Janine Davidson

Defense in Depth

Janine Davidson examines the art, politics, and business of American military power.

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Slash Manpower, Impair Readiness? For the Air Force, There’s a Better Way

by Janine Davidson
April 10, 2014

Mechanic Sgt. Stephen Fink watches a F-35B Lightning II joint strike fighter Mechanic Sgt. Stephen Fink watches a F-35B Lightning II joint strike fighter from the Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501, at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, in this September 18, 2012 photo. (Master Sgt. Jeremy T. Lock, USAF/Courtesy Reuters)


I have a new article out in The Hill co-authored with my colleague,  Dr.  Meg Harrell, a manpower expert at RAND and a fellow member of the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force (NCSAF). We argue that the Air Force’s proposed cuts of 25,000 airmen is the wrong approach: it voids a huge training investment and accepts too much strategic risk by hampering the Air Force’s ‘surge’ capabilities. We propose a less risky strategy that will shift more airmen to the Air Force Reserve and Air Guard. This carries several important benefits:

  • Protects readiness. Our work on the NCSAF suggested that readiness could be maintained in a more reserve-focused force.  Air Force reservists volunteer frequently and say they want to do more — as long as they’re given reasonable notice.
  • Improves retention. The reserves and guard are an attractive part-time option for airmen who also seek career and lifestyle flexibility. In addition to billions of savings in personnel costs, having a greater proportion of reservists in the force also ensures that valuable training and institutional knowledge aren’t lost as soon as active duty ends.
  • Increases active-reserve integration. This one’s important and builds on proven Air Force innovation. If active and reserve units can be better integrated – and permitted to share aircraft and equipment – the Air Force will benefit tremendously. The current structure of multiple legal duty statuses and separate chains of command creates needless bureaucratic friction. This can and should be fixed, especially in a lean operating environment.

In the end, the more barriers to service we lower and the more thought we show to ‘surge’ capability, the better off the Air Force will be. You can read more of our thoughts here.

Post a Comment 1 Comment

  • Posted by Brian

    Thank you for your article and work on the commission. I have been in AD and currently in ANG. The ANG has know for a long time that we can do it better and cheaper. I was once told that the average aircraft mechanic in AD has 1.5 years experience and the RC mechanic has 15. Who do you want fixing your jet?

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