Welcome to the Hollow Force

The term “hollow force” now describes the Air Force, given that more than a dozen combat units are grounded, Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said in an interview Tuesday. “I think we’re there, now,” Welsh said. “Anytime you’ve got airplanes sitting on a ramp” and not flying, the aircrews are “going to tell you, it’s a hollow force.” The question is, Welsh said, “are we going to remain there over time, or are we going to get out of this hole?” There clearly is “a requirement for the Department of Defense to be part of the solution for the budget deficit. We get that,” he said. But USAF must have a “string of predictable topline numbers, so we can figure out what the solution will be over time.” As for what happens if Congress doesn’t reverse the sequester, Welsh said USAF is “in a position right now where we’re having to assume the law will stay in place, which means worst case: the sequester for the next nine-and-a-half years. So, we can’t afford not to plan to that assumption.” What will that mean? “The Air Force will look different,” Welsh said. “I think all the services will look different.” If the gross effect is to “take 10 percent off everything,” then that would translate to about 33,000 Active Duty airmen separated and “about 700” aircraft taken out of service, Welsh pointed out. “This thing is a big deal,” he said, “which is why we’ve got to get about planning for the future.”