AF chief warns service mustn’t become ‘hollow force’

CSAF says the service could become a "creeping hollow force" unless he and airmen take special care to prevent it.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz warned airmen in his yearly guidance Monday that he and they need to take care that global commitments and the prospect of dwindling budgets don’t create “a creeping hollow force” that only gives the “illusion” the service can take its full range of missions.

Wrote Schwartz:

In the coming years, our nation and our our Air Force will face a budget environment unlike anything we have encountered in decades. As elected officials consider what to do about the growing federal debt, pressure will mount to reduce defense spending …

The Air Force will play a role in the solution, but not by retrenching or continuing business as usual on a reduced scale. My pledge for the coming year is to strengthen unit readiness and avoid a creeping hollow force that proves only the illusion of global vigilance, reach and power. Yet, even as we operate aging systems, many Air Force capabilities require modernization to help us shape and respond to a very challenging future. We must make difficult choices to balance near-term operational readiness with longer term needs, and fit all of that into a more affordable package.

Despite Schwartz’s warnings, his yearly “Vector” does not lay down specifics as to what “difficult choices” he believes the Air Force must make in the near term, although he echoes the aerospace industry executives at the Paris Air Show who said the key to survival now is executing the programs already in effect.

Neither Schwartz nor the defense contractors put it this way, but here it is in plain English: Every time a program has a headline-grabbing cost increase or performance problem, it draws attention from a deficit-minded Congress hungry for things to cut. So one of the best ways to survive in Austerity America is just to perform the way you said you would.

Along those lines, Schwartz wrote that in the coming year, the Air Force must make its new bomber its “premier acquisition initiative;” “build its future fighter force with the F-35A;” and move ahead with the KC-46A tanker. It must also keep going with “detailed and consistent monitoring of the F-35 program in all its dimensions, focusing on minimizing operations and support costs;” “working with Congress to refine our space system acquisition program … to provide more affordable, robust and resilient satellite capabilities;” and it must keep “holding the line on KC-46 requirements, maintaining cost and schedule performance.”