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Don’t Chop the Air Force – Look to the Reserves

Authors: Janine A. Davidson, Former Senior Fellow for Defense Policy, Council on Foreign Relations, and Margaret Harrell
April 9, 2014
The Hill


The Air Force's latest budget plan proposes to cut 25,000 airmen, including 21,000 from the active duty and 4,000 from the reserves. These cuts represent not only a loss to our nation from the investment in costly military training, but also an increased risk from losing the ability to 'surge' these skilled airmen in a future crisis. The recommendations made by the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force (NCSAF) offer an alternative — and less risky — way forward.

The NCSAF's plan would reduce risk to the nation by retaining all 507,000 active, guard and reserve airmen in a rebalanced "Total Force." It envisions increased — but more predictable — reliance on a larger reserve component composed of more part-time airmen serving side by side in integrated units with their active-duty colleagues. This more integrated structure will enhance efficiencies by sharing aircraft and equipment across a more streamlined command structure.

The NCSAF's recommendations are possible because all three components of the modern Air Force – active, guard and reserve – maintain the same readiness standards. The Air Force relies heavily upon this readiness, not just for a big war, but also for its day-to-day missions. Today's Air Force reservists do not wait for the nation to call them up; they stay ready and volunteer frequently. Far from being over-tasked, these airmen testified frequently to the NCSAF that if given reasonable notice prior to their missions, they could do even more, and want to.

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