Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne and the Chief of Staff, Gen. T. Michael Moseley, said that they will live with the Administration’s imposed cap of 183 F-22As by extending the service lives of other fighters and depending more on advanced unmanned systems. However, they feel they won an important victory by persuading the Pentagon to extend the F-22A production line two years, until F-35 production is under way.
QDR-induced budgetary decisions would allow funding for only about 179 F-22As, but Moseley said that freezing the design at its present configuration will reduce costs, allowing USAF to get an additional four airplanes due to the savings. That would bring the total to 183, less than half the number which top USAF officials have for years said is the minimum needed to equip all 10 air and space expeditionary forces.
The personnel cuts will be absorbed as much as possible through reduced accessions and normal attrition, they said, adding that some of the cuts were coming anyway, due to the reduced support needs of the service’s modern systems—the F-22, F-35 fighter, C-17 heavy airlift, C-130J tactical transport, and a host of unmanned aerial systems.
The Air Force also will no longer fight to win a larger airlift fleet, because it believes that the cargo aircraft of today, supplemented by some new aerial tankers and a substantial C-5 upgrade, will be adequate to the tasks ahead, Moseley and Wynne asserted.
The two top Air Force leaders spoke to reporters shortly after the conclusion of QDR deliberations and the issuance of program budget directives regarding affected programs in late December.
“We’re going to have to take into account that the Air Force that we had planned on a few years ago may not come to fruition,” Wynne said, “but I will tell you, that has been a fact of life in the Department of Defense for some time now.”
The cut of 40,000 personnel will come out of the Air Force over the course of six years, Wynne said. “We’re talking ... 6,700 to 6,800 a year,” which he described as “manageable.”
To the maximum extent possible, the cuts will be achieved through attrition and voluntary departure. If involuntary separations are needed, “we have a very ... structured plan, and a good one, to try to minimize any disruption in people’s lives.”
The Air Force has begun to look at ways to reduce accessions such that no preventable shortages are created in any particular field years down the road, Moseley said.
He noted that 13 percent of officer specialties and 20 percent of enlisted specialties are “stressed,” meaning there are not enough people to go around in those career fields. His first priority, before involuntarily separating people, will be to give them a chance to cross-train into some of those undermanned areas.
Second, he wants to try to get separated people into the Guard and Reserve, and then he wants to offer “opportunities to move into Air Force civilian billets.”
The Air Force doesn’t want people it has trained and cultivated to “leave with a bad feeling in their heart,” Wynne interjected.
Moseley added that, if there’s no place for an involuntarily separated person in the range of Air Force careers, opportunities will be made to switch to a different service.
The cuts in manpower stem from “lessons learned,” Wynne said. The Air Force can “better manage” the “application of lean principles,” meaning doing more with fewer people, thanks to streamlined processes and new equipment that is less manpower intensive.
Normally, manpower goals for six years out would not be part of the budgeting process, he said. However, in conjunction with all the other QDR-driven changes, Wynne said he “wanted to establish firm goals” so commanders would keep sharpening their efforts to be more efficient.
“We believe that it is time for us to modernize into [less] manpower-intensive equipment,” Wynne noted. There will be a huge reduction in the people needed to repair an F-35 vs. an F-16, which he called “a pretty highly reliable airplane.” The reason, he said, will be because few actual repairs will be needed.
Components that break will be pulled and sent back to the factory and a new one plugged in. Just as people can no longer fix their own cars, neither will flight-line technicians do much actual repairing of aircraft, he said.
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