Relations between the Active Duty Air Force and its two reserve components are tense, maybe as strained as they ever have been. Allies of the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve in Congress rejected force structure cutbacks proposed in the 2012 USAF budget plan. They argued that the Guard and Reserve bore a disproportionate share of the budget pain.
Congress did not pass the budget, meaning the Air Force started Fiscal 2013 on Oct. 1 funded by a continuing resolution. President Obama in late September signed the stopgap budget measure. It funds the federal government—and thus the Air Force—at 2012 levels for six months.
Airmen from the 3rd and 477th Aircraft Maintenance Squadrons perform a hot pit refueling with an F-22 at JB Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. The Reserve receives high praise from Active Duty commanders for its work in air operations worldwide.(USAF photo by TSgt. Dana Rosso)
The measure halted, for the moment, any divestiture of Guard and Reserve aircraft. All parties are trying to figure out what went wrong and how to put things right again.
The budget proposed huge cuts in the Air Force’s aircraft inventory, with all components losing some. However, the Guard had been tagged for more than 50 percent of overall aircraft reductions. Further, plans had called for cutting about 6,000 Reserve and Air Guard billets.
Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, the USAF Chief of Staff, and Michael B. Donley, the Secretary of the Air Force, emphasized the need to make wise choices in the coming months and years. They also made clear the Air Force can’t move forward without strong Guard and Reserve partners.
Welsh, addressing a September conference of the National Guard Association of the United States, said the Air Force, Guard, and Reserve must debate the issues and put requirements at the “front end of this process,” not at the tail end. This was viewed as a signal of Welsh’s desire to patch up the strained relationship with reserve components.
At the Air Force Association’s Air & Space Conference, held in mid-September, Donley defended the proposed cutbacks, but he insisted on maintaining a strategic balance that “will not break” Active, Guard, or Reserve elements.
Lt. Gen. James F. Jackson, the head of Air Force Reserve Command, believes the next Future Years Defense Program, due out in early 2013, will offer an opportunity for a fundamental reset of the Total Force. The Reserve and Guard must be an equal partner from the outset, he said.
“There are a lot of things that happened on the Hill, and that caused some problems,” Jackson said in a September interview. “But I’m sure we can get to a better place on the other side.”
Ever since he assumed his new post this summer, Jackson has argued that the Reserve’s 75,800 members have a large part to play in finding a way forward as budgets roll back.
Some Reserve missions are unique to the component. These include, for example, aerial spraying carried out by the 910th Airlift Wing at Youngstown, Ohio, or the work of the “Hurricane Hunters” of the Reserve’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron at Keesler AFB, Miss.
The Reserve also provides 60 percent of the Total Force’s aeromedical evacuation capability, 50 percent of its flight inspection units, and 40 percent of its strategic airlift. Reservists make up 10 percent of both Air Force special operations forces and the intelligence field, according to recent data from Reserve headquarters. The Reserve also is slated to play increasingly significant roles in several emerging and expanding mission areas.
TSgt. Edward Ector (l), 5th Maintenance Squadron, hands SSgt. John Slaughter (r), 307th Maintenance Squadron, a radio transmitter radome at Minot AFB, N.D. Both Ector, who is Active Duty, and Slaughter, a Reservist, are communications navigation systems technicians. (USAF photo by MSgt. Jeff Walston)
What’s more, Reserve officials expect these proportions to go up for a simple reason: The Reserve force is experienced, relatively inexpensive to maintain, and requires minimal support infrastructure. These are salient points for USAF leaders facing tough decisions on where and how to bed down future capabilities.
Requirements continue to add up across the globe, even as combat operations in Afghanistan wind down. Combatant commanders have not scaled down their demands for airpower capability. If anything, they have gone up. Indeed, there is concern that such demands are becoming unrealistic.
“We need to have an honest discussion as to what the requirements are” for the combatant commanders, Jackson said.
The only way to meet demands as they are projected, noted Jackson, is to make use of every part of the force. This is especially true of the Title 10 Air Force Reserve. Unlike the Air National Guard (organized under Title 10 for federal service but also Title 32 for its state obligations), the Reserve does not develop its forces and cadre to fit state requirements. Nor does it have obligations to fulfill state missions.
In his address to AFA’s Air & Space Conference, Jackson pointed out that the Reserve currently maintains 34 wings at 56 locations but that Air Force Reserve Command “owns” only 10 bases, meaning that, in most cases, the Reserve shares space with Active Duty units.
“There is efficiency and effectiveness at consolidated locations, and we need to continue to look at those,” Jackson said.
The Guard and Reserve already have endured a great deal of unit shifting and mission changes in recent years. These moves came about as a result of the 2005 round of Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, decisions.
Because the force has already suffered hardships caused by BRAC, reserve component leaders were taken aback by the scope and magnitude of the latest proposals, which would have doubled down on the turbulence.
“Some of our units have gone through three missions in the last decade or so,” Jackson said.
He went on to suggest that this process of moving and retraining Reservists and shuffling aircraft has taken a toll on actual capability.
“If you’re going to give us a new mission, there is a time where you’re not going to have that capacity and capability for the nation,” Jackson said.
As an example, he pointed to the BRAC-induced move of the 927th Air Refueling Wing from Michigan to MacDill AFB, Fla.
“We were able to do that because [as Title 10 forces] we could move manpower and support, … but there was a lapse in time where that expertise was not available” to Air Mobility Command, he added.
SrA. Keith Alston, a C-130 technician, inspects a 12P mask for C-130 pilots. AFRC has 17 percent of the Total Force capacity, but only four percent of the budget. (USAF photo by SrA. Bryan Swink)
Some 25 percent of the wing’s personnel moved to the new location in Florida, he said, and the wing is “just now” getting back to the level of operation expected of it.
Jackson and other senior Reserve leaders, both officer and enlisted, have been visiting units across their command in recent months. Reservists want to know how big upcoming changes are going to affect them and their families.
“There is apprehension,” said Jackson. “We’ve been in the spotlight a lot lately, [and] they want reassurance.”
Jackson predicted growth in the number and importance of active associate constructs, where Active Duty airmen work alongside Reservists in Reserve organizations.
Example: Air Combat Command has agreed to place 167 Active Duty F-16 pilots and maintainers at Reserve bases in Florida and Texas.
“We think it’s a good construct,” Jackson said of active associations.
The Reserve has since 1968 been engaged mostly in so-called classic associations—that is, groupings where Reserve units join with Active Duty units at Active Duty installations.
Today, the Reserve has approximately 115 associations across USAF.
New missions will be important to the Total Force balance in the years ahead. Since 9/11, the Reserve has expanded into mission areas such as irregular warfare, special operations, cyber warfare, and space operations.
“We have 17 percent of capacity for the Air Force, and we do it on four percent of the budget,” Jackson told the crowd at the AFA conference, adding that it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference between Active, Guard, and Reserve airmen in the field. “If you go to a deployed location, … you will know that there is a seamless operation going on.”
The Reserve recently released a new vision and mission statement. Its priorities parallel those of the Active Duty component but puts them in the context of Reserve needs. There are four guiding principles.
First, the Reserve must continue to exist as a strong “strategic reserve” even as it provides combat ready forces for use in operational deployments.
Second, it must strengthen the “Reserve triad”—encompassing the families, employers, and careers of Reservists—and ensure that each Reserve airman receives the best possible opportunities to advance.
Reservists from the 414th Fighter Group, Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C., run through an operational readiness exercise at Homestead ARB, Fla. The 414th led a Total Force integration team at the exercise. (USAF photo by MSgt. Wendy Lopedote)
Third, it will push to expand Total Force initiatives—not only in air and space but also in the new cyberspace arena.
Fourth, the Reserve will push for equipment and facilities modernization.
The next few years will offer major challenges, Jackson said. He acknowledged that the Reserve’s airmen will be forced to adapt in many different ways.
“We are going to be pushing [them], we can’t look backwards,” said the Reserve commander. AFRC has “to be that effective and efficient capacity the nation needs.”
Ironing Out the Differences
Jackson argued that the Reserve must have “pieces of every mission” and must keep looking to adapt to new and evolving roles. The Reserve leadership wants to preserve hard-won institutional knowledge from a decade of wars.
The Reserve continues to grapple with many of the force structure disagreements that were at the heart of the implosion of the 2013 Air Force budget submission.
In some mission areas, the use of highly experienced Reserve members can provide useful leverage for accomplishment of large tasks. Jackson specifically noted the contribution Reservists have made in working with Active Duty airmen at Air Force Space Command, Schriever AFB, Colo., as well as in the burgeoning cyber realm.
Jackson said the Reserve receives high praise from Active Duty commanders for their work in air and space operations centers (AOCs) around the world. The Reserve has three squadrons working in various AOCs, providing some 15 percent of USAF’s personnel for the mission.
Some personnel disagreements between the Active force and the two reserve components have been ironed out at the Air Staff level and at the commands, Jackson said.
New procedures, for instance, allow either Reservist or Active Duty supervisors to write a performance report. This will prove important in future pairings of different components.
CMSgt. Tyler Outten (l) and Maj. William Palmatier, Reservists with the 919th Special Operations Wing, accompany then-USAF Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz as he pilots an MC-130E Combat Talon on his final flight as an Active Duty officer.(USAF photo by TSgt. Samuel King Jr.)
Reserve leadership has been working with Active and Guard officials on problems of applying Air Force Instructions (AFIs)—policy and doctrinal statements—across the Total Force.
“We’ve been looking at every AFI … with three components and asking, ‘How do we fit those into a single AFI with component differences?’ ” Jackson said.
He said that, while there are clear differences between Title 10 and Title 32 forces, many such issues have been resolved to the satisfaction of all three components.
As an example of a new concept that has been proved in recent years, Jackson pointed to the 302nd Airlift Wing, Peterson AFB, Colo. There, the Reserve runs the wing while an Active Duty squadron associates with its operations. The unit played a prominent role in the summer’s heavy firefighting season in the Mountain West, using to great effect its Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems.
As Jackson put it, “They share the same facility. They share the same aircraft. You have force development both on the Active Duty side and on the Air Force Reserve side.” The results of these efforts, he added, are being used to “knock down some of the barriers” to success at other locations.
Jackson observed that the Reserve would be a good fit with the Air Force’s formal training unit mission for some legacy aircraft, particularly the A-10 and F-16 fleet.
Understanding the Dual Nature
He believes the same is true for the FTU programs for the new F-35 and KC-46. The Air Force will be bedding down these new aircraft in years just ahead. Jackson asserted that the Reserve needs to make known its views and wishes in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill.
“We’ve said this in public, and Congress doesn’t like it very much, but we need to look hard at what is the most efficient way of basing for those two platforms,” Jackson said.
The Reserve and Air Force Secretariat are discussing this issue now.
Active Duty and Reserve maintenance and support personnel board a C-17 before deploying to Andersen AFB, Guam. Senior Air Force leaders say it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference between Reserve, Guard, and Active airmen in the field. (USAF photo by TSgt. Dana Rosso)
The Reserve’s largest footprint is in Air Mobility Command. Some 45,000 Reserve members currently support AMC’s flying missions. However, the Reserve has begun building a substantial presence in the areas of homeland defense and global strike.
At Barksdale AFB, La., Reservists at the squadron level can perform a flying mission with the B-52 in conventional and nuclear strike missions and also get numbered air force experience at 8th Air Force.
They can also serve in headquarters assignments at a USAF major command at the same base, as Barksdale is the home of Air Force Global Strike Command.
“For a participating traditional Reservist, that might be … very good,” Jackson said. “They stay at one location almost the whole time and get all the pillars of development.”
This sort of development is important for the Reserve. Just as the Air Force is now reinvigorating its message inside the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill, so too must Reservists be able to tell their story, Jackson said.
“We need leaders who understand and can communicate the dual nature of the Air Force Reserve,” Jackson said, and lay out the ways in which it differs from the Active Air Force and the Air National Guard.