“Concerned” About USAF People Cuts

Is the Air Force plan to continue drawing down its end strength to some 316,000 airmen as a means to generate savings for recapitalization prudent? That is one of the many questions troubling lawmakers this week as they begin hearings on the 2009 defense budget request. Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) stated, during the House Armed Services Committee hearing Feb. 6, “I continue to be concerned about the reductions in personnel for the Air Force. … They are not based upon a reduced threat. They are not based on a needs assessment.” Defense Secretary Robert Gates responded, “My impression is the Air Force is taking another look at this … with the increase in the end strength of the Army and the Marine Corps [and] what are going to be the additional burdens on the Air Force going forward.” Speaking as one who has gone through a similar people-reduction drill as Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Michael Mullen, now JCS Chairman, explained that in the end the Navy wasn’t “really taking that money and investing it [in recapitalization] because of rising personnel costs. He said: “I’ve spoken with General Moseley [USAF Chief of Staff]. I know he is concerned about this and that he may have come down too quickly.” Mullen blamed the Air Force dilemma partly on USAF’s inability to retire older aircraft, something that Congress has prohibited and that has eaten money USAF needs “to be investing for the future.” Having said that, Mullen also noted that if the Air Force decides to maintain a 330,000-airman end strength, it would have to find “another billion or billion and a half dollars worth of personnel funds.” He called it “a very tough problem” that needs review “to really look at what the right way ahead is.”