Air Force Airpower: The Indispensable Instrument

Nov. 1, 2007

America can rightly claim to be the greatest military power—a power that affords us prosperity and security. This status is due in no small part to our overwhelming supremacy in air and space.

The United States Air Force provides our nation a unique military advantage, indispensable in war and peace—to know what is happening around the globe, to lend a hand with humanitarian assistance, to deter nations that would use aggression to bully their neighbors, to defend our nation when we are attacked, and deal a decisive blow to our foes. Our Air Force is balanced and precise; it can range the globe rapidly and to great effect with the least cost in American lives.

American know-how—technological brilliance—has been the cornerstone of the Air Force. The Air Force is the youngest of our nation’s military branches and proud of it. It is able to adapt in time and space by changing position. The effects the Air Force can achieve through perspective, range, and endurance are those no other military instrument can execute. Our nation’s ability to gain an advantage over our enemies by exploiting air and space is unsurpassed.

Today’s Air Force was built on the work of those who preceded us. We laud their brilliant foresight, determination, and sacrifice. However, no marvel of ingenuity guarantees continued superiority in air and space.

The overwhelming advantages afforded to our nation by the United States Air Force can be lost through inattention to modernization or by underfunding force structure. We are now at a point, after 17 years of continuous combat—from Desert Storm, Bosnia, and Kosovo to Iraq and Afghanistan today—where our nation’s continued superiority in air and space is at risk.

Our Air Force flies the oldest aircraft that we have ever had to support—and they will be getting older and more costly to maintain if nothing is done to reverse the trend. Both our B-52s and KC-135s average 46 years old today; in 2030, they will average 68 years old. Our A-10s average 26 years old today; in 2030, they will average 49 years old. The nation cannot afford to lose this capability due to complacency.

Our Air Force is constantly in demand by combatant commanders around the globe—the operations tempo is high and continuing to rise—but the size of our Air Force is the smallest it has been in decades. The Air Force had approximately 4,400 fighters in 1985, today we have around 2,500, and in 2030 it will have fewer than 1,400. Despite technological improvements, the Air Force cannot fulfill its global missions without sufficient force structure—aircraft simply cannot be in two places at once, whether in Korea and Afghanistan or above New York City.

Losing our airpower edge is not a responsible option. Our elected leaders must ensure this does not happen. The United States Congress is charged by the Constitution with providing for the common defense. Our responsibility to our forefathers, to our nation, and to our families is to make sure it does just that.

The “Affordability” Issue

We recognize that a dominant Air Force—fully manned, highly trained, properly equipped, amply supported, and of proper size—will require increased funding. That, however, is not the whole story, or even the most important part of the story.

Today’s defense burden is relatively light. Defense spending now claims some four percent of our Gross Domestic Product, and that includes the costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. For the basic defense program, the figure is roughly three percent, near the pre-Sept. 11, 2001 level. During the Cold War, the investment in defense was about 6 percent of GDP; during Korea, 12 percent; in World War II, nearly 40 percent. In 1962, before the Vietnam War, defense took 9.3 percent of GDP, without economic damage. Obviously, there is plenty of room in the economy for a more robust defense effort. Moreover, national resources are growing. The $13.75 trillion US economy is expected to grow by 15 percent in the next five years. Even a large defense increase would not take more than a small part of that amount.

One can debate figures, but there can be no denying that the armed services are seriously underfunded. For instance, the Air Force needs an extra $20 billion a year over the next 20 years—and even that figure may be on the low side. The budget is simply too small to balance commitments and resources.

The Air Force Association recognizes that it will take political leadership in order to provide adequate funding to ensure that our national defense forces and infrastructure are sufficient to meet current and future threats to our nation. AFA believes that the nation must commit significantly greater resources to defense and can afford to do so. Such an increase could be accomplished with a very affordable 6 percent of its Gross Domestic Product applied to defense for many years to come.

Challenge of Globalization

The engine of change is globalization—the process of interaction and integration among people, companies, and governments of different nations. It is driven by international trade and investment and boosted by modern information technology. It affects culture, political systems, economics as well as national and international security.

This wave of change has brought huge benefits to millions around the world and to our citizens in the US. However, globalization is a two-edged sword. The same openness and interdependence that permits rapid growth and instantaneous communication also makes every nation more vulnerable. Each American depends on the world economy; we feel the effects of any disruption in the global system. As the events of Sept. 11, 2001 demonstrated, attackers can use modern transport and communication systems to reach us swiftly and with devastating effect. The decisions of people anywhere can affect us. Globalization gives us new benefits and new dangers.

Today, we see the consequences of this new reality in many places. The threatening actions of despots and killers in far-away nations—actions that we might once have been able to ignore or deal with at a distance—have drawn us toward military action. These threats are no longer far away.

The United States is in a tough fight in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The Air Force Association salutes all of the armed forces for their service. The sacrifices that our men and women make to fight our nation’s wars are a testament to our democracy. This association is especially proud of Air Force men and women—those 675,000 active airmen, National Guardsmen, Reservists, and Air Force civilians—for their efforts on behalf of our nation.

The Air Force Association believes that we must continue to support our troops who are fighting the Global War on Terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere around the world. Fully functioning and sovereign governments in Iraq and Afghanistan are in the best interest of democratic nations around the world.

The association calls on Congress to take action in the following five broad areas to provide for the defense and security of the United States for today and for future generations of Americans:

Prosecuting the Global War on Terrorism—Importance of the Air Force Role

We have been fortunate in having a strong Air Force. Our bombers, fighters, UAVs, and gunships have delivered potent attacks against enemy forces, not only setting the conditions for the fight on the ground, but effectively devastating enemy forces near and far. Air Force tankers have increased the range and endurance of aircraft from all the services. Air Force airlifters provide rapid medical evacuation and haul many of the troops, much of the cargo, and time-critical personnel and materiel within the theater after they arrive.

Air Force special operations forces, as flight crews and battlefield airmen, have allowed indigenous forces in Afghanistan to seize entire provinces. Air Force spacecraft, manned aircraft, and unmanned aerial vehicles have provided the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance that have allowed joint force commanders to dominate the battlespace.

The Air Force continues to perform nearly all of the homeland defense missions that comprise Operation Noble Eagle. Every day, numerous fighters, tankers, and ISR aircraft take off in direct support of our nation’s security.

AFA believes Congress and the Administration must work together to ensure the Department of Homeland Security and the Air Force have the resources to effectively secure our homeland.

At this moment, state and non-state agents are exploiting the Internet, attempting to gain an advantage over the United States. The Air Force is meeting this challenge through the establishment of a dedicated Cyber Command. The response to a cyber-attack on our national infrastructure must be immediate; protecting military, government, and commercial networks will require increased cooperation between the private sector, DOD, and other government agencies.

Without dominance of the electromagnetic spectrum, operations in air and space would be at risk. In this domain, an adversary may be able to blind our sensors, unmask our stealthy aircraft, and exploit or disrupt our computer systems in order to diminish our military operations. AFA applauds the Air Force for taking the lead in countering this growing threat.

The Air Force maintains 35,000 airmen in the Southwest Asia region, including 5,000 Air National Guard and 2,500 Reservists. Air Force involvement includes direct attack operations and aeromedical evacuation, intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance (ISR), close air support, air refueling and more. Use of unmanned systems—such as the Predator and Global Hawk—has helped ground forces locate and target roadside bombs, mortars, rockets, and concentrations of insurgent fighters. Air Force C-130s transport ground troops and materiel, helping keep them off the dangerous Iraqi roads.

The Air Force has flown more than 430,000 combat sorties in Afghanistan and Iraq. It has deployed, for an extended period, a steady-state force of 250 aircraft to the Southwest Asian Theater. The Air Force has conducted more than 18,000 aeromedical evacuations to save our airmen, soldiers, sailors, and marines. Every single day of the year, the Air Force flies over 400 sorties in Southwest Asia and over the US in homeland defense.

As part of a joint team, the combined force air component commander has hunted down elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan by participating in multiple sweeps of the southern and eastern provinces where enemy forces have infiltrated from Pakistan. Operation Iraqi Freedom is now in its fifth year; there, the Air Force role has shifted from attacking large formations of enemy forces to supporting counterinsurgency raids. We can expect that even after the bulk of US ground forces are withdrawn from Iraq, US Air Force operations will continue for many years afterward. The United States Air Force is critical to the defense of our nation, and AFA urges Congress to fully fund the needs of the Air Force to enable it to fulfill its vital role.

Invest in Air Force Capabilities

Our ability to sustain air and space dominance will not come cheaply. But an America without dominant air, space, and cyberspace power would be a nation in great jeopardy. For more than 50 years, our ground forces have benefited from air supremacy. The last time an American soldier was killed by enemy aircraft was in 1953. We must not take air supremacy for granted. Our past military successes will not be repeatable without significant investments in future force structure.

For the future, we dare not rely on 50-year-old bombers, 40-year-old tankers, and 30-year-old fighters. The risk is too great. We have lived through two decades of neglect in recapitalization and modernization efforts. Our high operations tempo has pushed the Air Force into a choice between sustaining its power to fight today and providing adequate force structure for tomorrow.

Older systems are deteriorating and costing more to maintain. AFA strongly urges applying additional resources to increase the procurement rate of all types of aircraft, tankers, fighters, bombers, transports, and special purpose aircraft, to ensure tomorrow’s national security.

We cannot forget the long hours and intense effort put forth day after day by operators, maintainers, and logisticians—the difficulties faced by men and women in combat and the required care of complex machines without which we would not have a very real capability to inspire awe in the defense of our nation. We cannot wish these factors away. To achieve the overwhelming effects that make air, space, and cyberspace power the daunting asymmetric force that it is today, the Air Force will continue to require specialized force training, a sustainable operational tempo, and high quality weapon systems in sufficient quantities.

As noted earlier, the Air Force is operating an aircraft fleet of unprecedented age. This is having a negative impact on the Air Force’s ability to support the joint force. Our existing platforms are reaching a point where they are no longer efficient and are becoming less effective in carrying out their respective missions. The Air Force aircraft inventory needs to be recapitalized.

The difficulties associated with maintaining this old inventory have caused readiness rates to plummet and pushed operating and maintenance costs up to unprecedented levels. USAF readiness has declined by 17 percent across its aircraft systems since 2001. Less than 60 percent of the Air Force aircraft inventory is considered fully mission capable. Many fighters and transports are forced by engine and structural concerns to operate within restricted flight regimes.

Twenty percent of the Air Force procurement budget—the highest percentage in history—must now go to modifications and upgrades of existing systems to keep them mission capable and flying, and this percentage is projected to rise even further.

There is an operational price to be paid. Legacy fighters are less capable of surviving against air defenses featuring fourth generation fighters and modern surface-to-air missile systems. C-5As cannot fly into hostile regions because they lack the necessary defensive countermeasures to protect against portable, shoulder-fired missiles. In the intense desert heat, KC-135Es are not deployed in the Middle East because they lack sufficient engine thrust for full-load takeoffs.

The Air Force has adopted a strategy aimed at divesting itself of its least capable airframes, procuring new aircraft, and modernizing the relevant aircraft remaining in the fleet. Some of these efforts have been blocked in Congress by laws preventing the planned retirements of selected B-52s, KC-135Es, C-130E/Hs, C-5s, and U-2s.

AFA calls on Congress to act expeditiously to allow the Air Force to manage its fleet and rid itself of many low-value, high-cost aircraft so that it can succeed in modernizing large parts of its current and future force.

The Air Force has made long strides toward acquiring its new KC-X tanker aircraft. Once a contractor is selected, the Air Force will start system development and prepare for the initial buy of 179 aircraft. This is long overdue. The joint force does not go anywhere without tankers. Their importance cannot be overstated; they provide the projection in American power projection. Unfortunately, even at the current program procurement rate, the mother of the last KC-135 pilot has not yet been born.

New fighter aircraft slated for procurement include the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II. These will serve as replacements for the aging F-15s, F-16s, and A-10s. The Air Force needs a minimum of 381 F-22s to fill out its 10 air and space expeditionary forces. However, it has been authorized funds for only 183. As a result, the Air Force must keep selected F-15s and F-16s in service much longer than had been expected. These are aircraft that were designed with 4,000 hours of flight time in mind; to serve for another decade or more will require them to be service life extended for 8,000 or even 10,000 hours, increasing risk and decreasing effectiveness.

With the F-22 buy currently restricted to less than half the requirement and the procurement of 1,763 F-35s stretching over nearly 40 years, there will be insufficient fighters available to meet the defense strategy, particularly steady state deterrence requirements. In addition, there will be an insufficient number of fifth generation fighters available to handle two nearly simultaneous major theater wars while ensuring control over sovereign United States airspace. The equipment shortfall will grow year by year. The risk to the nation and our airmen will grow apace. If nothing is done to remedy this situation, we should expect an increased rate of failure for our aircraft and increased losses in combat.

If our aircraft are lost in combat, we must make good on our promise to do our utmost to find and rescue our downed crew members. This promise is nonnegotiable. Making good on this promise requires serviceable, modern aircraft. However, the new combat search and rescue aircraft project, currently designated CSAR-X, has been snarled in delays. The Air Force needs to acquire 141 CSAR-X helicopters.

AFA calls on Congress, the Pentagon, the Air Force, and defense industry to clear away the red tape and get the CSAR-X system on the ramp without delay.

The 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review directed the Air Force to field a new long-range strike platform by 2018. This platform will be subsonic, manned, and able to loiter for long periods over targets. It will have a mixture of surveillance and strike capabilities and its long range will increase options to base the aircraft in nonthreatened areas. We agree with this plan and strongly urge the Administration and Congress to support this program.

Persistent surveillance, intelligence, and reconnaissance using unmanned vehicles, satellite surveillance, and the Global Positioning System provide instant capabilities to the warfighter, from putting bombs on target to countering the threat from improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The Predator is a case in point. This unmanned aerial vehicle recently surpassed its 250,000th flying hour since entering service in 1995. It has been an invaluable workhorse supporting combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan by providing reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition in addition to rapid attack.

AFA believes that Congress must fund ISR systems in greater numbers and provide necessary capability upgrades.

The Air Force is investing in improving network operations so that the next generation of Predators can operate more effectively as a group. With the addition of the more capable Reaper and research into a new family of unmanned combat aerial vehicles, the Air Force will have taken important strides towards the goal of making every sensor a shooter. AFA applauds the Air Force investment in UAVs and strongly supports efforts to designate the Air Force as the executive agent for UAV systems that fly above 3,500 feet, because the Air Force is organized, trained, and equipped to be the executive agent for air operations.

Airlift provides a critical logistic support for our nation’s global engagement and is a key combat enabler. Ongoing operations in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom have sent demand for intratheater airlift using C-17s and C-130s soaring. They are now experiencing significantly more wear and tear than would otherwise be expected. On a typical day, the Air Force flies over 250 mobility sorties and moves over 1,000 tons of cargo and 2,500 passengers. However, with the planned growth of the Army by 65,000 personnel and in the Marine Corps by 27,000, more airlift is needed. AFA strongly supports the Congressional effort to add funds to purchase additional C-17s and C-130s.

Current and future space capabilities cannot be overlooked; they are mission-critical to every military operation. Space is essential for satellite communication, positioning and navigation, environmental monitoring, intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance, and command and control. Protection of our space assets must continue through strong situation awareness, defensive, and offensive counterspace initiatives.

Space operations are important to national defense and humanity more than ever before and AFA strongly urges Congress and DOD provide the necessary funding and resources to modernize and exploit space systems and capabilities.

Space-based early warning and satellite communications are crucial to the success of the warfighter. Space-based early warning provides the warfighter with missile launch indications, allowing theater missile defense system activation and defensive postures by our ground forces. The Defense Support Program (DSP) satellites were developed 30 years ago and several currently in operation have exceeded their planned life expectancy. The Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) will replace the aging DSP constellation with an improved capability. In addition to the short wave infrared (IR) of DSP, SBIRS adds midwave IR for improved detection. Beyond the traditional space-based missile warning, SBIRS will also provide warfighters with battlespace characterization and technical intelligence.

In addition, demand for space-based communications is skyrocketing. Communications bandwidth requirements have grown far more rapidly than military satellite communications (Milsatcom) capacity. Estimates run as high as 80 percent over the capacity of the current Milsatcom capability. The Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) communications satellite, the replacement for Milstar, will improve the capacity for assured strategic and tactical communication tenfold.

In addition to AEHF, the next generation of communication satellites, the Transformational Satellite Communications system (TSAT) will bring Internet-like connectivity to the warfighter including survivable communications on the move. Although AEHF and TSAT will not eliminate the need for DOD’s use of commercial SATCOM, it will help reduce the requirement. AFA supports Air Force efforts to maintain a robust space superiority that provides for the nation’s defense and telecommunications needs. AFA urges Congress and the Administration to fully fund Air Force recapitalization efforts.

Support Air Force People

Nothing is more important to the Air Force than its people. More than ever, the Air Force needs each airman to be battle-ready. Advances in technology are important, but to effectively operate these high-tech systems, the Air Force needs qualified, well-trained, and motivated people.

USAF is expanding its basic training an additional two weeks to ensure that all airmen are prepared for the challenges of a combat environment. The new emphasis begins at basic military training with combat arms and first aid, but the change is felt throughout the Air Force. Some units within the Air Force have introduced a level of close-quarters combat training for those who are about to deploy. One such program is the Air Force Common Battlefield Airmen Training (CBAT) Program, which will provide our airmen the combat survival skills needed to better survive in a combat environment. AFA applauds this crucial Air Force initiative, and urges acceleration of this critical training program.

Air liaison officers and combat controllers have been joined with other specialties into battlefield airmen since 9/11. These airmen are providing vital tactical air control to help direct bombs and bullets at terrorists and insurgents with great accuracy. These airmen engage in a broad spectrum of missions, from C4ISR to close air support to training indigenous security forces. AFA believes that, though deployed to assist in ground operations, they should stay within the Air Force chain of command.

Currently, the Air Force is short of pararescue teams and controllers who work with ground Special Forces and other ground units. It plans to increase recruiting efforts and expand the ranks in key areas.

The demands of the Global War on Terrorism have also obliged the Air Force to operate outside of its core competencies. Some 6,000 airmen are performing duties outside of their Air Force specialties, helping ease the burden on US Army and Marine Corps ground forces. Many now serve in lieu of ground force personnel as convoy vehicle operators, gun-truck guards, and interrogators.

This has placed additional strain on the Air Force as leaders in recent years have been forced into difficult decisions balancing personnel, infrastructure, readiness, and modernization accounts.

The Air Force has announced planned cuts of more than 40,000 airmen over three years to free up funds to modernize old aircraft. The Air Force cut 11,000 airmen by the close of Fiscal Year 2007. Recently, the Air Force announced additional force shaping boards in the officer ranks for 2008.

AFA is concerned that the announced increase in the overall size of the US Army and Marine Corps will drive increased demand, presently unfunded, for additional Air Force personnel. With the increase in troops, AFA believes the practice of having airmen serving in place of ground forces should end and that they be permitted to return to their specialties. We call on the Administration and the US Congress to add funds to the Air Force budget and raise the manning authorization cap to ensure a balanced force compatible with Army and Marine Corps growth.

AFA applauds service initiatives concerning force development, which will help attract quality people and develop their skills and experience to successfully create and exploit new aerospace capabilities. The Air Force must continue to take the lead in educating, training, and providing for the professional development of enlisted members, officers, and civilians.

In the era of the all-volunteer force, the Air Force has recruited and retained the best educated, best trained, and most technically proficient airmen ever. They serve in an air and space expeditionary force with global reach and are called on to deploy regularly. In 1993, about 15 percent of the force was trained and able to deploy. Today, though the force is roughly 25 percent smaller, more than 85 percent of the force is able to deploy.

Thus, the importance of recruiting and retaining quality people in sufficient numbers cannot be overstated. AFA commends Air Force efforts to increase the pool of deployable airmen and reshape the force to achieve the right skill mix and meet authorized manpower levels.

AFA believes that we are fast approaching the point where the demands of global operations will be incompatible with the current size of the Air Force. Although retention and morale remain arguably strong and the Air Force is performing at a high level, there is considerable stress on personnel. If things do not improve, retention will suffer.

Congress and DOD must work together to set active duty end-strength levels that give the Air Force sufficient manpower to carry out its mission. DOD should also strengthen quality of life programs to attract adequate numbers of high quality volunteers. For example, it should make available to all airmen an open season for enrollment in the Montgomery GI Bill program. AFA supports these further measures to improve the quality of life for military members and their families.

AFA also believes civilians are integral to the defense of our nation. AFA urges DOD to carefully monitor and evaluate the role and use of civil servants and nonappropriated fund employees in combat zones. It should also provide equitable treatment to such civilians in terms of tax exemptions, accidental death and dismemberment coverage benefits, and other benefits.

AFA also believes that the robust force of today is built on the promises made to those who served in the past. AFA urges Congress to make funding of the VA health care system mandatory and to increase support for defense health care programs.

Strengthen the Foundation Through Education, the Industrial Base, and Technology

The Air Force of today was built upon a strong foundation of technological and industrial might. Without such a technical base undergirding air and space power, the Air Force cannot be sustained, much less modernized or transformed.

Today, there are reasons for concern.

US defense industry consolidation, foreign competition, dwindling major US defense programs, a declining workforce, and a lack of scientific and engineering emphasis in our schools are conspiring to erode America’s defense industrial base. Since 1994, the number of prime contractors doing major aerospace defense work has declined to a handful.

The aerospace industry warns that it is having difficulty finding sufficient numbers of qualified US engineers and scientists—ones who can conduct highly classified work—and other technically skilled workers to replace the workers who are nearing retirement age. Thus, acquiring security clearances is a major issue this country will have to deal with if it wants to maintain its national security.

Part of the problem has to do with our educational priorities. America now ranks 29th in the world in the percentage of college graduates with math or science degrees. When it comes to advanced degrees in those fields, the rank is even lower. Moreover, increasing percentages of advanced-degree graduates of US universities are foreign-born and after they receive their degrees, they are increasingly returning to their home countries.

As the most technologically advanced military in the world—if we are to maintain our superiority in air and space power—America must continue its investment in technical education and build the foundation to support what the nation needs.

A recent GAO report highlighted the need for mathematics and science teachers at the middle school and high school levels and projects a shortfall of 280,000 math and science teachers by 2015. We must therefore encourage our schools to foster interest in math and science for teachers and students to meet the challenges of the future and to ensure our technological edge.

AFA believes we must partner with industry to encourage not only more student participation in the math and sciences, but also encourage people to enter these important careers.

The nation must recognize this crisis. AFA believes it is time for a set of broad-based national level programs, funded by Congress, to encourage more people to study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

On a national level, investments in science and technology (S&T) help produce breakthrough systems of the future. Yet the Air Force S&T program in recent years has amounted to less than 2.5 percent of the overall budget. This relatively low level of investment in defense related S&T is a concern to AFA. We believe DOD must increase the Air Force’s funding to permit a 3 percent investment in science and technology.

It is imperative that the US vigorously pursue future military capabilities, from microchips to directed energy and hypersonic technology. The Air Force has launched a number of initiatives to increase the emphasis on S&T programs and improve industrial base facilities. Additionally, the Air Force must recruit and maintain a strong technical workforce of engineers and scientists—both military and civilian.

As for the American defense industrial base, it is today characterized by consolidation and shrinkage as the number and size of defense programs shrink despite a sharp rise in development and procurement costs. A lapse in procurement throughout the 1990s has not only diminished our margin of superiority but has forced consolidation of defense industries and reduced competition.

The number of prime airframe manufacturers producing Air Force combat aircraft is now down to two, and lower-tier suppliers are being overwhelmed by commercial demand. We can and must protect, reinforce, and strengthen the industrial base by wise acquisition strategies, fair contracting, and business practices.

The Air Force’s industrial base includes not only firms in the private sector but also the air logistics centers. To preserve a ready and controlled source of depot maintenance, we must strike a careful balance between the maintenance and repair workload that is contracted out and the portion performed by the air logistics centers.

AFA urges DOD, Congress, and industry to jointly determine the industrial base capabilities needed to meet national defense requirements in the future and take the necessary steps to achieve these capabilities.

Preserve the Total Air Force

The United States Air Force is a total force, comprising the three components of active duty, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve members, their units, and their equipment. We cannot go to war with only one or even two; we need all three elements of air and space power in every fight.

The Guard and Reserve currently provide large shares of the Air Force’s aviation and combat support elements in support of the 10 air and space expeditionary forces (AEFs). They also provide most of the Air Force’s tactical airlift, strategic airlift, and air refueling capability.

AFA expresses its appreciation for these citizen airmen members of the Guard and Reserve and acknowledges that without their sacrifice and contribution, the Air Force would be far less capable than it is today.

The increased reliance on Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve units has caused extended call ups in both components. The Guard and Reserve regularly make up approximately 20 percent of our forward deployed force. Such utilization rates are not sustainable for the long term. AFA is concerned we are placing an undue burden on the Guard and Reserve. AFA recommends DOD increase Air Force funding to relieve this burden.

We should not underestimate the cumulative impact of extended call ups on the Guard and Reserve and on their civilian employers. Many members of the Guard and Reserve have put college and careers on hold. Some have had to close their businesses. Already, Guard recruiting has fallen short of goals. For the time being, retention is much higher than predicted and has offset recruiting shortfalls, but this may well change, too. We must take action now to prevent further harm.

The increased use of reserve component forces has highlighted the inequities in the pay and compensation system that is based on Cold War reserve policies. AFA believes the Guard and Reserve should be compensated, equipped, and manned in consonance with their increased contribution to the Total Force.

Because the Guard and Reserve have to maintain the same readiness standards as active duty members, they should also receive increased access to Tricare. Recapitalization of Guard and Reserve facilities needs attention and funding as many do not meet DOD minimum adequacy standards.

Total Force success stories include the Air National Guard, in which citizen airmen connect directly with the citizens they serve while providing state governors with expeditionary homeland security forces to assist in disaster response. Another Total Force example is the Air Force Reserve associate unit concept in which the reserve component and active duty personnel share aircraft and equipment. This means more crews and higher utilization for the same number of aircraft. This efficiency capitalizes on inherent strengths of the Total Air Force.

The civil service component of the Total Force needs more attention. Over the next five years, more than 40 percent of the career workforce will become eligible for retirement. Force reductions have already created problems with the skill mix. We support the Civilian Workforce Shaping Initiative which attempts to rebuild the civilian force in the right way. We applaud the integration of the military and civilian Air Force teams which has added increased synergy to the force.

Deterrence on the Line

The United States will be making a mistake of historic proportions if it fails to put sufficient emphasis on development and sustainment of sufficient air and space forces. These forces uniquely define the military strength of the United States. They are the hardest-hitting, longest-reaching, and most flexible forces we possess. Our security now—and in the future—depends on them.

Amazingly, though, the nation is on a dangerous path, almost by default rather than conscious intent. In 1987, just 20 years ago, we had approximately 400 long-range bombers arrayed on ramps around the world. Today we have less than 200, and many of those are more than 50 years old. In 1987, the Air Force fielded about 800 air superiority fighters. Today, the number is under 500, most of which were built more than 30 years ago. In 1987, USAF had around 2,200 multirole and attack fighters. Today it has less than 2,000.

The Air Force budget request for 1987 included funding for 264 fighters and bombers. Its request for 2007 included funding for just five fighters. Many Air Force aircraft date back to the 1960s, when the Air Force bought more than 600 new airplanes a year.

Since the Cold War, those holding nuclear capabilities had little motivation to proliferate nuclear weapons. However, in recent years, less responsible nations have gained nuclear know-how and capability. Deterrence through the threat of massive retaliation could prove unsuccessful against rogue states in the future. We are engaged in a fight that will not end for some time, but must prepare for an unknown fight that we may face tomorrow.

For our nation’s security, we cannot afford to focus too narrowly on the insurgent threats of today and neglect to develop the capabilities that we will need to defend ourselves in the future.

America’s dominance in the air and in space is waning. The capabilities that gave us this unprecedented level of security and power are being neglected while political leaders debate the wisdom of how best to continue the fight in Iraq. Investment not directly related to that threat is mistakenly questioned as a legacy of the Cold War.

It is not too late to reverse these trends. In the 21st century, the United States will need—even more than it has in the past—our forces of air and space for global vigilance, global reach, and global power. We can still preserve the conventional military capabilities that have proven so effective in deterring and defeating major threats to our security, but the window of opportunity is closing. It takes 15 to 20 years to develop new aircraft from go-ahead to an employable asset. If we do not act, we leave a legacy of weakness for our children. Now is the time for action. Now is the time to invest in the future of America.

“Our Air Force belongs to those who come from ranks of labor, management, the farms, the stores, the professions, and colleges and legislative halls. … Airpower will always be the business of every American citizen.”

—Gen. H.H. “Hap” Arnold