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Force shaping necessary for AF budgetary management

WASHINGTON (AFPN) --

As Air Force officials continue to implement 2006 force shaping initiatives, they prepare for the majority of personnel reductions set for fiscal 2007.

They plan to reduce the service's current size by 40,000 full time equivalent positions by 2011. This amounts to roughly 35,000 active duty positions.

"This plan is fairly front-loaded," said Lt. Gen. Roger A. Brady, Air Force deputy chief of staff for manpower and personnel. "To take care of some investment accounts we have, and to meet some obligations that were requested of us by the DOD, about 20,000 (positions) must come out by the end of fiscal 2007."

The Air Force, as well as the other Services, receives appropriated funds based on the budgets submitted by the president and approved by Congress each year. It is fairly predictable within a certain range how much money the Air Force will receive, the general said.

Air Force officials designate funds into three main categories: operation accounts that enable bases to function and complete their missions; investment accounts that buy and replace equipment; and people accounts for paying, training and taking care of Airmen.

"As it turns out, people are the most important thing we have. They also are the most expensive thing we have," General Brady said. "So we must keep those accounts in relative balance."

Force shaping is both the size and shape of the force, and Air Force officials prioritize shaping initiatives in order to complete mission requirements.

"The priority obviously is the Air Expeditionary Force -- our first priority is to make sure we have the right number of people in the right skill sets to execute the mission," he said. "Second, you need certain numbers of people at various points in their career."

Air Force officials continuously study the force structure and retention tendencies. By doing this, they can predict to some degree what skills will be needed in recruitment, how many people are recruited in each skill set, and the likelihood of those individuals staying for a longer or shorter career.

"We have for many years brought in roughly 35,000 enlisted people every year," General Brady said. "If things work out right, about 35,000 people leave the Air Force every year. You must maintain, for budgetary purposes, a certain force to do the job and to stay within the budget and the authorization that the Congress gives us."

Staying within the budget authorization means the three main spending accounts must be balanced out. Recapitalization is a priority for Air Force expenditures. The general said the current aircraft average age is 23. In contrast, at the end of the Vietnam War the average age was eight.

"Now, our force, our equipment, our aircraft and our satellites are much, much more capable than they were at the end of Vietnam, but they are getting old," he said. "Air Force senior leaders recognize that we must make sure that we are not only the world's most respected air and space force today, but for tomorrow as well. To do that we must recapitalize that aging fleet of aircraft."

In increasing recapitalization efforts, Air Force officials are looking not only at the requirements needed for today, but also at the future requirements needed from an international security environment standpoint.

"I think the senior leaders of the Air Force have a very keen understanding that this war that we are in is not the last war and it is not like the next one will be," General Brady said. "I think there is a very good realization that there inevitably will be national security challenges beyond what is happening in the Central Command area of responsibility that we need to be prepared for when they present themselves."

Couple the recapitalization efforts with the current and future high operations tempo due to the war on terror and the result is the operation and investment costs increase.

"That means that our people-part of the budget also has got to be kept in check and at the right level," General Brady said. "We need, to the very maximum extent that we can, to have the right number of people. Not too few, not too many.

"If we get too far out of balance, we cannot operate as effectively," he said. "We cannot recapitalize, we cannot replace the old equipment that we have. And the Airmen who remain with us do not get the training they need or the equipment they need, and we have hard time sustaining operations. Let me also mention that if we have the right number of people, we are much more likely to be able to sustain the benefits package that we have been able to secure with the very generous assistance of the Congress."

The Air Force's expeditionary nature will impact the personnel authorization reduction decisions. The Air Force analyzes and prioritizes each career field from a perspective of what it takes for each specialty to support the AEF.

"Some career fields are very heavily forward-deployed and they would take fewer reductions than a career field that does not have that forward footprint," the general said. "It is a fairly complicated puzzle, but it is something we are working through to make sure that we have the force we need today and tomorrow to accomplish the missions the nation requires of us."

General Brady said meeting the force shaping needs will be challenging, but he feels the Air Force is prepared to meet those challenges.

"I think we have a plan whereby we can do this, but it is going to take the very best minds of the Air Force to make this work," he said. "I have great confidence. We have incredibly innovative Airmen who, if you turn them loose, can solve problems."

He added that the Air Force's operations tempo is unlikely to change, and performing the mission with fewer people means things must be done differently.

"It sounds like a cliché, but we really do need to work smarter and not work harder," he said. "I think there are a lot of things we find, when you have a large organization like the Air Force, that are inefficiencies we can cut out. We are going to have to be more efficient than we have been forced to in the past."

Not lost in these force-shaping decisions is the Air Force senior leader's empathy toward the affected Airmen. The general said he has been through this process three times during his 36-year career and that many career Airmen have children in the Air Force facing this current process.

"This is very personal to us and to the young men and women, officers and enlisted, who are going through this process," General Brady said. "It would be flippant of me to say I know how you feel, because, I can't know that. But, I understand the process. I understand the gravity and importance of what we are doing. That is why we take this very seriously and why we want to the very best of our ability to do it right to treat in the most fair and honorable way the young men and women who have given such incredible service to us."

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