National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force

National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force’s Report
Recommends Force Structure Shift, Greater Integration

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Shifting force structure to the Reserves, expanding multi-component integration of operations, and allowing Airmen easier transition across components are among the 42 recommendations the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force submitted today in its report to the President and Congress.

The National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force was established by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013. The Commission’s statutory charter was to determine whether, and how, the Air Force’s structure should be modified to best fulfill current and anticipated mission requirements in a manner consistent with available resources. The Commission was tasked to submit a report, containing a comprehensive study and recommendations, by Feb. 1, 2014, to the President of the United States and the congressional defense committees.

All eight Commissioners signed the report, which calls for a greater reliance on the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve and more opportunities and incentives for Airmen to serve longer by removing legal, administrative, and cultural barriers between components. The Commission determined that routine, periodic use of the Air Reserve Components for operational missions would accomplish the following:

  • Allow prudent reductions in Active component end strength
  • Save money to help fund readiness, modernization and recapitalization
  • Preserve surge capacity
  • Sustain Reserve Component readiness
  • Provide alternative and flexible options to serve.

“If there is a key theme to the report, it’s about talent management,” Chairman Dennis M. McCarthy said as the Commission presented the report in a pair of public meetings today on Capitol Hill. “It just makes good sense to use that [talent pool] to its full advantage.” Past is the question of whether the Reserve Components are a strategic or operational reserve. Said Commissioner Janine Davidson, “We have an operational force—an operational total force.”

The report’s 42 recommendations come in four chapters, each focused on a different aspect of force structure: the resource environment, rebalancing the force, sizing and shaping the force, and managing the force. However, all the commissioners stressed that the report should be read and considered in its entirety as the recommendations are interdependent.

The Commission conducted 19 days of hearings involving 154 witnesses and oral public comments and visited 13 installations throughout the country. In addition, it received written comments from 256 individuals and reviewed thousands of documents. On its visits to installations, Commissioners met with Airmen of all ranks from all three Air Force components.

The Commission heard from all quarters that, over the past two decades, the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard have successfully accomplished everything they have been tasked, but they have the capacity to do more. Through its own policies, the Air Force has developed a consistent standard of readiness across the three components, so that even the traditional Reservists and Guardsmen who do monthly and annual drills must meet the same qualifications as their full-time colleagues. “Part time is less expensive and equally effective,” Commissioner F. Whitten Peters said at Thursday’s hearing.

The report advocates greater integration of the Active, Guard and Reserve Air Forces while keeping them three distinct components, and it points to the Air Force itself for a successful model in multicomponent readiness and integration: “associate” wings that combine units and personnel from two different components into a single operational unit, though each component maintains its own chain of command. The Commission concluded that the Air Force should take its successful integration initiative to a more complete level, expanding associations across all mission sets and eliminating the duplicative command structures in favor of an “i-Wing” construct, combining personnel from various components at all levels, including leadership.

As the Air Force progresses toward fuller integration at the unit level, the need for an Air Force Reserve Command as a force-providing headquarters declines, as does the need for its subordinated numbered Air Forces. The Commission recommends de-establishing the Air Force Reserve Command headquarters element while creating more opportunities for Reservists and Guard members to fill leadership positions in a Total Air Force, including maintaining the current Chief of the Air Force Reserve and Director of the Air National Guard positions.

The Commission also found legal and cultural obstacles hindering fuller integration of the components, from the varying duty statuses and personnel policies to legislated restrictions. The Commission recommends that Congress through legislation and the Air Force through policy changes provide Airmen the opportunity to pursue a “Continuum of Service.” This would allow Airmen to move back and forth among components so that they could handle family or other obligations while still serving the nation. Continuum of Service and lengthening service careers would maximize the Air Force’s investment in Airmen’s training and add value to the Total Force. “As the Air Force adjusts its end strengths and force structure, let the Airmen know how they can add value and serve,” Commissioner Raymond E. Johns Jr. said today.

The Continuum of Service concept is more than a decade old and has been endorsed by other armed services commissions. However, the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force establishes a timeline in its recommendations, calling for a Continuum of Service pilot program to be implemented by Oct. 1 this year. “It’s time to stop talking and start doing,” Chairman McCarthy said.

In addition to being a more cost-efficient management of the force, increased integration will result in a more culturally cohesive force, the report says. “You build trust over time,” Chairman McCarthy said. “The integration we are recommending helps build this trust.”

The Commission was formed in the wake of a budget battle arising out of the Air Force’s intent to cut aircraft and Guard end strength. The Commission did not get into details of inventory and assignments, but the report does recommend that the Air Force pay closer attention to the missions of Homeland Defense and Defense Support of Civil Authorities and institute greater coordination with state governors during force planning and budgeting processes. If the Air Force determines that the elimination of aircraft fleets is required, the Commission recommends the Air Force develop a comprehensive plan detailing for all stakeholders the transition of Airmen, facilities, and capabilities arising from the loss of that fleet.

The Commission focused its attention solely on the Air Force and not the other services, but it did explore the Air Force's relationship with Combatant Commands, which place demands on the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps for forces. The Commission recommends that Combatant Commanders not be permitted to take “an unconstrained view” as they plan for the employment of air power in contingencies and steady-state operations in their theaters. Furthermore, the Commission recommends that Congress allow the Air Force to reduce its infrastructure footprint by closing or warm basing (holding in caretaker status) some installations. The Commission did not recommend any specific bases for closure or realignment.

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