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Air Force aggressively meeting challenges

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (April 08, 2005) -- The two senior leaders of the Air Force spoke April 6 on Capitol Hill about budget cuts, the service's commitment to meeting end strength requirements, total force integration and fleet recapitalization.

During testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee subcommittee on defense, Acting Secretary of the Air Force Michael L. Dominguez told Senators the Air Force has taken steps already to adjust for a Fiscal 2005 budget cut of $3 billion dollars.

"We have recently directed the Air Force to cut back on peacetime and readiness training operations to conserve funds," he said. "But cutting back alone cannot close the $3 billion gap in our operations and maintenance account. We are also short some $700 million in our military personnel account, and there, too, cutting back will not close the gap."

Mr. Dominguez asked lawmakers to act quickly on supplemental budget requests to help the Air Force meet its financial needs.

The Air Force has been working for some time to reduce its active duty end strength -- the total number of Airmen on active duty. Congress says the service may have no more than 359,000 Airmen on active duty. Through "force shaping" and reductions in recruiting, the Air Force has been able to bring its end strength down to within three percent of its allowance, said Mr. Dominguez.

"We have been working the problem pretty aggressively for a couple years," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper. "But our biggest gains are from the one we resisted having to make, making a nosedive in recruiting."

The general said the Air Force has cut active duty accessions by half in order to meet the end strength requirement.

"From October to February we essentially shut down recruiting," he told legislators.

Other efforts to reduce end strength include retraining Airmen from overage career fields into those that are stressed and allowing Airmen to transfer into the Army through the "Blue to Green" program. General Jumper said he expects the Air Force to return to full recruiting efforts in the next fiscal year, and that the service will meet its end strength requirement by the beginning of Fiscal 2006.

Cuts in end strength won't affect the Air National Guard, General Jumper told lawmakers. In fact, the relevance and importance of Guard and Reserve units is increasing as the Air Force realigns missions to integrate reserve components into its operations.

"We have been involved in making sure the Guard is participating in the missions that are in demand in our Air Force as the active duty also transforms itself," he said. "Not just the flying mission, but space, unmanned aerial vehicles, (and others). We want the Guard and Reserve to participate in all of those. We also want to make sure that wherever we can, we have active and Guard working together."

One example of that total force initiative is the Air Force's Community-Basing program, General Jumper told lawmakers. The first test of that program in Burlington, Vt., will put active duty Airmen into the civilian community where they will work hand in hand with Guardsmen as part of the Vermont Air National Guard's 158th Fighter Wing.

General Jumper said he believes the program will prove a success. "I have a feeling this model will be in demand in other places," he said.

Mr. Dominguez and General Jumper said their primary concern today is the age of the service's aircraft fleet.

"Our tanker force and portions of the C-130 fleet are over 40 years old," General Jumper said. "And some 2,000 of the 6,000 airplanes in the Air Force are now under some sort of a flight restriction, mainly due to aging considerations. We need to put emphasis on this."

"The urgency of recapitalizing the tanker fleet I think grows every day," said General Jumper. "If I lose sleep over one thing at night, it is the aging and corrosion concerns, especially in our tanker fleet."