Air Force Leaders Say Increased Funding is Improving Readiness
(Source: US Air Force; issued Oct 10, 2018)
WASHINGTON --- Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David L. Goldfein thanked Congress for providing the resources necessary to restore the service’s readiness while testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support Oct. 10.

During her testimony, Wilson praised Congress for passing an appropriations bill on time for the first time in nearly a decade.

“With your help, we have made great strides in a short period of time,” she said. “We are more ready today than we were two years ago.”

After decades of readiness decline, the Air Force is working to accelerate its recovery, ensuring the service is prepared to combat rapidly evolving threats.

Today more than 75 percent of the Air Force’s core fighting units are combat ready with their lead forces packages. The service’s goal is for 80 percent of those units to have the right number of properly trained and equipped Airmen by the end of 2020 – 6 years faster than projected before the Air Force developed a recovery plan.

“Restoring the readiness of the force is our top priority.” Goldfein said. “And the budget Congress recently passed will have a significant impact for Airmen across our active, guard, and reserve components.”

To do this the Air Force is focusing on three key areas: people, training and cost-effective maintenance and logistics.

People:
For the Air Force, readiness is first and foremost about people. In fiscal year 2018, Congress provided funding to allow the Air Force to address a serious shortage of maintainers. In September 2016, the service was short 4,000 active duty maintainers, but by December 2018 that number is expected to reach zero.

“Actions by Congress over the last few years has been tremendously helpful,” Wilson said. “Now we must get these Airmen the experience needed to become craftsman at their work.”

In addition to maintainers, the Air Force has placed an emphasis on addressing the national aircrew shortage, first by addressing quality of service and quality of life issues, and also increasing financial incentives and providing more control over assignments and career paths.

The Air Force is increasing the number of pilots it trains from 1,160 a year in FY 2017 to 1,311 in FY 2019, building to 1,500 by FY 2022 and steady state, thereafter.

Training:
As part of the readiness recovery, the Air Force is focused on providing relevant and realistic training to maintain an advantage over increasingly capable adversaries. To meet this need, the service is investing in operational training infrastructure — ranges and airspace — and simulation.

The Air Force is also improving infrastructure, simulators, threat emulators and training ranges to enhance realism and enable Airmen to train locally for a high-end, multi-domain fight.

Cost-effective maintenance and logistics:
The third element of restoring the readiness of the force is weapons system sustainment – the parts, supply and equipment – to make sure our aircraft are ready to go when needed.

“There are a thousand fingerprints on every aircraft that takes off. From air traffic control to crew chiefs to weapons loaders to avionics technicians – it is a total team effort,” Goldfein said. “When the plane is twice the age of the team, it makes it harder. So we are looking at new methods across the board for how we are maintaining an older fleet with a younger workforce.”

The Air Force is already seeing improvements in its depots, increasing depot production by 20 percent, completing 75 aircraft per year.


(EDITOR’S NOTE: Contrary to what Air Force officials testified above, a report on Air Force Readiness released yesterday by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) (see below) found that the situation is actually worsening, and that the Air Force “faces management and readiness challenges in the same fields its leaders claim have improved.
GAO found pilot shortfalls are increasing, that aircraft availability targets are not met, and that annual training requirements are missed.

The situation is especially challenging for the Lockheed F-35.
GAO reports that “DOD’s capabilities to repair F-35 parts at military depots were 6 years behind schedule, which resulted in average part repair times of 172 days — twice that of the program’s objective.
“These repair backlogs have contributed to significant F-35 spare parts shortages — from January to August 7, 2017, F-35 aircraft were unable to fly 22 percent of the time because of parts shortages,” and, as a result, “the Air Force had generally not met its aircraft availability goals for its fielded F-35 aircraft.
Furthermore, in its latest annual report, the US Air Force said that the mission-capable rate of its F-35A fighters actually declined by 10 percent in 2017, dropping from 64.5% to 54.7% compared to FY 2016.
Difficult to understand how the two Air Force officials could see this as an improvement.)


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Air Force Readiness: Actions Needed to Rebuild Readiness and Prepare for the Future
(Source: Government Accountability Office; issued Oct 10, 2018)
GAO's prior work has highlighted that the Air Force faces management and readiness challenges in four interrelated areas:

-- Personnel:
The Air Force has reported that pilot and aircraft maintainer shortfalls are a key challenge to rebuilding readiness. GAO found in April 2018 that the Air Force had fewer fighter pilots than authorizations for 11 of 12 years, from fiscal years 2006 through 2017. Even as unmanned aerial systems had become more prevalent and fighter pilot workloads had increased, the Air Force had not reevaluated fighter squadron requirements.

GAO recommended that the Air Force reevaluate fighter pilot squadron requirements to ensure it has the pilots necessary for all missions.

-- Equipment:
Air Force aircraft availability has been limited by challenges associated with aging aircraft, maintenance, and supply support. GAO reported in September 2018 that, from fiscal year 2011 through 2016, the Air Force generally did not meet availability goals for key aircraft.

Further, in October 2017 GAO found F-35 availability was below service expectations and sustainment plans did not include key requirements. GAO recommended that DOD revise F-35 sustainment plans to include requirements and decision points needed to implement the F-35 sustainment strategy.

-- Training:
The Air Force has identified the need to ensure its forces can successfully achieve missions to address a broad range of current and emerging threats. However, GAO reported in September 2016 that Air Force combat fighter squadrons did not complete annual training requirements due to aircraft availability and training range limitations, and had used the same underlying assumptions for its annual training requirements from 2012 to 2016. GAO recommended that the Air Force reassess its annual training requirements to ensure its forces can accomplish a full range of missions.

-- Organization and Utilization:
Air Force management of its force structure can also exacerbate readiness challenges. GAO found in July 2018 that the Air Force's organization of its small F-22 fleet had not maximized aircraft availability, and that its utilization of F-22s reduced opportunities for pilots to train for missions in high-threat environments.

GAO found that unless the Air Force assesses the organization and use of its F-22s, F-22 units are likely to continue to experience aircraft availability and pilot training rates that are below what they could be. GAO recommended that the Air Force reassess its F-22 organizational structure to reduce risk to future operations.

Looking to the future, the Air Force will have to balance the rebuilding of its existing force with its desire to grow and modernize. To meet current and future demands, the Air Force has stated that it needs to have more squadrons. However, the costs of such growth are as yet unknown, and will have to compete with other military services looking to increase their force structure and recapitalize their forces.

Even with growth, the Air Force would be dependent on the force of today for decades to come and will need to stay focused on rebuilding the readiness of existing forces. Addressing GAO's recommendations are necessary steps to meet current and future needs and can assist the Air Force moving forward.

Why GAO Did This Study

The 2018 National Defense Strategy emphasizes that restoring and retaining readiness across the entire spectrum of conflict is critical to success in the emerging security environment. Air Force readiness has steadily declined primarily due to the persistent demand on a fleet that has aged and decreased in size since the 1990s. The Air Force is working to both rebuild the readiness of its forces and modernize its aging fleet to meet future threats. However, according to the Air Force, its readiness goals will take years to achieve as it continues to be challenged to rebuild readiness amid continued operational demands.

This statement provides information on Air Force (1) readiness and management challenges including personnel, equipment, training, and organization and utilization, and (2) plans to grow and modernize its force in the context of readiness recovery across DOD. Also, GAO summarizes recommendations to address these challenges and actions taken by the Air Force.

This statement is based on previously published work since 2016 related to Air Force readiness challenges, fighter pilot workforce requirements, weapon sustainment, aviation training, and force structure.

What GAO Recommends

GAO has made 14 recommendations in prior unclassified work described in this statement. DOD generally concurred with most of them and has implemented 1. Continued attention to these recommendations can assist and guide the Air Force moving forward as it seeks to rebuild the readiness of its forces.


Click here for the full testimony report (33 PDF pages) on the GAO website.

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