New management at the U.S. Air
Force halted its downsizing program last Spring. At the same time, the air
force discovered that more of the people it did not want to lose, were leaving.
These are experienced people with rare skills that are in big demand. Top of
the list are EOD (bomb disposal) and forward air controllers. People working
these jobs are in big demand in Iraq and Afghanistan, even with the decline of
roadside bomb activity in Iraq. Same with the forward air controllers. There
have never been enough people with these skills, and the air force wants to
hang on to the senior men, if only to train new people. But after twenty years
of service, you can retire on half pay. Many older EOD and air controller NCOs
are under pressure from families to take the pension and not spend so much time
in combat zones. So the air force has increased reenlistment bonuses for these
folks from $60,000 to $90,000. The air force is also increasing the number of
job categories eligible for bonuses from 37 to 88. There are a lot of people,
with a lot of scarce skills, coming up for 20 year retirement.
abandoned downsize program had been going on since 2005. Last year 852
lieutenants received letters that they were likely to lose their jobs by this
Summer. In the last two years, about 2,000 lieutenants have been similarly
dismissed. The air force was reorganizing and downsizing, so energetically that
even junior officers, who are usually immune to such cuts, were fired. The air
force planned to cut their strength by 5,400 personnel this fiscal year (which
began last October).
force has long been accused (by members of the other services) of operating
more like a corporation than a military operation. That's a little harsh,
because the air force is the most tech minded of the services, and has always
taken the lead in adapting commercial innovations to military use. The navy has also been downsizing, for the same
reasons as the air force.
force and navy were 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 this year is 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 this year were to be
involuntary, and all those would 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. More
The U.S. Air
Force has fewer people on active duty today, 334,000, than at any other time in
was formed (from the U.S. Army Air Force) in 1948. The air force does have
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 rank.
reason for halting the downsizing, was a personnel policy that was sending some
types of air force troops overseas again and again, while many other hardly
went at all. There were many complaints from the officers and airmen spending
all that time overseas (many since 1991, to patrol the Iraq "no-fly"
zone). But air force brass largely ignored the complaints, believing that there were so many people
trying to get in, or stay in, the air force, that they could just tell the
troops to suck it up. The new air force management is taking this in a
different direction. That means that the old air force plan, of shedding
personnel so they could buy more new F-22s and F-35s, will also be dropped. As
many corporations have discovered, downsizing often ends up dismissing key
people you did not realize were key until after they were gone (and quickly
hired by someone else.) This was the case with EOD and air controllers, two
groups of highly skilled specialists who don't have much to do in peacetime,
but are in big demand when there is a war.