The latest Congressional impasse over the threat of a roughly 10 percent cut in the DoD’s budget for this year generated dire predictions from generals and politicians alike.
While it’s true that the cuts as currently structured will impact combat readiness, I suggest that the Air Force (and no doubt the other services as well) could certainly cut a tenth of its current budget without sacrificing one iota of combat effectiveness. Here’s an unsolicited list based on decades of firsthand experience:
First, the Air Force needs to reconfigure its inherently inefficient basing plan, in particular the location of its air refuelers. Against clear data presented to the BRAC commission in 2005, the Air Force nonetheless concentrated much of its 500-plus tanker fleet into the Midwest while the majority of the fighter and bomber force they service are based in the deep South and the East and West coasts.
As a result, hundreds of millions of dollars in fuel and flight hour costs are wasted each year in unnecessary transit. This model is the equivalent of having a pizza delivery located 2 hours away from the population it serves and then wondering why it doesn’t turn a profit.
Secondly, the Air Force needs to reform its onerous, expensive, and unrealistic inspection regime. Flying Wings spend an unbelievable amount of time, energy, and money preparing for events that do not truly gauge readiness. To the rank and file, these inspections focus a unit’s attention on paperwork and bureaucratic inspection criteria rather than on whether or not the unit can deploy and perform in combat.
Rather than hold artificial Mobility Exercises where Inspectors count the numbers of black socks and skivvies members have in their luggage (I’m not making this up), units should be measured by sorties flown, bombs dropped, fuel passed, enemy killed or captured, cargo transported, and wounded evacuated. Those statistics matter.
Third, the Air Force needs to do a cost-benefit analysis on manned versus un-manned aircraft. The dark secret of drones is that they are outrageously expensive because of their horrendous mishap rate and the economic logistics of robotic control via satellite datalink.
Drones crash at a rate that is 10-50 times higher than manned aircraft (depending on which aircraft they are compared to). If any other aviation program had that safety record, it would be immediately grounded, Congressional hearings would be held, and heads would roll. Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) has become one of the largest missions of the Air Force, and manned platforms perform it at a fraction of the cost.
Fourth, it’s time to combine the Guard and Reserve. Training and equipping two distinct and separate reserve forces makes no financial sense. Although Guardsmen and Reservists have identical training requirements and fly the exact same missions as their active duty counterparts, on average, they are much more experienced and cost far less than an active duty member. Migrating resources to a combined Guard and Reserve would reduce overhead without reducing combat effectiveness.
Budget reduction is about making choices and setting priorities, and in a service as large as the Air Force, there is plenty of non-mission related waste. Re-focusing on our core competencies while cutting non-mission related bureaucracy would benefit not only the taxpayer, but also the Airmen who are committed to fly, fight, and win.
Craig Ziemba is a military pilot who lives in Meridian. His latest book, "A Lily in the Harem", is available at the downtown Bible Bookstore.