Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James outlined April 30 the service’s progress in leveraging the talent and capabilities of the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve within the total force concept.
James, along with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, testified at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
A tiger team of three generals from each reserve component conducted a comprehensive review of mission requirements, recommended ideas for improving collaboration and sought avenues to balance total force capabilities, James told the senators.
“We laid in force structure changes to take advantage of the Guard and Reserve’s strength,” James said. “For example, in the area of (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance), we’ve increased reserve components’ presence in the MQ-1 (Predator) and (MQ-9 Reaper) fleets of remotely piloted aircraft, so we’re going from 17 percent to 24 percent representation in that arena.”
In the cyber arena, James said, three new Air Force Reserve units will reflect an increase in that capability in fiscal year 2016.
Meanwhile, James said the Air Force will decrease its active component end-strength by 17 percent while decreasing the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard end-strength by 3 percent and 0.4 percent, respectively, by fiscal 2015.
“In the future, we hope to garner enough savings by moving capability and capacity to the reserve component so that future end-strength cuts may not be necessary,” she said.
The secretary also reported better projection and budgeting of Guard and Reserve man-day use, with a 70-percent increase in planned man-years over the next two years.
James told the senators that Air Force leaders agree with 86 percent of the suggestions put forth by the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force, established by Congress as part of the fiscal 2013 defense spending bill. However, she added, they differ with the commission’s recommendation that Air Force Reserve Command be disestablished.
“We’re all for integration, and of course, that is the basis of that recommendation,” James said. “But we feel … in fiscal year 2015, we don’t have a good alternative way to manage and provide for … 70,000 members of the Air Force Reserve, so we would disagree with that proposition, at least for (fiscal 2015).”
James reported that the Total Force Continuum, another group of generals, will lead the charge for myriad initiatives, one being facilitating an Airman’s ability to serve in the active force, the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve in the course of a career.
To facilitate a new total force personnel and pay system in support of the continuum of service, the secretary said, the Air Force has integrated force support squadrons at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.; March Air Reserve Base, Calif.; and Pease Air National Guard Base, N.H.
“One unit is essentially serving all of the three different components in the geographic area with respect to personnel systems,” she explained.
James noted an uptick in shared active and reserve-component squadrons, or Air Force associations, from 102 to 124, a 22 percent increase in recent years.
“It’s a form of integration, and we’re kicking it up a notch and doing more of these in the future,” she said.
To retain talent across the total force, the secretary said, the Air Force has reduced the active-duty service commitment payback in the Palace Chase Service Commitment Waiver Program from three reserve years for every year of active commitment down to one.
Palace Chase is the name of the Air Force program in which an active-duty Airman transfers to the reserve component. The program also expanded to include rated officers, James said.
“Bottom line there is we’re making it easier and more attractive to people to enter the Guard and Reserve,” she added.
James also reported seeking authority from the Defense Department to implement aviator retention pay to traditional reservists.
“As an aviator leaves active duty (for) the Guard and Reserve, I want to be able to (offer) that incentive pay,” she said.