Support: December 15, 2002


Despite problems throughout the 1990s, the U.S. Air Force has still not been able to ease up the workload on its AWACS and electronics warfare aircraft  crews. There are only 33 American AWACS, and these have been in constant use during the 1990s to support air operations over the no-fly zones in Iraq. This has meant that aircraft crews, and maintenance personnel, are spending a lot of time away from home. The number of air force personnel working in the Persian Gulf area has increased from 5,000 in 2001 to over 18,000 this year. AWACS crews are averaging over 180 days a year overseas. The air force, based on past experience, tries to keep this down to 120 days. Any more than that and a lot of key people get out of the service as soon as they can. And that's what AWACS crews have been doing for nearly a decade. The air force won't ask for more money to build additional AWACs, as they would rather spend that money on a new generation of AWACS and new warplanes. Getting more crews for AWACS is also a problem, because unless you select people who really want to do this sort of thing, as quickly as you train them, they leave the service (when their enlistment or, of an officer, term of service, is up.) The problem is now spreading to JSTARS (ground surveillance radar), EA-6B (electronic warfare), EC-135 (electronic warfare), U-2 (long range recon) and Special Forces helicopters and aircraft. While the crews want to do their bit for the war effort, they are being worked to death. There are not enough of most of these aircraft, so the maintenance crews have to constantly work overtime to keep them flying, and the crews fly a lot more than they normally do in peacetime. The airmen are mad at their bosses, who they feel have been dragging their heels for a decade on the issue of bringing more people into this high stress business. Pushing the troops has a down side beyond low reenlistments. Overwork causes crews to make mistakes, and that can be fatal. 


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