Opportunity Disguised: Budget Turbulence and Air Force Reform

“We’ve got no money, so we’ve got to think.”
– Ernest Rutherford

After months of hand-wringing, feverish planning, and paralyzing uncertainty, the Air Force this week began registering some of the sharpest consequences of budget sequestration.  The service announced on April 9th the grounding of one-third of its fighter fleet through the end of the fiscal year, a measure designed to save more than $500 million in flying hour costs.  On the heels of this dour news came the rollout of President Obama’s 2014 budget, which includes a reduction in service end-strength by 2,640 airmen.  These reductions are hitting home against the backdrop of a punishing operational tempo and frequent deployments, realities underscored by the recent loss of an F-16 and its pilot during a combat patrol in Afghanistan.  Despite the fact that a war continues to rage half a world away, it’s clear that Air Force, along with its sister services, is entering a time of severe resource turbulence.

But in this challenge, there is tremendous opportunity.  The service has spent the past decade struggling to adapt by championing, promoting, honing, and investing in capabilities that many do not believe comprise the core of its future mission, and has been battered by 22 years of standing continuously on war footing.  The pressure and persistent tempo of this period have not permitted the service a chance for a bottom-up review of itself, and signs of wear, bureaucratic calcification, policy drift, and internal conflict have become more prominent.  With sequestration, the nascent preference for reduced federal spending, and the clear trend toward foreign policy retrenchment, there is now a moment when ideas that might otherwise have engendered too much resistance to succeed have an increased chance of taking root.  Minds are more open to change and sacred cows are walking more nervously.  If the institution can muster the collective will to answer to its longstanding preference for aggressive action to “lead turn” its future, it can seize on important reform initiatives that can save money, encourage a culture of conservation that will posture it well for the future, and address a number of stubborn challenges to morale in the process.

Despite being a brilliant institution led and membered overwhelmingly by superior men and women, the Air Force is not immune to the wasteful practices that tend to develop in large, top-heavy bureaucracies.  There are non-value-added activities and wasteful management practices taking place within today’s Air Force; ferreting them out could produce considerable savings that could be re-directed toward sustaining the service’s core competencies and interests through a period of severely constrained spending.  The following ideas are not intended to be all-inclusive, but could provide a partial roadmap to reformers looking for ways to save money while pulling the service into tighter formation.

1. Take a Close Look at Airlift.  Even as the service stands It's going to be a good flightdown fighter squadrons, the airlift community is as busy as ever.  Some of the missions being tasked do not seem necessary.  Crews are sometimes tasked to fly from a cargo staging base to the AOR with only 1/3 or 1/2 of their cargo capacity utilized, for example.  Crews sometimes arrive at a forward base only to have the supposedly desperate recipient of a cargo load appear puzzled as to what is being delivered and why; in fact, cargo reception teams sometimes appear surprised by the very arrival of an airlift mission. This raises obvious questions about mission necessity.  Occasionally, a crew will operate a mission to deliver cargo downrange only to be sent back to retrieve the same cargo in the next day or two.  While aircraft commanders often push back against mission plans that seem dubious, they are nearly always ordered by the Tanker Airlift Control Center to push forward and execute.  Underlying factors impacting mission necessity are not made visible to executing aircrews, obscuring information they might employ in making smarter risk management decisions.  Much of this problem is explained by the lack of a solid cargo visibility system like you’d find at Fedex or UPS.  The absence of such a system gives inefficiency a free hand, degrading the chance for a culture of conservation to develop; aircrews bearing witness to frequent waste have trouble taking seriously the message of conservation persistently relayed by their chain of command.  Some in Air Mobility Command (AMC) have suggested giving aircraft commanders authority to initially refuse missions that under-utilize cargo capacity and are not servicing Troops-In-Contact.  This idea has not gotten a serious audience with senior leaders, but it’s worthy of discussion.  A few simple guidelines, some healthy empowerment, and more decentralized execution could save resources and force the supply chain management process to improve, creating new systemic efficiency critical to the future cost-sustainability of the airlift mission. Those who would resist empowering aircraft commanders are owed a reminder that these are mid-level officers with command authority who might be entrusted with the lives of hundreds of soldiers in another service; they are worthy of greater trust and authority … and they have a strong vantage point to evaluate whether a mission is necessary enough to be a responsible use of resources.

2. Overhaul Squadron Officer School (SOS).  Currently, every captain isCaptain expected to complete correspondence SOS despite the service’s commitment to send all officers in residence.  This means the Air Force is spending money on building, authoring, fielding, and administering a development program that is wholly superfluous.  The service should shut down correspondence SOS and roll a portion of the savings into expanding capacity to ensure all captains get to attend in residence.  In doing so, it would also be sending an important message that it rejects redundant activity.  Captains abhor doing SOS twice, and their commanders see little enhancement in their performance from having completed the correspondence version of the course.

3. Kill Desert Flight Uniforms.  Many dollars are spent on a rolling basis toDFS outfit deploying aircrew members with desert flight suits, boots, hats, jackets, and alterations.  In the overwhelming majority of cases, this is a waste of resources.  These uniforms — clocking in $162.50 each — are seldom necessary.  They perform no better in arid weather than green flight suits, don’t tend to fit as well, get stained too easily (requiring replacement when they do), and require their own matching velcro, specially-made patches, and name tags — all at unit (and taxpayer) expense. Because the rules require aircrews to deploy with them, commanders are buying these uniforms every deployment cycle … mostly for folks who will live “inside the wire” and therefore have no need to dress like their joint counterparts or blend in with terrain.

4. Reduce General Officer Billets.  The service has added 44 generals since 1 STAR GENERAL2004 while cutting 43,000 airmen, and boasts the highest general-to-troop ratio of the services.  Each of these officers, being the superb, hard-charging leaders they tend to be, will unerringly pursue ways to exert authority and move the mission forward.  They will not serve as caretakers, but as enterprising executives.  They will fire up new initiatives, ask unending questions, task their staffs without repreive, and they will require a steady diet of meetings, updates, and executive support — offices, computers, communications, and transportation.  Having too many of these types breeds micromanagement and often non-value-added activity.  Such activity, once chartered, will persist in a culture that does not promote subordinate officers who resist the agendas of their general officer bosses.  The Air Force has too many generals with spans of control and scopes of authority that are beneath their rank.  A rational observer would say it’s time for some of these billets to be eliminated.  This would cease some wasteful activity and open up new innovation pathways as decisions and authority are pushed back down the rank structure and communication channels open wider.

5. Audit Deployments.  Anecdotally, the Air Force continues to send airmenAOC on deployments where they are underemployed or doing something that does not require them to be forward-based, like building spreadsheets or making slides. This is expensive, but is much more harmful in the toll it takes on people who need a break from a historically high tempo and should only be leaving their teams and families for 6-12 months if absolutely necessary.  Part of the difficulty in reducing deployed weight of effort is that once a billet is established, the supported commander has almost total control over whether the billet will persist or be eliminated as operations change.  It is rare for a deployed commander to electively signal that s/he is leading a less relevant organization that needs fewer airmen, so deployments tend to stay on the books until the entire war effort draws down.  What is needed to break this cycle is an outside audit of every deployment, starting with those to staff organizations where airmen are doing a lot of administrative work that could be done from home station if it is necessary at all.

6. Reduce the Frequency of Officer Assignments.  Every 4 months, theAFPC Air Force Personnel Center (AFPC) plays a pick-up game to establish lateral movement requirements and place officers against them.  It’s a passive-reactive model with little forward look , completely inconsistent with the lead-turning mentality that has always been core to airpower.  Part of what limits improvement of this scheme is under-resourcing at AFPC.  For example, a single O-4 is charged with coordinating assignment actions for all mobility aircrew officers — a huge group numbering approximately 2,000.  This means constant task-saturation, with very little chance at meaningful forecasting.  But beyond AFPC resourcing, the problem is traceable to a trenchant culture that believes in a 2-3 year movement cycle.  This is too short, and leads to massive churn for individuals, units, and families.  It also spends far more money than necessary.  A few years ago, the service talked about going to a 4-year assignment model.  That did not materialize, but should be re-entertained as part of a “whole system look” at how assignments work (and don’t) to support the mission, develop airmen, and shepherd families.

7.  Reform Officer Tuition Assistance (TA).  Tons of wasted money, time,College and energy are getting poured into low-value (and often exclusively online) masters degrees because the Air Force has arranged an incentive structure that results in a huge competitive disadvantage and mortal career risk for those who don’t “check the square.”  Officers should not be eligible for TA until they graduate from residence SOS, and they shouldn’t be allowed to show an advanced degree in their record until after their Major promotion board (with exceptions for selective resident programs for Captains).  This would end the competitive spiral that has created a hugely wasteful pattern of behavior, and would help ensure those using TA money are earnestly developing themselves and not just demonstrating commitment to the personnel system.  This could save tens of millions of dollars per year, which could be rolled into making TA more broadly sustainable for enlisted members.

8.  Cut Back DV Airlift.  Park half the fleet and let the chips fall where they may.  The service would save considerable dollars with little-to-no operational impact.  This would also free up a bunch of aircrews and support personnel who are needed elsewhere.

9. Fix Joint Basing.   Where the Air Force has implemented joint basing by creating multiple wings on one base, it has run afoul of the timeless immutability of unity of command.  Charleston Air Force Base provides a salient example.  Before joint basing, the 437th Airlift Wing was a unified organization of 4 groups and roughly 20 squadrons commanded by a single colonel answering to a general officer at a higher headquarters.  One base, one wing, one mission, one boss.  Everyone had the same vision, self-concept, and common notion of mutual support.  This kept internal conflict and coordination to a minimum, creating an efficient model for operations.  Squadron commanders attended the same meetings, marched on the same marching orders, and answered to the same commander, who watched carefully to ensure everyone worked well together.  The new, “improved” Joint Base Charleston has two wings, the 437th Airlift Wing and the 628th Airbase Wing.  Each has two groups and is commanded by its own colonel.  These colonels are not in the same chain of command.  One answers to a 3-star commander in Illinois while the other answers to a 2-star commander in New Jersey.  The wings have different missions, visions, self-concepts, and notions of mutual support.  They do not attend the same meetings and do not communicate on established, regular channels.  But although these organizations rely on one another for success, their flight paths are in many ways divergent, which is unsurprising given their differing mission statements (incredibly, the mission statement of the 628th Airbase Wing does not explicitly include support of the C-17 airlift mission core to the airbase’s existence).  This divergence creates a constant competition over priorities, constant internal conflict, and constant attempts to solve that conflict by inventing new processes, instructions, and rules.  This type of arrangement is an engine for waste.  Worse, it’s not saving the money expected.  It’s time for the service to reconsider its approach and return to the objective wing concept.  This would instantly save a number of O-6 billets across the force and might even allow for the consolidation of a higher headquarters staff.

It’s difficult to estimate how much money could be conserved by acting on these and other reform suggestions.  What’s less mysterious is that unless the Air Force acts now to save wherever and however possible, it may not have the institutional credibility to argue for budget priorities in the future.  It may also miss a chance to create a culture of conservation within the ranks by showing the willingness to do things that make sense, even when it means frustrating a narrow or self-concerned agenda or constituency.

As the Air Force enters turbulent airspace, there are storm clouds everywhere.  It’s up to the service whether the glimmer it sees in the windscreen turns out to be a bolt of catastrophic lightning … or a silver lining of smart reform.

Posted by Tony Carr on April 10th, 2013.

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  • Anonymous

    I agree with most of this. The empowering of AC’s to not fly tasked missions is a slippery one though. I think it a very risky and incorrect method to achieve the goal you wanted, better logistic side management. It would be better for the AF to fix the logistics piece with what you have already espoused on these pages, better leaders at the O6 and O7 levels. I can forgive you that because I know your background.

    • Tony Carr

      Denny — I realize this kind of approach carries risks, and I definitely don’t see it as a lasting solution. But I think it has a lot of potential value as a forcing function to help the command understand the magnitude of the waste in the system. (actually, none of it would be necessary if the command would earnestly grow curious about and study the problem, which requires first acknowledging there is a problem). While better in-transit visibility is a large part of the problem, I do have concern about the degree of centralization in global airlift. Semi-autonomous operations and AC authority are important not only in being more efficient, but in making sure we’re ready to operate in environments where centralized execution might not be possible.

      But …. your point is valid and well-taken, and we agree that in-touch and empowered leadership at O-6/O-7 level would address most of the under-utilization we see right now.

      Of course, given that the TWCF scheme actually incentivizes AMC to provide airlift service irrespective of cost to the taxpayer, it’s tough to see reforms getting too far without big-picture change.

  • Denny

    Sorry about the anonymous post, not my intent.
    D Blythe

    • Tony Carr

      No worries man ….

  • http://www.facebook.com/CrispinBurke Crispin Burke

    I think the concept of a Senior Commander (in the realm of Joint Basing) was for garrison issues primarily–family support, installation management issues, community relations, etc. We ran into the same thing at Fort Sam Houston (Army North, Army South, Medical Command), which is Sr. Commanded by an Army 3-star (answering to NORTHCOM)…but it’s part of a Joint Base, technically commanded by a USAF 1-star. The Sr. CDR’s duties are limited…

    • Tony Carr

      In some ways, what was attempted makes sense depending on the situation … to ensure someone is shepherding garrison-type issues while someone else is focused on operations. But in reality, it’s been a County Option … so many different permutations, and some working better than others. Where we actually arrange divergent missions and then count on people to see through all that and work together for the sake of harmony, we ignore the nature of organizations — especially bureaucratic ones. All of it would be easier to tolerate as a taxpayer if money were being saved … but the last report I saw showed no tangible savings while making no mention of the new inefficiencies.

      Interesting dilemma.

  • Anonymous

    My fellow airmen will probably burn me at the stake for this but we really need to look at per-diem entitlements as well. A crew member typically makes anywhere from $1000-1500 on a two week overseas trip. We can be much more frugal with our meal spending and putting individuals in billeting other than 4 or 5 star Outrigger resort hotels in Hawaii. It would have been cheaper for the Air Force to build a hotel back in the 80s just to accommodate what the ramp can handle and we would have paid for it by now. Also we are paying guys that stay at Little Rock for 7 months of TDY Training perdiem the entire time so they are walking away with up to $7000 in overhead money. Just doesn’t seem fiscally right

    • Tony Carr

      Agree, and I nearly included it in this article. Kinda wish I had, because it’s a big expenditure that ties into how we support ourselves. Is it really more cost-effective to send a TDY aircrew downtown than to make sure there’s vacancy for them and keep the DFAC open for them? I can’t begin to fathom how much extra we spend in this way. It also ties into how missions are scheduled and communicated to enroute stops … and how those stops in-turn posture support. With the technology available, there’s no reason we can’t have a system that tips off support agencies so enroute support can be postured.

      Full per diem while on long-term TDY is another area overdue for scrutiny. Under current circumstances, I don’t see how it can be changed because individuals are being asked to live on a 24-hour clock without 24-hour support facilities, and often not being housed on base. But re-structuring support to make sure everyone is on base and walking distance to a 24-hour eating facility (i.e. how we do it downrange when we have no choice) would undoubtedly save a lot of money.

      The big win would be to cut down on TDYs by housing formal training within operational wings. I collected a per diem check for almost $20K after 5.5 months at the C-17 WIC. A good piece of that was double-billeting for all the TDYs from TDY we took, given the genius idea of placing the school in New Jersey, nowhere near the mountainous terrain, training ranges, and integration centers where the lion’s share of training took place.

      Moving it to McChord has been proposed a few times and actually got some traction … but eventually got hung up, probably in politics. Would save millions per year.

  • Vapor

    Consider the match lit! LOL But you are correct. Let’s act on the truely wasteful deployments first. I think it would have a greater impact. Also, crossing multiple time zones in a day sometimes requires a little more pay (not a lot more).

    I have had success in turning away “wasteful missions” base on fuel conservation. So far, 3 out of 4 times.

    • Tony Carr

      I agree ref the deployments. From what I’ve seen, this just bounces off anyone in a position of substantive authority, which tells me they all know it’s not up for corporate negotiation. No one wants to question anything a combatant commander says they need — even if it was “said” a decade ago and wasn’t actually “said” by the combatant commander, but by a mid-level functionary looking to aggrandize a function or staff branch. The kind of unquestioning mentality this has created breeds abusive practices, and I believe we’re deploying a many people who do not need to be deployed. During my time at AFAFRICA, we were sending our key planners on rotations to JTF-HOA … every one of them came back saying they were superfluous. Meanwhile, we struggled to meet our own objectives with them out of the mix.

      I’ve had modest success turning down wasteful missions, but I was able to make my arguments on top of a pedestal of rank and experience. Our line captains are not getting the same kind of response. What’s frustrating is that some of the GOs at or near the very top of the org chart today were the same ones championing ORM and semi-autonomous execution a dozen years ago. They were right then and they are wrong now (often by obliviousness or inaction). Without the culture of semi-autonomy we had before 9/11, we would not have done the job nearly as well after 9/11. Talk about efficiency … wait until we’re stuck re-attempting missions in the future because our ACs have not been given the confidence and trust they need to practice and develop decision making skills.

  • Anonymous

    What about flight pay for pilots in staff or school positions? $650 per month per pilot … adds up quickly.

    • Jeff Beers

      That’s right, hasten the impending the mass pilot exodus. Then you’ll save lots of money because no one will be around to fly the missions except the staff officers.

    • Tony Carr

      Whenever these discussions are undertaken, it’s inevitable that someone will show up and call for slashing special pays and bonuses. Oddly, the focus is always on pilots. Ordinarily, as in this case, the idea is offered in bumper-sticker format without any accompanying rationale, considerations, or analysis. What I conclude when I see this is that I’m dealing with a mk1 pilot hater. And my response is always the same: if you hate pilots, you’re in the wrong service. The service has given the anti-pilot crowd too much of a voice the past several years, creating a set of circumstances that have gone beyond the egalitarian ethos of removing clan barriers and strayed into the realm of devaluing core competence. Being anti-pilot because you’ve bought into some lazy stereotypes left over from a bygone era is dumb and unproductive. Being anti-pilot as a principle equates to being anti-airpower … which makes you anti-Air Force. For what that’s worth.

      Now, serious case could be made that special pays and bonuses should be reconsidered. Such a case would have to consider the savings of reducing said benefits against the potential costs of losing experienced aviators to the open employment market. Maybe there is a makeable case.

      Needless to say, I’m much more sensitive to touching compensation than I am to approaching structural waste. When the war’s been over a few years and our HR processes have stopped resembling an Insane Clown Posse, maybe then we can entertain changing pay.

      • Anonymous

        I agree about special pay needing to be looked at…not just for pilots in staff positions or in school positions but all special pay needs to be reviewed and updated to reflect the realities of the current economic situation. Unfortunately from my perspective all but the aviation special pays are reviewed and adjusted regularly based on the realities of retention. I’m not a pilot but do receive special pay as a medical officer.

        When I turned down my pilot slot out of the academy I can tell you the extra $125 during pilot training or even the $800ish after 14 years had no impact on my decision regarding flying. If there was a single classmate that ran the numbers financially regarding flying and decided to fly instead of some other career because of aviation pay I’m not aware of it. All were happy to get the extra money but would have flown without it. People become pilots because they have a dream to “slip the surly bonds of earth.”

        I can tell you as a medical officer I run the financial numbers. In all reality I’d make more money as a civilian but I stick around because I’m a risk averse individual, have a wife that still has to finish her commitment (which will put her to the 12 year point…and guess what we’ll stay till retirement at that point) and it’s still enough money to keep me satisfied.

        When making my decision about turning down the pilot slot, as I said the aviation pay had zero impact, what mattered was the commitment. The current 10 year commitment after getting your wings basically means you’re going to be at 10-12 years when you could potentially get out. All analysis shows people stay at that point. The financial incentive of a military retirement is pretty strong once you get past 12 years. So why does the aviation pay go up to it’s highest point after 14 years when no one is going to get out? Look at the medical variable special pay and notice it decreases as retention increases (ie as one approaches retirement)…this makes sense.

        To respond to the doom of pilots leaving the military the above bit about leaving after the 12 year point is clearly handling the proposed issue but the secondary question is where are the pilots going to go? I understand at some point commercial airline positions were enticing military pilots (also occurred when commitment from pilot training was less) but that’s not the case anymore. Yeah there are other jobs. Wall street loves the Type A fighter pilot but they aren’t exactly head hunting like they once did.

        The last paragraph is the reason the aviation pay is kept. No GO wants to be the one known as ending the gravy train for their career field.

        What are the reasons to keep aviation special pays? Because aviation is the mission? Isn’t the goal to decrease the costs but still effectively meet the mission objectives?

  • C17 Load

    Instead of getting rid of the tan flight suit what if we reform the flight completely. The flight is for ejection seat aircraft, so give MAF crews the multi cam two piece. The camo pattern will work in the desert and will also work in a woodland scenario. Additionally, we would only need one pair of boots rather than the sage for greens and the tan boots for the desert flight suit. Just my thoughts.

    • Tony Carr

      It’s a good idea. I pick on the DFS making the assumption the green isn’t going away … but if we play with that assumption, other solutions start to emerge. I’d like to see someone cost it out — I think your idea might be the most cost effective of all, assuming the 2-piece lasts long enough and doesn’t need frequently replaced.

  • Anonymous

    Surprised to not see O-6s included in the general officer/senior leader section. I don’t have the numbers on the AF as a whole, but I’ll let the Contingency Response Wing be an example to where in other MAJCOMs we could identify savings: 8 colonels for 1300 airmen. Again, I don’t have the service numbers, but I would bet this isn’t the only egregious example of bloated senior leader personnel allocation/utilization. Invariably, O-6s will create administrative churn like flag officers with their subordinates further wasting time and resources writ large (albeit unintentional most times, but reality nonetheless).

    • Tony Carr

      I’ve seen many examples of O-6s without sufficient span of control or scope of mission to justify their rank and status. I was on a staff where we had 15 Colonels for <300 airmen (also had 2 GOs). What a ridiculous environment that created.

      Someone will argue that you need x number of Colonels to ensure you can promote y number of high-quality generals. I don’t buy that logic because history shows we start finding our GOs well before they become O-6s. But even if I did buy it, I’d say the task would get a lot easier if we’d chop the GO corps in a third tomorrow morning and let the chips fall where they may.

  • Anonymous

    You’re forgetting the whole reason the desert flight suit exists in the first place. It is not tan so you can avoid being seen inside the wire, it is tan so you can effectively evade if you ever go down. I realize as a mobility pliot there is less chance of that happening (I’m one myself) but its still nice to know if I ever did have to evade I could do it instead of standing out like a sore thumb in the dust and sand. As far as the 2 pc flight suits go, each piece costs the same as an entire flight suit (pants and jacket are $160 each) so you are doubling your cost to supply the crewmember with one flight suit. This would cancel out any hopes of savings from doing away with the deserts.

    Also, being a part of the pilot community gives me the insight to say that the 12 yr mark is not enough to keep pilots in these days. When the FAA increased the civilian age limit to 65 it temporarily solved the civilian market shortage, but its been 5 years and those who stayed because of it are being forced to retire. There is a hiring wave coming in the commercial world and while military retirement is enough to keep me in (I’m risk adverse as well) it’s not enough for my wife or many others I know that are worn too thin from constant deployments and a heavy ops tempo. I think that message was seen all too clearly by the people up top during the last itteration of the VSP.

  • http://gravatar.com/coryacook cc

    To answer the question, “where will the pilots go if they get out?” according to the linked Boeing report there will be a requirement for 460,000 new pilots over the next 20 years.


    • Anonymous

      I have to laugh. My favorite part of the report is the last page. The report gives us numbers without providing how those numbers were obtained, references Boeing products and then tells us how we can get training to enter this high demand area from Boeing who produced the report. It kind of reminds me of an ITT Tech commercial.

      • Tony Carr

        Don’t laugh too hard. You can critique this report if you want, but those of us tied into the industry can see the huge writing on the wall. The key indicator is the number of new aircraft orders, specifically from Asia-Pacific airlines. It’s massive.

        Here’s a mainstream media report:

        “465,000 new pilots will be needed worldwide between now and 2031 as global economies expand and airlines take deliveries of tens of thousands of new commercial jetliners. The forecast includes 69,000 new pilots in the North America, mostly in the U.S. The greatest growth will be in the Asia-Pacific region, where an estimated 185,600 new pilots will be needed.

        Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/travel/2012/07/13/rising-demand-for-airline-pilots-raises-safety-concerns/#ixzz2QJNlzBZ0

        Since you go by “Anonymous” and don’t brandish the particular axe you’re trying to grind, I’ll assume you’re a generic pilot hater. But just in case you’re a maintainer, there’s a forecasted need for 600,000 of those over the same period.

        One of the few industries that always recovers is the air transport industry. It’s volatile, but until we invent a teleporter, it will remain the prime mode of intercontinental travel in an increasingly globalized business world.

  • Tony Carr

    CC: thanks for providing that link — those who do not see the coming hemorrhage of military pilots have their craniums firmly in the sand. There won’t be enough supply to meet commercial demand and the incentives offered — especially to military folks who are already trained and rated — will be too much for many families to resist, no matter the intrinsic desire of the individual pilot. This is why the RIFs the past few years that drummed out hundreds of pilots made little sense. We will need those folks in a few short years and will wish we’d been less myopic.

    • Anonymous

      You can count me as one who doesn’t see the hemorrhage of pilots coming. Know too many regional pilots who are still working for shit money living in hotels. IF the exodus does occur that is when an increase in the aviator continuation pay makes sense.

      I do agree the voluntary separation pay (VSP) and reduction in force programs (RIF) made no sense in the way they were executed, especially for aviators.

      It makes financial sense to get out early in a career so offering to pay an officer in a year group who couldn’t get for zero dollars made no sense. Just removing their commitment would have been more than effective. To make matters worse from a morale standpoint some individuals were denied VSP due to “critical shortages” but were then eligible for RIF with the reduced financial benefits.

  • SSmith

    You’ve picked 9 areas out of thousands that could be utilized to save money. However, I very much disagree with giving the Aircraft Commander the authority to cancel a mission which “appears inefficient.” Pilots have very little knowledge of what is loaded in the back not to mention why it is being moved by aircraft. Also, some airplanes are moved into position to support “what ifs” and sometimes they put cargo on them just because. Giving the pilots discretion is a huge no-no. There is no way for them to make an educated decision.

    The entire DOD transportation system/TRANSCON is one gigantic cluster you know what. Tankers are used to refuel inefficient 4-engined C-17s and C-5s. Really? Tankers fly all around the world empty when most of the KC-10s can haul the same weight as a C-17. We fly C-17s strategically to carry palletized cargo (very inefficient) when it could have been moved by a contractor with a commercial airplane at much cheaper cost per flying hour. The decision to be moving all this cargo by air instead of cheaper modes (trains, boats) is the real problem. The Generals fail to timely plan for the equipment they require. Instead it all has to move by just-in-time air cargo.

    Here’s a little story. In my reserve unit, we share office space with another unit. I have no idea what their mission is (they are active duty). Every day they show up, work out until 10am or so, log onto the computer to check weather, the news, and Facebook, then take lunch at 11:15 (gotta be early to get the best meal choices), back to the unit around 13:30-ish, log back in to check email, Facebook, Drudge etc.etc., then go home early around 3pm. They get every weekend off. They never come in on holidays. Their phones never ring. They never make any calls unless it is to chat with friends. Honestly, I have no idea what it is that they do. But whatever it is, they must be mission essential (sarcasm) because they get new flat screens, plasma TVs, and furniture every year. Truth.

    I suspect the USAF could be cut at least in half and still accomplish the same mission if they truly examined what the “real USAF” does every day.

    11 years active flyer (been assigned to ACC, AMC, PACAF, AETC, NATO, and USAFE)
    5 years reserve
    4 years commercial passenger pilot
    2 years cargo pilot

    • Tony Carr

      “Pilots have very little knowledge of what is loaded in the back not to mention why it is being moved by aircraft.”

      That’s because we’re doing it wrong. If we’d get past treating them like bus drivers and instead expect them to command missions, they’d be trusted and expected to understand what they’re carrying and why, so they can make the right decisions to support a user. I’ve flown in the special ops mission and seen it from the staff. There is no reason an O-3/O-4 with a security clearance (most often a TS) can’t be entrusted with enough detail to support whatever the mission requires. You propose they cannot make an educated decision. I propose the only thing standing between them and that decision is the education to make it educated. I just don’t believe we can continue — for reasons of both budget and future strategy — with a model of low-information, low-trust, centralized execution. If that’s our chosen employment mode, we don’t need commissioned officers performing this mission. In fact, we don’t need military members at all, and a contract solution would be much cheaper.

      I do, however, agree with the remainder of your post. The root cause of the currently inefficient system, which is hiding millions if not billions in annual waste, is the very structure of it. The incentives are geared to encourage more expensive missions, and each aircraft is treated like a rented U-Haul rather than a taxpayer-funded weapon of war.

      There are dozens upon dozens of areas where we could save money, and man I couldn’t agree more than some entire units and missions could disappear tomorrow to very little effect. In my opinion, the moment for conservative change has passed, though. We have to think big and reform big. Every O-3 needs to earn O-3 pay, and that means raising expectations, pushing authority downward, and trusting each other again as we once did.

      Appreciate your engagement with this piece, and there is much overlap in our views.

  • Maj

    Imagine the savings were the SECDEF to make this simple announcement: “Effective immediately, O-6s are no longer considered DVs”. I haven’t run the numbers to see what percentage, but the majority of DV airlift, staff car, DV billeting, protocol office, etc. requirements would go away instantly. The stuff that made sense would naturally stay as a part of the normal RHIP system such as they’d still get the biggest houses on base, still get the room called to attention just like a Lt Col Sq/CC does, still have execs when they are in positions that warrant them, etc.

    • Tony Carr

      I don’t disagree. I’m not certain how much could be saved by doing this, but I don’t think the span of control is sufficient to justify many O-6 billets. I was on a staff a few years ago that numbered less than 300 people but had 15 Colonels (in addition to a 2-star commander and 1-star vice). With fewer than 20 airmen per O-6, you can imagine what happened: rampant micromanagement.

      So I guess what I’d say to your comment is “yes, and.” Yes, to the extent we can save money by doing it, we should reserve some DV perks for those in command and key advisory roles. And, to agree with an earlier poster, we should ask if we have too many O-6s on the books.

  • http://twitter.com/Figanootz Figanootz (@Figanootz)

    Flat screen TVs… The ultimate answer of how to spend left over end of year funds. We had one installed to replace a white board that displayed mission info. What a waste.
    What needs to change is how we manage money. Why cant units carry forward left over funds?

  • http://N/A Gerald White

    On the GO/O-6 discussion, how many SES/GS-15 positions were created to free up blue-suiters for more “mission critical” roles. The bloat is bigger than just the extra GO positions created…

    • Tony Carr

      Absolutely. I said to a GO offline who questioned my assertion: “sir, the waste is considerably understated in my article.” These folks are trapped in a paradigm that doesn’t allow them to see this objectively … but I have a feeling the GO corps is about to be brought to heel by Congress, and we may see one of those “30-year audit” scenarios that cleans out tons of positions. I just hope the AF can fight through the crises and catch its breath long enough to actually consider reform.

  • Bob

    Your fix to Joint Bases demonstrates a basic ignorance of Joint Basing principles. IAW an April 13, 2010 SecDEF memo, DoD Supplemental Guidance for Implementing and Operating a Joint Base – New Mission Stationing/Beddown, “At joint bases, the supporting Service Component’s role is that of steward of real property and service provider for installation support services. Congress established Joint Bases and gave control of any one particular base to one of the Services provide installation support to ALL tenant military organizations equally and without preference to its own Service units. The USAF airlift mission at JB Charleston is of no more importance to the Air Base Wing than the mission of any Army, Navy, or Marine Corps unit located on the installation. Right or wrong, the AF is not to blame and cannot fix perceived issues.

  • Bob

    Some language left out of above –

    Your fix to Joint Bases demonstrates a basic ignorance of Joint Basing principles. IAW an April 13, 2010 SecDEF memo, DoD Supplemental Guidance for Implementing and Operating a Joint Base – New Mission Stationing/Beddown –
    “At joint bases, the supporting Service Component’s role is that of steward of real property and service provider for installation support services. Accordingly, joint bases are viewed as national assets” for joint use, rather than “owned” by a single Service Component for their primary use.”
    Congress established Joint Bases and gave control of any one particular base to one of the Services provide installation support to ALL tenant military organizations equally and without preference to its own Service units. The USAF airlift mission at JB Charleston is of no more importance to the Air Base Wing than the mission of any Army, Navy, or Marine Corps unit located on the installation. Right or wrong, the AF is not to blame and cannot fix perceived issues.

  • Tony Carr

    I don’t see how the language you gave — which has been provided to me before by joint basing apologists — requires the USAF to create two wings and divide command of AF capabilities at Charleston Air Force Base. One wing commanded by one wing commander would be perfectly capable of providing the real property stewardship required by the guidance memo while providing unity of command for the Air Force’s global airlift mission at the base.

    It was not directed by DoD that the AF divide the wing and destroy unity of command. The AF chose to do that, and it was a bad decision that has had just the effect you’re championing here: the Airbase Wing (whatever the hell that is–a term that mystifies anyone outside the AF) envisions its joint real property support role as mutually exclusive of its support to the airlift wing, leaving the actual flying mission of the Air Force in effect unsupported. And don’t forget that the ABW threw in “generating expeditionary combat support deployers for the joint force” as part of its core mission … something that isn’t anywhere in the lexicon of joint basing but sure makes USAF/EC and its subordinate ABWs seem much more relevant. Never mind that generating airmen to support the war is everyone’s job, and far more people deploy from the airlift wing than the ABW.

    “Blame” is not all that relevant, but the AF needs to fix the problem. We can’t afford a superfluous O-6 and support staff anymore, and we also can’t afford to let squadrons rot on the vine for lack of support.

  • Bob

    Maybe the problem is with the entire idea of “one base, one wing, one mission, one boss” – a concept that has never been carved in stone since first implemented. Charleston AFB may have been run by the 437th Airlift Wing prior to Joint Basing but it had at least one tenant – the 315th Airlift Wing. Now it has the 628th Air Base Wing running the bae and two tenant wings. Here at Langley AFB and prior to Joint Basing, the 1st Fighter Wing ran the base and owned the iron but two other wings existed on the base as tenants – the 192d Fighter Wing and the 480th Intel, Surveillance, and Recon Wing. Now that we have Joint Basing, the 633d Air Base Wing runs the base and the 1 FW is just one more tenant wing along with these two. There are other AF installations that are not Joint Bases but have similar arrangements – Eglin AFB has the 96th Test Wing as the host unit and wing-size tenants include the 33d Fighter Wing, 919th Special Ops Wing, 96th Test Wing, 53d Wing, and the 308th Armament Systems Wing.
    Another source of Joint Basing problems may be that that the AF operates so differently from the other services that Joint Basing was a bad idea from the start – or at least to have the AF manage any Joint Bases. The Army and Navy each have Installation Management Commands solely responsible for installation management and no other war-fighting mission. One organization runs the installation and nothing else. All other organizations are tenants on the installation. It is only the Air Force that chose to develop an organizational structure that typically has a war-fighting mission commander responsible for home station installation support to include support provided to other tenants.

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