Air Force Combat Command Paints a Grim Portrait

March 23, 1999

Comment: #245


[1] Msg from Hq ACC to Hq USAF, "AF MAJCOM READINESS CONCERNS," February 26, 1999. Attached.

The email below, which is circulating widely on the Internet, is an official statement of how the Air Force Combat Command views its current readiness situation. It was written apparently in response to a request from AF Headquarters, and was probably part of the preparation for budget hearings on Capital Hill. Normally such messages are written in capital letters and I have converted it to lower case to make it easier to read, but it is otherwise identical to the original message.

Chuck Spinney

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]


R 261030Z FEB 99





1. We share your concern about the overall readiness of our forces and appreciate the opportunity to highlight ACC's specific challenges. Our top three concerns are low retention, spare parts/WRM shortages, and high tempo.

2. Retention:

a. Air Force pilot retention continues to decline. The separation rate increased 9% in FY98 with 48% of eligible pilots opting to leave the service. Total FY99 pilot losses are expected to approach 2,000. Additional losses are expected from post-bonus pilots (pilots with 15-19 years of service). Separations in these year groups increased 52% to 125 in FY98 vs 82 in FY97. The decline in retention is forecast to continue through FY07 when the projected deficit will be 2,330 pilots.

Impact: our operational units are suffering. The Sep 96 aircrew summit increased pilot production to 1100 and fighter absorption to 370 in order to help sustain pilot inventory. As pilot production increases and Retention declines, the experience level in our line units continues to decline. For example, F-16 units were manned by 66 percent experienced pilots in august 1998, but we project 55 percent by June 1999. During the same period, a-10 experience drops from 72 to 59 percent. Our LD/HD platforms are also suffering. E-3 units maintain a steady 43 percent experience through the period, but aircraft commander manning drops from 97 to 88 percent. HC-130 aircraft commander manning drops from 88 to 63 percent, and experience from 42 to 29 percent: spare parts shortages magnify the problem. We only have so many experienced pilots to provide the training/seasoning. These experienced pilots are forced to fly more while the inexperienced fly less. This results in inexperienced pilots taking longer than normal to be qualified as experienced. The typical fighter pilot could take up to 2.8 years to experience vice the historical 2.2 years. To prevent the experience level from dropping below minimums, pilots are being frozen on station, occasionally causing units to be over-manned and under-experienced.

Combat capability suffers accordingly. In addition, the staffs are being depleted to keep operational and training units 100 percent manned. ACC staff pilot manning is down to 68% and is forecast to decrease to 57% by the end of the year. As the pilot inventory drops, so will staff entitlements. We will soon reach a point where the staff becomes dysfunctional. For example, if nothing else is done, ACC staff pilot manning will fall to 6% in FY04. Rated officers provide essential expertise throughout the staff, and they have traditionally been our source to fill flying wing "experienced" pilot requirements. 9AF, for instance, has only 5 inbound officers to fill nineteen vacant pilot and nav positions. As this pool shrinks, so will our ability to replenish flying units with "experienced" pilots.


Pilot production was increased to 1,100 in FY98 and will help long-term sustainment; however, it does not completely fix the shortage. The short-term impact of "absorbing" this increased number of new pilots has a rippling effect: increased training, possible over-manning, and decreased experience are problems to be overcome. Ideas on ways to shrink overhead requirements, increase retention, and contract out staff requirements are being explored. Pilot prioritization is filling our "most" important requirements, but is only designed to manage a shrinking pilot force.

A rated management task force (RMTF) was convened by the CSAF, chaired By Gen (retired) J. B. Davis, and presented ideas at corona south 99. The Corona decision was to hold an aircrew summit this spring. Also, the air staff is considering an ACC proposal to man joint billets at less than 100 percent.

OPR: Major Donald Farris, ACC/DOTBW, DSN 574-7667

b. Navigator retention has temporarily stabilized. Retention is expected to decline again in 3-5 years when the bulk of the navigators in the 7-9 rated years of service group reach the end of their service commitments.

At the same time, a large group of senior AF navigators will also be retirement eligible. In 2 years, 54% of the fighter navigator force will be retirement eligible.

Impact: in light of the impending shortage of pilots, we have been either placing navigators in pilot jobs or converting pilot authorizations to navigators. For example, navigators represent 35% of all rated requirements in ACC but represent 39% of the rated requirements on the staff. We have become more dependent on navigator resources.

Actions: the AF plans to increase joint undergraduate navigator training (junt) production from 300 in FY98 to 330 in FY99 and finally 360 in FY00 to mitigate the problem. The increased production will primarily help the airlift and tanker mws because those systems can train the additional navigators. Bombers and fighters have limited training capacity and will continue to be undermanned for the foreseeable future.

OPR: Major Donald Farris, ACC/DOTBW, DSN 574-7667

Air battle manager (ABM) retention continues to be a challenge. Currently, ABMs are manned at 72% of authorizations (1276 authorizations/925 assigned). Retention during the last three years has contributed to this shortage. In FY97 the career field trained 107 officers and lost 122.

In FY98, 111 were trained with 127 separations. For FY99 the career field plans to train 151 officers, and to date we have 83 separations.

Impact: overall, ABM manning problems at the operational level and in the staff mirror the pilot force. Staffs and other non-combat units are being depleted to support the combat units. ACC staff will be down to 14 ABMs of an authorized 26 by years end and continue to fall. Tinker is 63 percent manned, and the 6 air control squadrons are 71 percent manned. 9AF manning is 50 percent. Air Battle Manager joint and overseas requirements remain high while ACC manning suffers.

Actions: CSAF has endorsed a plan to rate the career field pending approval of save pay legislation in the omnibus bill. We believe rating the career field will improve retention. Senior ABM leaders recently met at AFPC to hold the third ABM entitlement meeting to decide which units should get the available ABMs. The priority was to fill the school house and combat units. Also, the conference proposed increasing ABM production to max capacity of 204 ABMs (181 active duty). The air staff is considering an ACC proposal to man joint billets at less than 100 percent. Reducing the 100 percent requirement could result in increased unit manning, reduce tempo and prevent service staff elements from becoming dysfunctional.

OPR: Major Robert Johnson, ACC/DOTB, DSN 574-7667.

Air traffic control manning continues to have an impact on mission readiness. USAF (and ACC) controller manning stands at 69 percent. A lucrative civilian job market combined with current air traffic control staffing shortages, increased deployments/tdy taskings, and a general belief that the Air Force no longer provides a rewarding future, appear to be the primary factors influencing controllers to separate or retire. Current retention rates indicate the Air Force loses 50 percent of the controller force after their first term, a portion of which can be directly attributed to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) hiring market. Impact: the ATC manning situation is affecting airfield operating hours and services. Fifty percent of our stateside ACC bases (eight of sixteen) have either reduced airfield operating hours, curtailed ATC services, or temporarily returned airspace to the FAA due to ATC manning shortages. Only five of the nine ACC bases that publish 24 hour operations can currently support these hours, and future reductions may be required. In addition, four of our rapcons have temporarily returned airspace to their parent FAA air route traffic control center on nights and weekends. Two of our radar final control facilities (providing precision and surveillance radar approaches) have reduced hours or have temporarily closed.

Actions: we appreciate your recent efforts to improve ATC staffing levels; increases in re-enlistment bonuses; allowing wings to judiciously use position-certified 3-level controllers in selected operating positions without a monitor; allowing wings to man control towers with a single 7-level controller during low density traffic periods; and increasing the output of apprentice controllers from tech school from 241 in FY97 to a
FY99 projection of more than 650 graduates will improve ATC staffing. Within ACC, we have command leveled air traffic controllers to balance assets and we continue to conduct staff assistance visits focusing on improving unit training programs. In select cases, we advocated freezing some controllers from assignment (code 51) to mitigate mission impact. We understand USAF will re-consider special duty assignment pay for air traffic controllers in June.

OPRs: Capt Dave Parr or chief n. Norwood, ACC/DORO, DSN 574-3120.

Enlisted weather forecaster manning. Current manning is 74% and projected to decline to 72% by year end. This is a deficit of 138 weather forecasters in ACC.

Impact: high ops tempo and continuous palace tenure taskings keep units at manning levels that force them to develop limited duty operations at home station. Technical training, including AETC provided training, is not being performed. Six AETC supplemental classes have been cancelled in FY99 due to class size not meeting minimum requirements. In addition, ability to implement the CSAF directed reengineering plan for weather operations and obtain milestone dates established in ACC plans 98-02, 98-10, and 98-12 is difficult. We may request slipping FOC dates by 2 years to FY04.

Actions: Reenlistment bonuses have increased to 2.5 for zone a and 1.5 for Zone b. Air staff is working to raise them to 3.0 and 2.0 respectively.

Weather was added to the enhanced enlisted bonus program and approved for special duty assignment pay for those enlisted personnel assigned to weather units directly supporting us army combat units. We are working efforts to bring ANG forecasters on active duty for a period of 3 years. We have used ANG resources for palace tenure taskings and to back fill units to reduce the burden on the active duty force. So far in FY99 we have used 1116 man days

for contingency taskings and 1092 mandays for back fill. We are also working to fill every forecaster school slot by fast-tracking observers straight from observer school. Currently, the AF is recruiting observers at 140% of authorized strength to help build the pool of required forecasters; however, only 41 percent of our eligible first-term observers
Reenlisted last quarter.

OPR: Lt Col Kevin Johnston, ACC/DIWS, 4-8456

Tempo, low retention rates and 5-level manning are also of great concern in many other enlisted career fields. Of particular concern are satellite & wideband comm sys (2e1x1), F-16/F-117 tactical aircraft maintenance (2a3x3b), and security forces (3p0x1).

Retention rates have continued to decline across the board since FY97 and overall manning in these career fields is approximately 90%. To compound the problem, serious skill level imbalances exist with 5-level manning under 70%, significantly below 3 and 7-levels.

Impact: a lack of 3 & 5 levels over-tasks the remaining 7 levels. High tempo
and long duty days (sfs have been performing 12 hour duty days since 1990) result in an inability to train 3-levels. High taskings/deployments prevent these career fields from properly training personnel, getting aircraft off the ground and allowing sfs to train for new missions.

Actions: enlistment bonuses of up to $6,000 for a 6-year enlistment are currently offered in these career fields to bolster entry rolls. The air force can not hire mid-level technicians to fill these jobs, we must "grow" them. Maintaining strong levels of new entrants is therefore essential. Selective reenlistment bonuses (SRBS) are currently offered in Zone A and Zone B to encourage our 5-levels to remain in service. We advocate the SRB evaluation process becoming more proactive. In the case of the above mentioned career fields, the highest srb level offered is a multiple of (F-16/F-117 crew chiefs) out of a possible multiple of 5.0.

OPR: Col joe Marchino, ACC/DPA, 574-2641

3. Spare parts/WRM shortages:

a. Numerous ACC units have low sorts ratings due to inadequate spares support: few serviceable spare engines, depleted wartime spares kits. Although the leading drivers vary by unit, inadequate funding in FY 96 and 97 was the underlying cause. The factors contributing to the spares shortage include: 1) the AFMC depot maintenance backlog is expected to be $323m in FY99. This has been a rising trend in recent years despite force structure drawdown. The biggest impact has been on ground communications, special purpose vehicles, and spares kit replenishment. Aircraft and engine overhauls are expected to be 25 aircraft and 106 engines short of need. 2) wing level O&M for contingency support has not been replenished at the same rate it was spent. In FY96, the contingency pay back was 8.6% short of expenses; in FY97, it was 2.9% short. 3) the lack of shop capacity and shortages of technical expertise at the depots have hindered repair capability.

Impact: reduced mission capable rates. For example, ACC fighter MC
Rates have decreased from 88.4% in FY92 to 75% in FY99-1 and the "out for
Supply rates" have increased Accordingly, from 7% in FY92 to 13.7% in FY99-1.

Actions: spares funding and the associated process disruptions became a leading concern of senior Air Force leaders in February 1997. This subject has been briefed to SECDEF, the president, and congress. Increased spares funding in FY98 and 99, coupled with the current supplemental, has addressed most underlying resource issues. ACC FY98 performance stabilized, halting the sharp decline of the previous year. FY99 ACC performance to date is encouraging, but we remain cautiously optimistic for the rest of the year.

Recommend continuing to push for consistent and adequate spares funding, supplier partnership, and improved supply chain efficiencies to each and maintain caF-targeted MC goals as well as reduce disruptions to long lead procurement and repair contracts.

OPR: Capt Jennifer Murphy, LGX, DSN 574-4961
OCR: Mr. Les Parnacott, ACCRSS/RSSMP, 5-0370, Mr. Ed Merry, LGP, DSN
574-3552, and Capt Joseph Price, USCENTAF/A3 Executive Officer, DSN

4. High tempo.

Impact - ACC currently has only three units with optempos in excess of 120 days tdy (99 RS, 42 ACCs and 71 FS), but the sustained high optempo of the 90s has taken a heavy toll on the force. Our LD/HD units are showing increasing strain as evidenced by poor retention, low manning, high training backlogs and empty class slots in systems that rely entirely on volunteers, such as the U-2. Looked at from a personnel perspective, twenty of ACC's AFSCs have over 30 individuals TDY over 120 days. Those AFSCs listed in order from most to least stressed are: 11rxd, 1a1x1b, 1t2x1, 12rxd, 11rxj, 12rxa, 1a2x1, 1a4x1d, 11rxa, 11hxe, 13bxb, 2t3x2b, 1rxc, 11rxg, 12rxc, 1n4x1, 2e6x3, 32exj, 3e0x2, 11axk.

Actions: ACC has worked with acom and af/xo to achieve increased compliance with the global military force policy for ld/hd units, and has asked the Air Force components of the engaged cincs to limit their demand for our most stressed systems such as the HC-130, u-2 and rc-135j. Implementation of the expeditionary Air Force concept will help us better manage optempo for our non-ld/hd units and provide more stability and predictability to the force.

OPRs: Maj Lawrence Averback, ACC/DOOCP, DSN 574-7061 and ACC/SVX, Col
Mike Langey, 574-7446.

5. Although you only requested our top three concerns, the y2k issue is also of great concern. With our heavy dependence on coalition infrastructure, our deployed operations could be greatly affected. Aspects of our swa operations, such as water, sewage, air traffic control,
Etc., Could be at risk.

OPR: Capt Jospeh Price, USCENTAF/A3 Executive Officer, DSN 965-5815.

6. We appreciate the opportunity to provide inputs. Hq ACC POC is
Colonel Robert Elder, ACC/ADO, DSN 574-3203.//