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Senate wants commission to scrutinize cuts within Air Force

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Posted: Sunday, December 9, 2012 12:05 am

Sunday Focus

Editor’s note: Debate about removing the F-16 fighter jets from Eielson Air Force Base is one part of a nationwide controversy about the Air Force’s proposed budget reductions. The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, on which Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, serves, called for the a national commission to oversee the reductions when it wrote the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 earlier this year. The full Senate passed the legislation last week, but it still could change when reconciled with a House version later.

Below is the Armed Services Committee’s explanation for why it has called for a National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force. The explanation is included in the committee report that accompanies the legislation, S. 3254.

The (Armed Services) committee recommends a provision that would create a commission to study the appropriate makeup of the Air Force, considering that the Department of the Air Force draws upon active-duty forces, the Air Force Reserve, and the Air National Guard.

Included in the (administration’s) budget request was a plan by the Air Force to retire or realign various aviation units, and to cut 9,900 personnel from the rolls, including 3,900 active duty personnel, 5,100 from the Air National Guard and 900 from the Air Force Reserve. These changes represent a percentage reduction of 1.2 percent, 4.8 percent and 1.3 percent, respectively, of force structure for each component.

The committee believes that there is little justification for the relative imbalance in the cuts applied to the Air National Guard. The Air Force and the Department of Defense have been negotiating potential compromise outcomes that would change the relative distribution of aircraft and personnel, but those negotiations have as yet been unproductive. Since the Air Force proposes to implement many of the planned moves in fiscal year 2013, the committee feels it must take action now to delay those actions that would be difficult or impossible to reverse, and instead place the Air Force’s judgment on appropriate force structure mixes under the scrutiny of a national commission.

Commission members

The commission would be made up of four members appointed by leadership of the Committees on Armed Services of the Senate and the House of Representatives and four members appointed by the President. The commission, in considering possible force structure adjustments, would be directed to identify a structure that:

• meets current and anticipated requirements of the combatant commands;

• achieves an appropriate balance between the regular and reserve components of the Air Force, taking advantage of the unique strengths and capabilities of each;

• ensures that the reserve components of the Air Force have the capacity needed to support current and anticipated homeland defense and disaster assistance missions in the United States;

• provides for sufficient numbers of regular members of the Air Force to provide a base of trained personnel from which the personnel of the reserve components of the Air Force could be recruited;

• maintains a peacetime rotation force to avoid exceeding operational tempo goals of 1:2 for regular members of the Air Forces and 1:5 for members of the reserve components of the Air Force; and

• maximizes achievable costs savings.

Report required

The commission would be required to produce a report not later than March 31, 2013. (Editor’s note: Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, successfully amended this date by unanimous consent on the floor Nov. 30, delaying the report deadline until March 31, 2014.)

The provision would also prevent the Air Force from using any fiscal year 2013 funds to divest, retire, or transfer, or prepare to divest, retire, or transfer, any aircraft of the Air Force assigned to units of the Air National Guard or Air Force Reserve as of May 31, 2012. ...

The provision also includes authorization of an additional $1.4 billion for the purpose of freezing Air Force structure in place or as planned in order to reserve decision space for the national commission.

The amount of this additional authorization of appropriations is based on a rough estimate by the Department of the Air Force of the cost required to carry out this section. ... The committee expects to be promptly notified once the Air Force determines the total cost to carry out this provision.

The Air Force budget request for fiscal year 2013 assumed roughly $1.4 billion in savings that derived from retiring several systems, cutting the numbers of systems that remain, and realigning systems between the active and reserve components.

Puzzling plans

The committee completely understands that the Air Force had to make tough choices in the budget. However, many of the choices the Air Force made are puzzling, and almost all are lacking sufficient analysis to support the conclusions in the budget. Some actually fly in the face of what the Air Force asserted just within the past couple of years. For example, a very troubling aspect of the budget proposal is that, within these force structure changes, the cuts in manpower and aircraft would fall disproportionately on the Air National Guard. In the fighter forces, the Air Force is planning for a cut of almost one third in the A-10 force, with that cut weighted heavily toward the Air National Guard. Original data provided by the Air Force showed that, simultaneously with making these cuts in A-10 force structure, the Air Force was planning to increase the size of the active-duty A-10 training squadrons.

In tactical airlift programs, the Air Force had established a requirement, validated by the Joint Requirements Oversight Council, for 38 C-27 aircraft to provide direct support to Army ground forces. All of those aircraft were slated to go to the Guard. The committee observes that the Air Force joined what was a joint program with the Army, and then took sole ownership of it. Air Force officials testified that they needed to pursue the C-27 because the C-130 could not meet requirements. Now, the Air Force has reversed course, and claims that the C-130 is adequate for meeting the direct support mission for the Army.

The committee believes that changing of Air Force force structure is too important to be approached with such a lack of rationale, unsupported by objective analysis. The committee has recommended two steps to improve this situation. For the near term, the committee is recommending creation of a National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force that would report recommendations next year on this matter. Elsewhere, for the longer term, the committee is recommending a provision that would direct the Comptroller General to develop recommendations for objective criteria to be used by the Department of Defense to make decisions relating to realignments of units employed at military installations that are not currently covered by section 2687 of title 10, United States Code.

The committee is concerned that, in an effort to realign its force structure, valuable and necessary coordination between the Air Force, Army, and National Guard regarding the Air Force’s fiscal year 2013 force structure modifications were overlooked. In addition, the committee is concerned that the Secretary of the Air Force has failed to provide accurate analysis on the effects of the Air Force modifications decision. Earlier this year, the Secretary of the Air Force sent a letter to committee members in an attempt to justify the Air Force’s fiscal year 2013 force structure modifications that result in the reallocation of Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard units. However, the numbers provided in the Secretary’s letter are vastly different from numbers received and coordinated between Air Force and Army personnel on-site at locations being affected.

Therefore, the committee strongly urges the Secretary of the Air Force suspend all force structure adjustments until October, 1, 2013, to allow the committee to review the recommendations of the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force as they pertain to: (1) fielding of integrated joint training, command and control, and essential capabilities; and (2) current and anticipated requirements that support current defense strategy.

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