Air Force cuts personnel to meet revised mission

Monday - 1/30/2012, 5:25am EST

Jared Serbu, reporter, Federal News Radio

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It's not just the Army and Marine Corps will shrink under budget plans the Defense Department started rolling out last week: the Air Force will cut its personnel too over the next five years, trimming its uniformed ranks by roughly 10,000.

The Pentagon had earlier announced downsizing plans that would mainly impact the Army and Marine Corps. The Army would shrink from 570,000 soldiers to 490,000 under the budget plan the President will announce in February, and the Marines would drop by 20,000, down to a total of 182,000 by 2017.

Gen. Norton Schwartz, chief of staff, Air Force

Gen. Norton Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, made the latest downsizing disclosure during media briefings Friday, when both his service and the Army began to detail the impact the $487 billion in 10-year Defense cuts would have on their services. There were no immediate announcements of similar briefings by the Navy and Marine Corps.

The Air Force reductions would bring the services' end strength down to roughly 322,000. But Schwartz stressed the personnel cuts were the result of other changes and were not designed as cost savings measures in and of themselves.

"Importantly, those reductions are tied to force structure going away," he said. "We are not reducing personnel in order to meet budget targets. These are directly connected to the force structure adjustments that we've undertaken."

New personnel ratios

That force structure that's going away includes six tactical fighter squadrons and one training squadron, according to early budget details the Pentagon distributed to reporters last week.

Air Force leaders had previously signaled that uniformed personnel cuts were in store, even before the completion of the DoD strategic budget review that formed the basis for the decisions the department is now rolling out. The service already had been operating over its Congressionally-authorized end strength in fiscal 2011.

"There's pressure on the current size of the Air Force," Michael Donley, the Air Force secretary told a gathering in September. "It will be very difficult to hold that end strength going forward."

Schwartz said the Air Force will take a close look at the mix between its active, reserve and National Guard components to reach the right balance for the total force. He said the goal under the new strategy is to make sure active-duty airmen are at home for at least twice as long as they are deployed, a "deploy-to-dwell" ratio of one-to-two. For the reserve components, they're aiming for at least a one-to-four ratio.

Another round of BRAC

As there will be fewer airmen in the Air Force, the service also expects to have fewer bases over the next decade. DoD announced Thursday that it plans to ask Congress for another round of Base Realignments and Closures (BRAC). And Schwartz indicated his service has more base structure than it needs even today.

Michael Donley, the Air Force secretary

"For us, the base closure round in 2005 did not close bases. We did a multitude of realignments and so on," he said. "But there were estimates in that era that we had excess infrastructure in the neighborhood of 20 percent. And since 2005, our inventory of aircraft has declined in the neighborhood of 500 aircraft. So, the presumption, and I think it's a fair presumption, is that there's yet more excess infrastructure now. So we certainly support the proposal to go through another round of base closure analysis and execution."

In the Army's case, BRAC would have less of an impact, according to Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno. However, he indicated to reporters that DoD actually plans to ask Congress for two more BRAC rounds. He did not predict the timing of those closure or realignment measures, but said that he doubts the Army would give up any more bases in any case.

"The Army went through a very significant BRAC not too long ago," he said. "We did a very significant consolidation. I think for the most part we've established our installations. What you'll see around the Army, except for some of the overseas bases which will close, is a reduction in the installations. But I don't think you'll see a big installation being asked to close. We think we have the right footprint, but we'll see."

While it won't lose many bases, the Army will lose people. Some of the largest reductions will be in Europe. Two heavy armored brigades will be removed from Europe, and the reduction will be part of the Army's overall cut of 80,000 soldiers between now and 2017.

However, Odierno said he doesn't see his service as bearing a disproportionate burden of the budget cuts.

"I want to be very clear, this is not about winners and losers. This is about coming up with the right joint force," he said. "I believe the Army grew more than anybody else over the past five or six years as we got involved in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that growth was very specific. We were worried about the operational tempo of our units, so we grew the Army to meet our commitments. I see it as us making a correction now based on what we see out there as potential threats."

Special operations personnel growing

Odierno said his focus is on total capability, not just numbers. He said even though the Army is shrinking closer to the size it was on 9/11, it's going to be a far more capable force than it was a decade ago.

"What I look at is what 490,000 (soldiers) gets me," he said. "For example, we're increasing our special operations forces. We're going to go to a total of 35,000 in the Army. That's significant growth, and I want to reemphasize the incredible roles and missions that they play and what they've been doing for the past 10 years in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world. We want to continue that. We think that's the way of the future. And it's also the relationship that we've built between our special operations and our conventional forces. The synchronization and integration that we've gained in Iraq and Afghanistan is something that we will now carry forward."

In the Air Force's case, it's giving up fewer personnel, but it is eliminating many existing aircraft from its inventory and delaying the purchase of a new one, the F-35. But Schwartz said he too is comfortable with the cuts to his service.

"We will be a smaller, but superb force that maintains our agility, our flexibility and readiness to engage a full range of contingencies and threats," he said. "Throughout this evolution, we remain and shall remain committed to our ongoing responsibilities to provide globally postured, regionally tailorable full-spectrum air power, from nuclear deterrence to air, space and cyber operations, counterterrorism and global intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance."

And in at least a couple of those categories, spending will grow. The DoD strategy calls for increased spending on both ISR and cyber.

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