The Cost of Tiered Readiness

The long slide of readiness in the Air Force’s combat forces is only going to get worse, Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said Wednesday. Currently, full mission ready rates are hovering near 40 percent. However, if the Defense Department is forced to operate off another continuing resolution for Fiscal 2014, the Air Force will have to cut an additional 15 percent from operations and maintenance accounts, Welsh told reporters in Washington, D.C., Nov. 13. “That readiness number has been coming down for about 10 years or more,” said Welsh. Before sequestration hit, about 55 percent of the Air Force’s combat fleet was rated “full mission ready” at any given time. “Sequestration has made that much worse. We’re now in the situation where we are in the high 30s . . . that’s roughly where it’s been for the last few weeks,” said Welsh. Unlike the other services, who build excess capacity in certain areas, combatant commanders have come to expect the Air Force’s combat fleet to remain fully mission capable to respond to contingencies. “In the Air Force, if you look at our force structure, for our aircraft fleets, the demand signal equals our force structure,” Welsh said. (See also Cutting Readiness from the April edition of Air Force Magazine)