The 2009 Defense Authorization Bill passed by Congress last week, only authorizes the Air Force the funds needed to keep 317,050 airmen in uniform. This is 11,550 less than the 328,600 airmen Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he needs. Apparently this isn’t even Congress’ fault. Air Force Times reports:
The reason for the disconnect: Neither Gates’ office nor the Air Force ever went to Congress to formally ask for more airmen, according to congressional staffers.
The confusion stems from tensions inside the Air Force between funding a much needed modernization of rapidly aging fleet and maintaining robust personnel levels vital to meet current missions. Heritage analyst Mackenzie Eaglen explains:
After promising airmen around the country that the U.S. Air Force endstrength cuts would be halted after it was clear they were ineffective as billpayers for modernization, Secretary Gates should have made a formal request to revise the President’s budget request for 2009 to the Hill.
Dramatically cutting endstrength to free up supposed funding for modernization was a flawed plan from the start and has caused lasting damage to the Air Force–particularly as demands on airmen and Air Force capabilities only grow with more airmen than Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan and the accelerated growth of the ground forces.
Current Air Force leaders should learn from past leaders’ mistakes and help stop the bleeding of personnel. Without an adequate number of personnel to operate and maintain platforms, modernization will ironically only continue to suffer.