Right Sizing the Force of the Future

The Air Force will “participate heavily” in the overall strategy review under way, said acting Secretary Lisa Disbrow, noting the review will “set the assumptions for sizing and shaping the Air Force of the future.” Disbrow said the review also will “help answer questions like, ‘ready for what, where, and how soon?’” And, though she said the service has been assured there are no preconceived notions going into the process, it’s highly unlikely “the new strategy will be any less demanding than the current framework of defeat, deny, plus homeland defense, all underpinned by a strong strategic deterrence.” The Air Force knows, going in to the review process, it must grow, but to what size is yet to be determined. The service expects to close out Fiscal 2017 with an Active Duty endstrength of 320,000—up from 317,000 in Fiscal 2016—but she anticipates the service will need to keep growing to a total Active Duty endstrength of 350,000 just to fill its existing units. “We may even need to grow beyond that number in the future depending on this national strategy that we’re working through.”

The most critical shortfalls are in “maintainers, pilots, acquisition, and contracted personnel, cyber experts, and software coders,” said Disbrow during her State of the Air Force address at AWS17. But the Air Force is not just looking to grow its uniformed personnel. USAF civilian manning has dropped from 262,000 during Desert Storm to 182,000 today, of which some 92 percent are “in the field at depots, on the flightline, or in hospitals,” said Disbrow. Speaking to reporters on March 2, Air Force Materiel Command boss Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski said her command is still digging out from the 2013 hiring freeze that came along with sequestration, making the current federal hiring freeze announced by President Donald Trump in January even more of a struggle despite efforts to exempt personnel in national security positions. Pawlikowski said AFMC had 4,700 vacancies when the hiring freeze started and the command loses about 400 civilians a month for a variety of reasons. That doesn’t sound like a lot considering there are roughly 60,000 civilians working in the depots and other places throughout the command, but “if we freeze hiring, that adds up pretty quickly,” she said.