AF officials announce FY16 force structure changes

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Air Force officials on Feb. 6 released force structure changes resulting from the fiscal year 2016 President’s Budget.

The fiscal year 2016 budget will continue the Air Force’s divestment strategy presented in fiscal year 2015, but will rephase the retirement of several weapons systems later into the Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) in order to retain critical capability in the near term while positioning the service to support a leaner, more modern force in the future.

“Thanks to the additional resources allocated to the Air Force under the FY16 President’s Budget, we were able to buy back and rephase some of the FY15 force structure decisions in order to meet our combatant commanders’ most urgent near term requirements,” said Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James. “Additionally, we are investing in nuclear, space, ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance), the Guard and Reserve, and have discontinued our personnel downsizing programs.”

The fiscal year 2016 budget will rephase the U-2S and E-3 Sentry (AWACS) divestitures submitted in fiscal year 2015’s PB to 2019, and restore E-8 Joint STARS and F-15C Eagle planned divestitures to increase near-term capacity.

“The force structure actions in this budget represent a careful balance between readiness today and tomorrow. World events have increased demand on our Air Force in the near term, but we can’t afford to lose sight of tomorrow’s threats,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III. “Honoring our commitment to the combatant commanders to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, command and control and close-air support requires not only that we provide those capabilities today, but also that we are ready to provide them in the fights of the future.”

The Air Force fiscal year 2016 budget proposes the retirement of the A-10 Thunderbolt II fleet in fiscal year 2016 to focus available funding on more survivable, multi-role platforms capable of providing close air support to ground forces against high-end threats in future conflicts. The retirement is phased across four years in parallel with the F-35 Lightning II procurement plan. Divestments will begin at active-duty locations in fiscal year 2016, and continue through the five-year FYDP, keeping the A-10 combat-capable until the last Reserve unit divestment in fiscal year 2019.

The service developed an analytical process to determine the mix of manpower and capabilities across the three components to meet current and future requirements. Leaders from the active duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve contributed to the process, with the intent of preserving capability and stability across the total force.

“Our Guard and Reserve teammates have played a critical role not only in building a budget that supports the capabilities we need, but also in determining the proper balance of those capabilities across all three components,” James said. “We will transfer aircraft and flying missions to the Guard and Reserve at locations that would otherwise have no mission due to fleet divestments to maximize savings while still preserving capability and capacity across the total force.”

Welsh also explained additional reductions would be required if the Budget Control Act of 2011 remains in effect.

“The FY16PB request funds the Air Force we need to support the defense strategy and provide capabilities combatant commanders need now and in the future,” Welsh said. “Without relief from the BCA, we will have to consider reducing ISR capacity, deferring modernization and investment funding for our highest priorities, and divesting additional force structure such as the KC-10 (Extender), U-2(S), E-3, RQ-4 (Global Hawk) block 40 and F-15C to operate within those limits.”