The Air Force has begun to fill in more details for how it will contribute to the Pentagon’s plan to reduce previously planned defense spending by $487 billion over the next ten years.
The Air Force had previously indicated that its shrinking footprint would involve the elimination of approximately 10,000 personnel. Officials disclosed Friday that those personnel reductions would be heavily weighted toward the Air National Guard.
The Air Force will shrink by 9,900 airmen over the next five years: 3,900 active duty personnel will be cut, as will 900 members of the Air Force reserve. The Air National Guard’s ranks will go down by 5,100.
“We have made some hard choices to closely align ourselves with the new strategic guidance in our fiscal 2013 budget submission,” said Michael Donley, Secretary of the Air Force. “Our decision for the Air Force was that we were better off, and the best course of action for us is to become smaller in order to protect a high-quality and ready force that will continue to modernize and grow more capable in the future. So we had to balance force structure, readiness, modernization and certainly our support for Airmen in that mix.”
Advocates for the National Guard appeared to be surprised by the extent to which the Air Force’s overall personnel cuts hit the Guard.
“Despite claims last week that reductions to Air Force aircraft and personnel would be ‘balanced’ across the active component, the National Guard and the Reserves, the Air National Guard is apparently taking the bulk of the cuts,” said Maj. Gen. (Ret). Gus Hargett, president of the National Guard Association of the United States. “This not only squanders the opportunity to leverage the Air Guard to retain combat capability at a time when reductions must be made, it reduces the Air Force’s ability to quickly respond to unforeseen contingencies in the future.”
The personnel reductions are a direct result of a cut in the Air Force’s overall aircraft inventory, Donley and Gen. Norton Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, told reporters at the Pentagon Friday. The Air Force budget proposal the Pentagon will submit later this month will call for reduction of 286 aircraft out of its existing stock of about 5,600. 227 of the planes would be retired during fiscal year 2013 alone.
Donley said the manpower cuts tilt toward the Guard and Reserve because the active Air Force has already been reducing its active duty ranks over the past several years through various force shaping measures. He said the service now needs to do the same thing with the National Guard.
“There are significant reductions involved here, and we will be asking Congress for legislative authorities for force management tools, like those that we used for the active duty, to help the Guard work through the force shaping that’s under way inside the Air National Guard as part of this process,” he said. Donley said he does not expect to have to resort to involuntary separation procedures to achieve the personnel drawdown the budget proposal will require.
The cutbacks will affect units just about everywhere: they’ll play at least some role at more than 60 bases around the world, Air Force officials estimate, and they’ll have a direct impact on bases in 33 states in the continental United States.
But the impact could have been worse, Donley said.
“In a number of cases, we’ve taken mitigating action by remissioning units, from aircraft to remotely piloted aircraft, for example,” he said. “We’ve moved some aircraft from the active forces into the Guard or Reserve. And in some cases unit size will increase in the Reserve component as well. But, in general, we’re getting smaller. So these mitigations and backfills will not cover all units at all locations.”
The Air Force plans to release specifics on the manpower changes it will make by state and installation in March.
One of the changes will be more reliance on “associations” between active units of the Air Force and their reserve component counterparts. The idea is to pair up an active component unit with a reserve component unit so they can benefit from each other’s particular expertise and operate more efficiently. There are 100 such arrangements now. The Air Force plans to grow that number to at least 125.