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20,400 fewer airmen in 2015, budget proposal shows

Mar. 4, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
The Air Force would shed 20,400 total force airmen in fiscal 2015 under the proposed budget released Tuesday.
The Air Force would shed 20,400 total force airmen in fiscal 2015 under the proposed budget released Tuesday. (Staff Sgt. Jim Araos/Air Force)
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The Air Force would shed 20,400 total force airmen in fiscal 2015 under the proposed budget released Tuesday.

According to highlights of the budget, the Air Force’s overall uniformed end strength — including Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve airmen — would drop 4 percent from 503,400 in fiscal 2014 to 483,000.

The active-duty force would be hardest hit, with a loss of 16,700 airmen, or 5 percent of this year’s 327,600 active-duty end strength. The Air Force Reserve would also be cut by 5 percent, dropping from 70,400 in 2014 to 67,100 next year. The Air National Guard would only lose 400 of its current 105,400 airmen.

The cuts would leave the Air Force far below where it was a decade earlier, when it had a total force end strength of 543,000.

The Air Force said the force reductions are being driven by the cancellation of weapons systems including elimination of the A-10 and U-2 fleets, headquarters reductions, and a rebalancing of aircrew-to-cockpit ratios in a post-war environment.

But the Air Force said the cuts will still allow it to maintain its combat capability, and allow it to respond “in hours, not days.”

“In today’s fiscally challenging environment, the Air Force supports [the Defense Department’s] efforts to slow the rate of growth in overall military compensation, and reduces end strength to preserve a ready and modernized force,” the Air Force said in a budget overview.

But the automatic budget cuts known as the sequester have also seriously hit the Air Force. The service is currently in the process of enacting 18 different force management programs that seek to cut airmen, either voluntarily or involuntarily.

The Air Force originally said that if the sequester continued, its force management programs would be needed to cut up to 25,000 active duty airmen over the next five years. However, internal charts the Air Force provided at Air Force Times’ request showed overmanning of between 21,000 and 22,000 airmen in more than 200 career fields, with that number likely to be separated under the force management programs. The separation or retirement dates for most of those programs will fall in fiscal 2015.

The Air Force is likely to continue cutting over the next several years, although nowhere near as drastically as in 2015. By fiscal 2019, the budget said, the Air Force expects to have an end strength of roughly 479,000 — about 308,000 active-duty troops, 67,000 reservists and 104,000 guardsmen.

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