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Officials discuss future force mix, budget

  • Published
  • By Col. Bob Thompson
  • Air Force Reserve Public Affairs
Building tighter budgets, balancing the Total Force mix, and ensuring Reserve programs can continue to support daily operations were some of the topics discussed at the Air Force Association's 2011 Air Warfare Symposium and Technology Exposition in Orlando, Fla., Feb. 17 and 18.

All of these topics fit under the forum's theme "Resetting the Force for the Future." This two day gathering was attended by more than 500 people and included senior leaders from the Air Force, defense industry partners, AFA members and news media.

"We need to maximize the capabilities of the three components," said Lt. Gen. Charles E. Stenner Jr., chief of Air Force Reserve at the Pentagon and commander, Air Force Reserve Command at Robins Air Force Base, Ga. "Don't waste a nickel. However, we can't just be the 'cheapest,' we have to be the most effective and efficient."

The speakers at the conference included the Secretary of the Air Force, Michael B. Donley, several commanders of the Air Force's major commands as well as commanders of combatant commands, the Air Force Reserve, the Air National Guard and the National Guard Bureau. A reoccurring subject for most speakers was the need for the federal government's Fiscal Year 2011 budget to be approved.

"We need Congress to pass the budget," said Gen. Donald J. Hoffman, commander of Air Force Material Command. He said it didn't matter so much if it was reduced, the same, or increased, but that defense funding on Continuing Resolution was hampering on-going operations as well as long term planning.

"Operating without the FY11 appropriation is challenging," said General Stenner. "Continuing Resolutions require that we spend the money before they expire, then we have no flexibility for reallocating the funds as needed throughout the year."

With no FY11 budget, the Department has a difficult time planning and programming for required resources in future years.

"Whatever the President's budget has in it is what we'll support," said Lt. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt, director of the Air National Guard, Washington, D.C. "The phone is ringing all the time... a lot of U.S. Air Force missions lend themselves to the Air National Guard and the Reserve. There is a 'sweet spot' where the mix is cost-effective and benefits the entire U.S. Air Force."

Reserve manning is seen as a cost-effective solution in today's fiscally constrained environment. Reservists are called to active duty when the nation needs them. Afterward, they return to their civilian lives and a non-pay status from the government when they are off duty. This not only saves money on pay, but cuts down all related personnel expenses, benefit costs and infrastructure while retaining highly-skilled professionals who are ready whenever needed.

To find the right balance of Regular Air Force, Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard forces, officials rely on lessons learned from nearly 10 years of continuous combat operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa. According to General Stenner, these wars have emphasized the value and need for a balanced Total Force mix.

"We have to manage the total capacity of our Air Force," he said. "There can be no downtime in any mission area. The Air Force Reserve is 'all-in' and in all mission areas on a daily basis."

"Total Force Policy 21" is the Air Force Reserve plan for creating the future balance of Regular and Reserve Component forces. The priorities for the right mix start with the combat requirements designed by the combatant commands. These form the basis for the Air Force Core Service functions.

"We have to preserve a strategic reserve while enhancing our operational support to the combatant commands," said General Stenner. "The three components work together in every mission set. We're much smarter today about developing associations and making force mix decisions for emerging missions."

Planners use an analytical toolkit to evaluate new missions and take advantage of operational strengths inherent in full-time and part-time forces. Considerations include analyzing the dwell time for the mission.

"The [Air Expeditionary Force] is a very good system," said General Stenner. "It works well for us. Citizen Warriors need predictability for their families and employers."

The 1:5 dwell, or one deployment cycle followed by five cycles at home, works best for the Reserve Component said the general.

"Our Airmen want to be part of the fight," he said. "However, when the dwell decreases [less time between deployments] attrition goes up."

To increase retention, the general sees increased flexibility in the continuum of service as a key factor.

"We've got to make it easier to transition between active duty, the Air Force Reserve, and the Air National Guard," he said. "When Airmen make life-changing career decisions, they should be able to smoothly transfer between components."

By allowing Airmen to easily move back and forth between categories, the Air Force saves additional training dollars by retaining more people who have valuable skills and talents.

"We need to be frugal and smart with our people and resources," said General Stenner. "Our Citizen Warriors, their families, and their employers are the fabric of our nation's defense."