Can the Total Force Hold Together

June 1, 2007

Total Force Integration—a project that Air Force leaders deem to be one of USAF’s highest priorities and key to the service’s future health and effectiveness—is being twisted into one political knot after another.

On the one hand, USAF is moving out to further combine its active, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve components into even more powerful fighting forces. On the other hand, it is coming face-to-face with unprecedented external demands to “fix” a system that USAF plainly believes is not broken. Compounding the problem is standard political resistance to change.

The Total Air Force, as a result, is experiencing contentiousness and uncertainty on a scale rarely seen in its 60-year history, with an as yet undetermined effect.

Total Force Integration, which was launched in the late 1990s, refers to a blending of active, Guard, and Reserve personnel and equipment to gain efficiency and effectiveness in support of the overall Air Force mission

This kind of integration is old hat for deployed forces. When Air Force units go overseas, airmen from all three Air Force components come together operationally under a single commander in the field. Active, Guard, and Reserve members work together so smoothly that it is virtually impossible to tell them apart.

However, recent efforts to extend the teaming efforts to forces located at Stateside bases have met considerable political resistance. Various governors, lawmakers, and state adjutants general accuse the Air Force of multiple sins. Among them: giving short shrift to state needs; failing to appreciate the “community first” philosophy of part-time airmen who make up the Guard and Reserve; and treating the reserve components as mere cogs in a giant federal force.

The charges and countercharges have sparked a number of official and unofficial studies of the situation. After months of review, the Congressionally chartered Commission on the National Guard and Reserves in March released an interim report evaluating specific legislative proposals affecting reserve components.

The commission, chaired by retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Arnold L. Punaro, rejected relatively extreme proposals aimed at greatly strengthening the power of the National Guard Bureau relative to the four services. Moreover, it focused mainly on the Army Guard, proposing little of note for the Air Force.

To Gen. T. Michael Moseley, USAF Chief of Staff, this was a good thing.

“The Punaro commission was tasked by the Congress to fix a certain set of problems,” Moseley told Air Force Magazine. “My interpretation is the ‘certain set of problems’ to be fixed were not Air Guard, Air Reserve, or Air Force-related.”

In the midst of the swirling political controversy, the service is plunging ahead with integration on a broad front. USAF on March 26 announced that it had finalized 138 “Phase IV” Total Force Integration initiatives—a total that includes new and all previously announced efforts. More than 90 of the initiatives are funded, “with more soon to follow,” said the Air Force.

Phases I, II, and III of the project were announced over the past decade. They introduced active-Guard-Reserve teaming on a limited basis. (See “The Totally Integrated Force,” June 2006, p. 36.)

The newest initiatives move Air Force personnel into new teaming arrangements nationwide and suggest even further Guard and Reserve involvement in important mission areas such as unmanned aerial vehicle operations and intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance missions. A release noted that 45 percent of the initiatives would bring about new associations. Some 55 percent focus on “new, emerging, or stand-alone missions.”

Some of the changes were driven by the recent Base Realignment and Closure process. The latest BRAC, for example, ordered Air Force Reserve Command to close a base and five flying wings in Louisiana. AFRC A-10 attack aircraft, previously based in New Orleans, already have been dispersed to other bases around the country.

This and similar moves are allowing the Reserve to increase the size of its squadrons to more efficient 24-aircraft units.

However, there is concern about how many part-time airmen—Guard or Reserve—will actually pick up and move to new locations receiving their aircraft. Lt. Gen. John A. Bradley, commander of AFRC, noted that some of the airmen from New Orleans have already moved to units at Barksdale AFB, La., Whiteman AFB, Mo., Eglin AFB, Fla., and Keesler AFB, Miss. Some, however, have not, choosing instead to leave the force.

Many of the Total Force Integration initiatives center on reliable new hardware that can benefit from higher crew ratios. Lt. Gen. Craig R. McKinley, director of the Air National Guard, said in an interview that these initiatives give units “stuck” with aging aircraft an opportunity to make a transition to missions that have bright futures.

The Air Force is pushing Total Force Integration at every operating location for the new F-22 fighter. One such unit is the “classic associate” setup in Virginia, where Air Guardsmen based in Richmond are giving up their F-16s and moving to Langley AFB, Va., home to two squadrons of Raptors.

Full-Spectrum Initiatives

At the end of 2006, seven Guard pilots were flying F-22s at Langley, located in the Virginia Tidewater area. Eventually, the wing will have 31 ANG pilots. Similarly, 62 ANG maintainers were working on the advanced fighter at year’s end. The Air Force hopes to have more than 400 of them at Langley before too much longer.

The initiatives outlined in the Phase IV list encompass the full spectrum of Air Force missions and locations. They include the creation of:

  • A new Guard security forces squadron in partnership with an active squadron at Minot AFB, N.D.
  • A Reserve association with Global Hawk maintenance and operations at Beale AFB, Calif.
  • An Air Mobility Command Joint Cargo Aircraft unit within the Maryland ANG, based at Martin State Arpt., Md.
  • A Reserve air operations center augmentation unit, based at Hurlburt Field, Fla., to support Air Force Special Operations Command at the same site.
  • An MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle squadron within the New York State Air National Guard.
  • An active duty associate unit affiliated with the Air Force Reserve A-10 unit to be based at Whiteman.
  • An ANG foreign military sales flying training unit for F-16s, at Springfield-Beckley Arpt., Ohio.
  • A Guard foreign military sales flying training unit for C-130s, “at a location/state to be determined.”

There is more to come, as Moseley said in an explanatory letter to governors in several affected states. He noted that the “next set of Total Force beddowns” will entail basing of a new KC-X tanker, the new CSAR-X combat search and rescue helicopter, F-35A strike fighters, new Joint Cargo Aircraft, and more C-17 and C-130J airlifters.

“There is an ever-wider set of opportunities [for partnering] that will evolve over the coming years,” concluded the Chief’s letter.

Similarly sweeping change is taking place at the Pentagon. One of the Phase IV initiatives is to “fully integrate” the Air Staff’s A8 plans and programs directorate with active, Guard, and Reserve airmen. The Total Force Integration office is part of A8 and is led by Brig. Gen. Allison A. Hickey, an officer who served 10 years on active duty, one in the Reserve and 12 in the Guard.

Still, it would be overly optimistic to believe that this Air Force plan will unfold smoothly in years ahead. Some members of Congress have proposed legislative measures that could complicate if not block various Air Force moves.

Most notable of these is a proposal to offer the chief of the National Guard Bureau a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff and elevate the position to four-star rank. Another was to give the Guard independent authority to develop its budget.

These proposals are being pushed by the powerful Senate National Guard Caucus, co-chaired by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.).

However, the Punaro commission came out in opposition to these proposals, calling them unnecessary and possibly damaging to Total Force efforts, defensewide. The report did, however, recommend that Congress promote the NGB chief to four-star status.

The commission said that putting the Guard Bureau chief on the JCS “would be fundamentally inconsistent” with the Guard’s status as reserve components of the Army and Air Force—part of a larger and hopefully integrated force. There is concern that elevating the NGB in that manner would remove it from the control of the parent services, creating in essence a fifth armed service.

“We have to avoid that,” Moseley said. “To create a separate service, with separate funding and separate equipage, what would that do to the Total Air Force?” For starters, he warned, it would create temptations for the different components “to buy completely different equipment,” which could lead to unique and noncompatible squadrons.

Moseley warned that putting the Guard chief on the Joint Chiefs “could lead to the ANG becoming a less-than-equal partner by separating the NGB and the ANG from the collaborative planning, fiscal, training, and oversight processes of the Air Force.” His conclusion: “In short, it could lead to disintegration.”

There is also a risk that in such an arrangement, the much-larger Army National Guard would overwhelm the priorities and culture of the smaller Air National Guard. The Air Guard, with 106,700 airmen, is less than a third the size of the 350,000-soldier Army Guard. “Look at the percentages of mass,” said Moseley. “If you combined that into a separate service, what would that do to the Air Guard as a culture? What would it do to the Air Guard’s ability to be part of the Air Force and not an air arm to something [else]?”

Full Partners

This is not an idle worry. All three components of the Total Air Force are trained, equipped, and evaluated according to the same standards. The Guard and Reserve are clearly operational, having long since stopped being a strategic reserve. “The country depends on a force [with] readiness, that you can deploy in hours,” Moseley said.

Officials routinely note that there is no way to tell an Air Guardsman from a Reservist from an active duty airman in the war zone, because they all wear the same uniform and have comparable skills. “There are some … [Total Force] fighter units that are doing Operation Noble Eagle and deploying right now that are as good, or better,” than any other unit in the Air Force, Moseley added.

The Guard and Reserve are full partners in the Air and Space Expeditionary Force. Lt. Gen. Michael W. Wooley, head of Air Force Special Operations Command, noted that 100 percent of his command’s EC-130 electronic combat capability is in the Guard. Similarly, AFSOC’s entire MC-130E Talon I mobility capability resides in the Reserve. Gen. Duncan J. McNabb, head of Air Mobility Command, observed that nearly 60 percent of his force resides in the Guard and Reserve, and every airman is a “full up round” when arriving in the war zone.

Shortly after the commission’s interim report was filed, Moseley sent it a letter outlining further ideas for consideration before the commission issues a final report next year. In the letter, he suggested the commission consider the merit of promoting the heads of the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve to four-star rank.

“Think how many bases Craig McKinley [the ANG chief] is responsible for. Think how many bases John Bradley [the AFRC commander] is responsible for,” said Moseley in an interview.

Though most of their personnel are part-timers, the reserve components are significantly larger than several of USAF’s four-star major commands in terms of manpower, equipment, and numbers of operating locations.

In his letter to Punaro, Moseley also suggested a major change in state leadership of the Army and Air Guard. He asked panel members to “investigate options to give our governors both an air and an Army adjutant general, who would partner to create a true joint headquarters for the governors.” Among other things, this move would enlarge the pool of Total Force officers from which “higher-ranking positions could be filled.”

Such efforts to modernize the Total Air Force and keep the Guard and Reserve relevant have frequently met with hostility, and this spring was no exception. The states are highly protective of their Guard and Reserve units, the jobs they provide, and the capabilities they offer for response to natural disasters and other emergencies.

Moseley’s March letter to the commission was a case in point: It generated immediate hostility on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers accused Moseley of making suggestions that would destroy the National Guard as it now exists.

Leahy and Bond wrote that Moseley’s suggestions were “ill advised” and signified “a gross misunderstanding of the significance and purpose of the National Guard.” They and the state adjutants general took particular issue with the notion of creating a second adjutant general’s post. This, they believe, would create a new layer of bureaucracy and destroy unity of command.

The Senators also wrote that “instead of pursuing an antiquated, and costly, model that moves Guard units to active bases, … the nation would be better served by expanding community basing programs that bring active service members to stand [alone] Guard bases.”

Some of the proposals do just that, such as programs to bring active duty airmen to serve with Guard units in Burlington, Vt., and Cheyenne, Wyo. These are often attempts to increase manpower levels at Guard units that have small local populations to recruit from. Studies have also found that USAF can expect significant personnel losses if it asks Guard or Reserve personnel to move more than 200 miles to a new assignment.

Opposition to proposed changes seems reflexive at times, but much stems from long-standing concern at the state level that the Air Force doesn’t take local needs into account when planning for its Total Force.

Proposed location changes are part of the problem—many of the initiatives require moves to active duty Air Force bases. “Fully 50 percent of traditional CONUS active duty bases will become ‘Total Force’ with Guard and Reserve associations,” Wynne and Moseley testified in December.

“We are concerned that the Air Force may not fully grasp that ANG members are citizen-airmen with intricate ties to their communities,” wrote Stephen M. Koper, president of the National Guard Association of the US, in a March letter. “They are not easily transferable manpower who [move] when basing or missions change.”

The Air Force and ANG are aware of the state concerns. Moseley said both the Air Force and the states need to do a better job communicating their desires and needs to each other. This is especially important when missions are being changed.

“There are no easy answers here,” noted Punaro. “There’s no magic pixie dust that you can sprinkle and all these problems go away. These are issues that have been long-standing.”

The commission’s report was notably downbeat about the health of the reserve components, especially the Army National Guard. Lt. Gen. H. Stephen Blum, the NGB chief, told the commission early this year that 88 percent of the Army Guard forces in the United States “are very poorly equipped today.”

Broken, or Not

The Air Guard did not get a clean bill of health. Punaro said that 45 percent of ANG units were similarly “not ready,” meaning that 45 percent were at the lowest C3, C4, or C5 readiness ratings. He warned, “This is worse than the worst readiness days of the Hollow Force” in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

This assessment did not sit well with the Air Force Chief, who bluntly declared, “The Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve are not broken.”

He noted that the Guard and Reserve operation and maintenance accounts are actually funded at levels higher than that of the active duty force in areas such as depot purchased equipment for maintenance, base operating support, and sustainment. ANG officials further pointed out that the 45 percent figure includes units undergoing mission conversions because of BRAC, which affected more than 60 percent of all the Guard wings.

There are frequent concerns about recruiting and retention in the Total Force. The commission was most concerned with prior-service enlistments, which have been declining for all the reserve components.

For the Air Guard, prior-service recruits had dipped to less than 50 percent of new recruits from 2001 to 2004, but rebounded above 53 percent in 2005 and 2006. ANG retention rates have been near or above the 90 percent target since 9/11.

At AFRC, the prior-service numbers are traditionally higher. They were above 80 percent in the late 1990s and have fluctuated annually between 61 percent and 76 percent since 2001.

Bradley noted that much of the problem in getting prior-service airmen is simple math—four times as many airmen were separating from active service per year 15 years ago than is the case now. Bringing 10 percent of them into the Reserves does not have the same effect it once did.

AFRC has surpassed its overall recruiting goal for the past six years, however, and retention levels have consistently been near 89 percent—the same as before 9/11.

Bradley also noted that Reserve personnel are “much happier today than they were years ago,” because they are “out there every day” performing real-world missions and directly supporting combatant commanders.

The Air Guard, meanwhile, needs to move into new equipment. More than half the Guard currently flies fighters, noted McKinley. As these older F-15s, F-16s, and A-10s age out over the next 20 years, the ANG needs to move into fifth generation fighters and new mission areas. This creates an opportunity for the Air Force and the states to collectively plan for equipment and missions that are mutually beneficial.

“I think we can all do a better job defining a state mission,” said Moseley. “Ask: What would be the capability that a governor or a TAG would want, to be able to deal with [a natural disaster or terror attack]? … What does a governor need, to be able to meet that state mission?”

Yet to be seen is whether such a spirit of cooperation will be enough to untangle the Total Force Integration effort.

Select Findings of the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves

The following were contained in the commission’s second interim report, released on March 1 in Washington, D.C.

The chief of the National Guard Bureau should be elevated to the rank of four-star general, “based on the duties [he] is required to perform.”

The NGB chief should not be made a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff because JCS members have “greater” responsibilities.

Creating a new JCS position would run counter to service integration efforts and “would be fundamentally inconsistent with the status of the Army and Air National Guard as reserve components of the Army and Air Force.”

National Guard forces are not a strategic reserve as they were in the Cold War—to be mobilized in the event of a massive war against the Warsaw Pact. They are an operational force.

The Defense Department does not explicitly or adequately budget for civil support missions because it “views them as derivative of its wartime missions. This is a flawed assumption.”

US Northern Command, which leads DOD’s homeland defense mission, has a staff primarily consisting of active duty personnel. NORTHCOM’s billets should instead be filled primarily by “leaders and staff with reserve qualifications and credentials.”

The NORTHCOM commander or deputy commander “should be a National Guard or Reserve officer at all times.”