Commission: Cut active-duty Air Force, boost Reserves

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The Air Force should cut its active-duty forces and replace them by boosting the Air Guard and Reserves, a commission tasked with studying the structure of the Air Force concluded.

In its report released Thursday, the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force said that the Air Force should change the balance between its active and reserve forces in order to deal with the military’s budget pressures.

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The Air Force should keep the same total end strength, the commission recommended, but could save money by cutting active forces while increasing the Guard and Reserves.

“The Air Force can, and should, entrust as many missions as possible to its Reserve Component forces,” the commission said.

“Transitioning missions from the Active Component to the Reserve Components will allow the Air Force to perform these missions with less expensive part-time Reservists while reducing the Active Component end strength, thus saving money in the military personnel accounts that can be put to use in readiness, modernization, and recapitalization accounts,” it wrote.

The eight-member commission was created by Congress in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), after lawmakers were angry that the Pentagon had proposed cuts to the Air Guard as part of its budget trims. Congress blocked those cuts and put the commission in place.

The commission’s findings come ahead of the Pentagon’s 2015 budget proposal that will be released in March, where the military is weighing significant cuts in order to get under the budget caps passed by Congress, which are $9 billion higher than sequestration levels.

Lawmakers have already pushed back against some of the cuts the Air Force is mulling. There’s been significant blowback after the Air Force said it was considering divesting the entire A-10 fleet and other single-mission aircraft.

The commission recommended that if the Air Force cuts the A-10, it should “develop and provide Congress a detailed, complete, and comprehensive plan explaining how the Air Force will achieve missions undertaken by such platforms in the future and how it will retain the highly trained personnel from these fleets.”

The panel said that relying more on the Reserves provides a reversible way to generate savings, and the Air Force will still be able to surge its forces when needed.

Dennis McCarthy, chair of the commission and a former assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs, said that many of the panel’s recommendations would be worth implementing even if the Air Force didn’t have to cut its budget.

“The bulk of the conclusions, the bulk of the things we’re recommending, would make sense even if there wasn’t any budget pressures,” McCarthy said at a Capitol Hill briefing on the report’s conclusions.