Congressional Budget Office - March 1997


Annual Savings							Five-Year
Savings from			(Millions of dollars)		Cumulative
the 1997 Plan		1998	1999	2000	2001	2002	Total

Budget Authority	261	535	548	563	579	2,486

Outlays			191	425	484	518	543	2,162

The military forces proposed by the Administration include 20 tactical air wings--13 active and seven in the part-time reserves--six fewer than the Bush Administration planned to have. (Traditionally, an Air Force tactical air wing has consisted of 72 combat aircraft, plus about 28 aircraft for training and maintenance, though the service may be revising that concept.) Substantial disagreement exists about whether all of those forces are needed, since U.S. tactical aircraft enjoy overwhelming superiority compared with the forces of regional powers that appear potentially hostile to the United States. Perhaps for that reason, former Secretary of Defense Les Aspin, when he was the Chairman of the House Committee on Armed Services, recommended in 1992 that the Air Force retain only 18 tactical wings--10 active and eight reserve.

This alternative would follow that recommendation and further reduce the tactical fighter forces in the Air Force to 18 wings by the end of 1998. So rapid a schedule for reductions should be feasible inasmuch as the Air Force has reduced the size of its fleet quickly in the past; for example, it eliminated six wings during 1991 and 1992. Moreover, the six additional wings the Clinton Administration planned to eliminate were cut by the end of fiscal year 1996. Reducing the number of Air Force wings from 20 to 18 would lower the service's operating outlays by $191 million in 1998 and by $2.2 billion through 2002. Additional savings might accrue from buying fewer aircraft, but those savings are not included in the table above. (See DEF-12 for a discussion of changes in procurement of Air Force tactical aircraft.) CBO assumes that savings from the Administration's 1998 plan will be the same.

Still further savings might be possible if the Air Force accompanied the force reduction with a reorgani-

zation that increased the number of planes per squadron and eliminated more squadrons. That practice, known as "robusting," allocates resources more efficiently since each squadron or wing has high fixed costs. Increasing all Air Force squadrons to 24 planes could add significantly to the savings shown above.

In addition to achieving savings, a reduction to 18 Air Force wings could still leave the United States with an acceptable level of military capability in the post-Cold War world. Even in terms of simple counts, U.S. fighter inventories exceed those of any potential regional aggressor. Also, U.S. aircraft are typically more sophisticated than those of potential enemies.

Retaining only 18 wings in the Air Force, however, would not meet the military's current estimate of its requirements. Analysis by the Department of Defense suggests that 20 wings would be the minimum needed to win two nearly simultaneous regional conflicts. Today's U.S. force planning assumes that the United States needs to be able to fight virtually simultaneous wars in two regions of the world--one in the Middle East and another perhaps in Asia. If one accepts that requirement, then the Air Force may well need more than 18 wings.

Some analysts would also argue that additional cuts in Air Force wings ignore a major lesson from the war with Iraq: aerial bombardment by tactical aircraft can be quite effective and may greatly accelerate the end of a war, thus reducing the loss of lives among U.S. ground troops. A sizable inventory of tactical aircraft, perhaps more than would be maintained under this option, may therefore be a wise investment.