By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz explain the Air Force's Force Structure overview during a Pentagon press briefing on Feb. 3, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo by Scott M. Ash). Hi-res (Picture from the USAF website)
WASHINGTON, Feb. 3, 2012 – Making changes to the Air Force is "hard, but manageable," Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley said here today.
Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz detailed force structure changes that will be made in the service over the next year. The men spoke during a Pentagon news conference.
The Air Force will cut 286 aircraft over the future year's defense plan including 123 fighters, 133 mobility aircraft and 30 intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, the secretary said. Among the fighter aircraft that will be retired are 102 A-10 close-air support aircraft. This has led to questions about whether there will be enough close-air assets left to support ground forces.
"There's still going to be 246 A-10s left in the inventory," Schwartz said. "We are doing close-air support with B-52s, with B-1s, certainly with F-16s and F-15Es and AC-130 gunships."
The bottom line, he said, is there are plenty of assets that can deliver pinpoint close-air support. "The United States Army and the United States Marine Corps and our own battlefield airmen can rely on having plenty of close-air support provided by the United States Air Force from above," the general said.
These force structure changes mean a reduction of 9,900 airmen -- 3,900 active duty, 5,100 Air Guardsmen and 900 Air Force Reservists. Officials expect all these reductions can be made voluntarily.
All this is being done in accordance with new doctrine derived from the strategy review President Barack Obama announced last month. "Our decision for the Air Force was that the best course of action for us is to become smaller in order to protect a high quality and ready force that will continue to modernize and grow more capable in the future," Donley said.
Service leaders balanced the needs of force structure, readiness, modernization and support for airmen as they searched for the correct mix.
The service will protect crucial Air Force capabilities including air and space control, global intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, global mobility and global strike enabled by effective global command and control, Donley said.
Leaders also protected the bomber force, cyber capabilities and the nuclear force.
The service resized mobility forces to meet the needs of a smaller Army and Marine Corps, and kept enough remotely piloted aircraft to field 65 combat air patrols with the ability to surge to 85.
The service also has worked to lessen risk in case the strategy is wrong and more capabilities are needed. "We're going to get smaller across all three components," Donley said. "We need to get more closely integrated and to be more ready for the contingencies out in front of us."
The secretary pointed to operations over Libya as an example of the readiness he would like to see throughout the service.
"We did not have months to prepare for that," he said. "We really didn't have weeks to prepare for that; it was more like days and hours.
"We were able to bring the total force together quickly to produce combat capability over Libya within hours and then to generate that capability with our NATO partners, as well, and sustain that for nine months," Donley added. "You can't do that if you're not ready."