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Vice chief airs readiness concerns to Congress

WASHINGTON -- Today's high operational tempo is affecting the Air Force's ability to conduct necessary training, which may affect readiness, the service's vice chief of staff told lawmakers March 18.

Gen. Robert H. Foglesong also told members of the House Armed Services Committee subcommittee on readiness he was concerned about maintaining an ever-aging fleet of aircraft and a civilian workforce that is quickly becoming eligible for retirement.

"We have some roadblocks ahead of us," the general said. "We have a reconstitution issue facing us. Because a tremendous amount of our force is deployed, we have curtailed many of our formal training programs."

Foglesong told the subcommittee that many aircrew instructors have been pulled from their training duties to fill operational requirements, making it difficult to train new aircrews to relieve combat stress.

"As long as the current (operations tempo) persists, we expect Air Force training to remain at current levels, if not decline, as training currencies and continuation training are harder to achieve," he said.

In addition, the general said there is skill-level imbalance within mid-grade officer and enlisted manning.

"We have a skill-level mismatch," he said. "There are too many new apprentices and not enough experienced journeymen. The resulting imbalance means higher expectations for our less experienced airmen and greater stresses on the remaining mid-level leaders, managers and trainers.

"We cannot afford to lose this experience," he said. "It will translate to lower readiness."

Foglesong said that 18 of the Air Force's 20 "low density, high demand" assets are currently operating in surge mode. He said the service plans to address the needs of those undermanned assets in the coming weeks.

"That's going to be a direct impact on our readiness," he said. "We want to have the right process and be resourced right."

Another major area of concern is the aging civilian employee workforce. According to Foglesong, about 40 percent of Air Force civilians will be eligible for retirement in the next five years.

The service, he said, will ask Congress to allow the Air Force to expedite the civilian employee hiring process, improve pay and add other incentives to improve recruitment and retention.

While some numbers look good on paper, the general said that appearances might be deceiving.

"Aircraft 'not mission capable' rates for supply are down from last year ... but we have an aging fleet," he said. "It takes a little more maintenance every year. We're concerned about that."

The general said the improved supply situation has resulted in both lower "cannibalization" rates and higher retention of people.

"Retention is up," he said. "One of the reasons for that is it's easier to retain crew chiefs when they have the parts to fix their airplanes. There's nothing more discouraging to an airman than having to take a part off one airplane and put it onto another airplane."

It all amounts to a force that is maintaining readiness levels despite new challenges. And that, he said, is a source of pride for all airmen.

"While there is clearly room for improvement, we are pleased with our recent gains in equipment readiness and are proud that we have maintained overall readiness despite increased demands," Foglesong said.

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