By Dr. Monique M. Maldonado
Contributor, In Homeland Security
As a former Technical Sergeant with over 13 years of service, I understand the relentless manning problems the Air Force has faced over the past decade. The government spent billions of dollars on Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and now Operation Inherent Resolve, creating a financial strain on defense spending.
The United States military utilizes RIF [reduction in force] programs to maintain a smaller force and save money. But is a smaller force in any service department exactly the answer for the United States? Is it in the best interest of national security?
The United States currently holds the reins as a global power. We are the number one country for air superiority and dominance. How much longer can we maintain this intimidating balance of being on top, if our best and brightest people are forced to leave military service?
Air Superiority Vital for Maintaining Power
Air superiority is the ultimate power in a reigning country. In his book, The Air Campaign Planning for Combat, Air Force Colonel John A. Warden III of National Defense University says, “Air superiority is a necessity and that contention is to ensure victory or avoid defeat is based on theory and on analysis of the last half-century of warfare.” International events occurring throughout history prove that Col. Warden’s air superiority theory is right.
Colonel Warden also states since Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939, “no other country has won a war in the face of enemy air superiority, no major offensive has succeeded against an opponent who controlled the air, and no defense has sustained itself against an enemy who had air superiority.” In other words, no country maintaining air superiority was ever defeated by an adversary.
Senior Air Force Officers Express Concern about Shortages
Because air dominance is a primary solution to “handling” adversaries and mitigating terrorism, there are concerns among senior Air Force officials about the decision to downsize forces. According to an Air Force Times article, “Air Force secretary says she needs more airmen; America should listen,” by author and former Vice Chief of Staff for the Air Force General Larry Spencer, he mentions alarming facts.
According to Spencer, the Air Force had over 500,000 airmen in 1990. In 2016, the number shrunk to only 317,000 in 2016, an amount that has not been seen since World War II.
In addition, there is a drastic decrease in aircraft, pilots and maintainers that have made increasing operation measures difficult to complete. Stephen Losey of the Air Force Times reports that since the drawdown, “there are 4,000 fewer maintainers and 3,000 fewer aircraft.”
There is much to be done to combat the Global War on Terrorism. It is astonishing that the Air Force must work with fewer airmen, battling the most innovative and strategically intelligent threats America has ever seen in the 21st century.
The Air Force will continue to lose more people, a problem that comes at the most inopportune and sensitive time for the United States. Adversaries are watching every move the world’s strongest air force makes to ensure they defeat America.
Tara Copp of Stars and Stripes noted that the Air Force’s newly appointed Chief of Staff, General David Goldfein, states that the Air Force is undergoing a pilot crisis. The Air Force will lose about 1,000 fighter pilots over the next few years, with 700 leaving by the end of 2016.
Manpower and Equipment Shortages Creating Stress for Service Members
Understanding the battle of budget cuts, the expense of war and manning issues, there is no doubt that these downsizing decisions create heavily stressful environments for those who are burdened with picking up the slack, especially when it comes to increased duty hours and constant deployments. Decreased manpower has caused familial strain, low morale and higher tensions among service members while they are still tasked with completing the Air Force’s mission.
Service Members Exploring Different Career Options in Private Sector
Private-sector companies also contribute to the loss of military manpower. Some organizations have made very attractive offers that lead service members with no sight of a better alternative to leave military service and work in high-tempo atmospheres.
Budget Cuts Save Money but Decrease Air Force Effectiveness
The Air Force’s decision to decrease its military population is an obvious strategy to save budget costs, but it is not the answer. People are the Air Force’s most powerful resource to win the Global War on Terrorism. With less airmen, training, real-world missions and daily operations become less effective.
Secretary of the Air Force Deborah James says “more airmen are needed” and currently asks for approximately 8,000 more active-duty airmen to effectively fill the manpower gap. This increase in manpower will be progress toward regaining our strength as the world’s greatest air force and combating the global war on terrorism.