By Jenny Swigoda
ROA, Content Manager
The National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force (NCSAF) released its findings to the public on Jan. 30. The commission took a holistic approach in examining the Air Force - personnel, budgeting, equipment and force structure. As we expected, the commission’s report reflected a valuable and cost-effective Reserve Component (RC) that operates on the same level of readiness as the Active Component (AC). The NCSAF report is the latest in a long line of reports which support ROA’s position that the RC should have a larger role in our nation’s defense. In addition, the commission supported the apples-to-apples concept of evaluating personnel and component expense using “life cycle costs.” In a recent report by the Reserve Forces Policy Board (RFPB), the board used their comprehensive life cycle costing model to examine defense appropriations in the RC compared to the AC. The RFPB reported that the RC was 60-70 percent cheaper than the Active Component (AC) for 90 percent of the readiness and capability. The NCSAF supported the use of this model and recommended that DoD follow suit. The report pointed out that life cycle costing inevitably leads to the conclusion that the USAF should integrate most of its forces into the RC.
ROA supports a majority of the recommendations outlined in the report, and many more could be useful when fully examined. The overall message of the report pointed to an Air Force that relied more heavily on the RC, which has demonstrated an equal level of readiness compared to their Active Duty counterparts in the last 10 years of war, and needs to rely even more on the RC in the future. ROA applauds this conclusion, as it further validates the extraordinary talents and sacrifices of our nation’s Reserve family.
Of the commission’s 42 recommendations, a few stood out as having potentially negative impacts for the Air Force Reserve and the Reserve commander’s ability to organize, train, and equip their force. The recommendation to disestablish the Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC) would make it difficult for the Reserve commander to manage his reserve forces and therefore have a negative impact on overall readiness. Eliminating AFRC HQ would not result in cost savings as the oversight mission has to be done, so it would go from one centrally managed HQ to several smaller units spread across eight different Major Commands (MAJCOMS). This would be less efficient. In addition, our experience has proven that it is critical for Reservists to manage Reservists, even if just administratively, because of the unique demands placed upon our citizen-airmen.
While there are potentially positive outcomes to the commission’s recommendation that the Chief of Staff of the Air Force should direct the integration of AFR units (wings, groups and squadrons) in to AC units, there are many potential pitfalls that could wipe out all of the benefits we see in today’s total force integration organization. Today, Reservists are administratively managed and led by Reservists under AFRC command, even if they are under operational control of the AC. If not executed properly, assimilating all levels of Reserve units into the AC control would pose significant management and leadership challenges for both the RC and AC. The Chief of the Air Force Reserve echoed this concern in his response to the report, pointing out that “if the AF intends to ensure sustained readiness and retention, the management and oversight structure for RC forces must be responsive to personnel that have full-time civilian careers and maintain their military affiliation on a voluntary basis.”
These two recommendations, taken at face value and without the guidance a specified desired end state would have provided, offer the greatest risk to the RC and our nation’s military readiness. As written ROA has serious concerns with these ideas, and we would like for the commission to expand on their reasoning, detailed way ahead and desired end state before we could support them.
The report also calls for budgeting flexibility and planning ahead for the increased reliance on the Reserves. The report recommends that the Air Force should include a line in all future budgeting submissions calling for “operational support of the Air Reserve Component.” Funds specifically outlined for the Reserves will ensure access to the operational capabilities of the AFR forces.
A shift to a Total Force (TF) that is more reliant on the RC will have implications for AF installations. While the report recommends the “closing or warm basing of some installations,” Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) authority may be needed in this process. However, the use of AC personnel in AFR units will help enhance TF awareness and broaden experiences across the AF. The AFR currently has embedded AC Airmen at several installations.
The report also calls on Congress to reduce the number of RC duty statuses in a way that will not reduce the overall compensation of RC members. It’s noted that this recommendation, of reducing the number of separate duty statuses from more than 30 to no more than six was also suggested by the Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation and also by the Reserve Forces Policy Board. The reduction in number of duty statuses will make it easier for members of the AFR to serve in an operational capacity.
At a time of fiscal constraints, the Air Force will have to be creative in its use of the Airmen in all three components. The report calls for improved continuum of service; TF Air Command and Staff College; multiple career track options; modifying “up or out”; adopting fully-burdened cost approach; and several other corporate process reforms. Continuum of service will aid in the seamless transition among the three components. While it was previously perceived that a move from Active Duty to the RC constitutes as “separation,” the commission recommended the AF offer incentives to make this transition more appealing. Currently, the AF offers a retention bonus for Active Duty pilots to remain in the AC for an additional term but no such bonus is offered to transfer to the RC and no bonus is offered for Reservists who extend their service.
The commission asserts the notion that leadership with a broad Total Force appreciation will greatly aid the integration of RC members. The Air Force Reserve is currently integrating staffs and sharing infrastructure. There are several AFR and AC Wing Commanders that have been integrating staffs for years, and in the process, grooming the future leadership of the Total Force.
Overall, ROA was pleased that so many of the recommendations highlighted in the report called upon the unique skill sets of the RC. While some suggestions in the report could affect the infrastructure of the Air Force, the universal theme of a Total Force more reliant on its RC members is a positive step that has the possibility of influence in other service branches.