady said.
He noted more seriously that people join a specific service, drawn to its mission, uniforms, culture or other factors. So the reluctance to move to another service is understandable.
The drawdown, however, is working, Brady said. Air Force hasn’t allowed it to impact war zone deployments. Forces in theater have all the people they need, he said.
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