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.
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.
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.)