September 1, 2007:
U.S. Air Force continues to downsize, aiming to cut their strength by 5,400 personnel
in the next fiscal year (which begins in October). This downsizing has been
going on since 2005. The air force and navy are downsizing in response to the
impact of technology, outsourcing and automation, in a process similar to that
faced by many civilian firms. Unlike previous years, when many troops were
fired, most of the reduction in the next year will be from retirement and
people not re-enlisting. There are now higher standards for re-enlisting, which
improves the overall quality of the force. Only about 12 percent of the
reductions next year will be involuntary, and all will be officers. There will
still be a lot of enlisted personnel, in surplus jobs, who will be retrained.
Each active duty airman costs the air force over $100,000 a year. The money
saved will go towards purchasing more technology.
The U.S. Air Force has
fewer people on active duty today, 334,000, than at any other time in its
history. However, if you add in reservists (181,000), strength is a bit higher
than it was when the air force was formed (from the U.S. Army Air Force) in
1948. The air force also has slightly more officers on active duty today
(65,000) than it did in 1948, but that's a reflection of the growing importance
of technology. Air Force personnel today have much more education than they did
sixty years ago, and that is reflected in higher pay and, on average, higher
The lower number of active
duty troops mainly reflects the larger amount of technology, and knowledge, now
used in warfare. Consider, for example, the differences between a World War II
bomber, and a modern one. The principal World War II bomber was the B-17, which
weighed 29 tons, had a crew of ten, and could carry three tons of bombs to
targets 1,500 kilometers away. In current dollars, each B-17 cost about $2.2
million. But that was because over 12,000 of them were built. If bought in much
smaller quantities, as is typical in peacetime, each B-17 would cost over $10
million. Now compare that to a modern bomber of comparable size (or at least
weight), the F-15E. With a max weight of 36 tons, an F-15E can carry up to
seven tons of bombs three or four times as far as the B-17, and has a crew of
only two. But this $50 million dollar aircraft is much more than five times as
lethal as the B-17. That's because of guided bombs. A B-17 carried a dozen 500
pound bombs, but it took over 300 of these unguided bombs to guarantee a hit on
a target below. The smart bombs of the F-15E guarantee a hit with two bombs
(actually, it's 1.something, because there are occasional system failures with
smart bombs). The smart bombs also glide 40 kilometers or more, allowing the
F-15E to avoid most anti-aircraft fire.
Thus the big difference
between these two aircraft is knowledge, as manifested in more, and better, technology.
This has been a trend that has been ongoing for over a century, and continues.
More technology requires fewer people, to achieve the same results, or results
that were impossible in the past. The air force is not the only component of
the armed services that is undergoing these simultaneous personnel shrinkages,
and increased capabilities.