General Michael E. Ryan
Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force
Senate Armed Services Committee
September 29, 1998
WRITTEN STATEMENT FOR THE RECORD
29 SEPTEMBER 1998
Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, I am pleased to have this opportunity to discuss Air Force readiness with you today. As the Chief of Staff I am proud of the dedicated men and women of our Air Force, as they serve in the defense of this great nation. They deserve our unwavering support.
The Air Force needs to maintain strong global readiness and warfighting capabilities to support the national security strategy. Indeed, aerospace power is pivotal to the success of our theater commanders both in peacetime and war. Rapid global mobility, precision engagement, global attack, air and space superiority, information superiority, and agile combat support are the core competencies that the Air Force provides to our combatant commanders and our nation.
The nature of rapidly responsive aerospace power requires high levels of readiness. Our units are often required to be the first to respond and the last to leave. For these reasons, we recently announced a shift to our Expeditionary Air Force concept--to help ensure we can continue to better contribute to our nation’s defense needs for the 21st Century. However, several years of continued high operations tempo and reduced funding in real terms have caused a slow, but steady decline in our readiness. More importantly, our projections indicate continued decline in key areas—unless we take action to reverse the trends now. I am particularly heartened that the President and many in Congress have endorsed efforts to secure additional funding for defense.
Our joint operational plans call for Air Force aviation units–Active, Guard and Reserve–to deploy and conduct combat operations during the earliest phases of contingencies. Therefore, we try to keep our forces at very high readiness levels, whether they are at home or deployed. The need for constant preparedness has driven us to very carefully manage limited resources across the Air Force.
Our Air Force men and women, and their commanders’ and headquarters’ staffs have done great work in keeping readiness at the highest possible level despite heavy tasking and tough fiscal constraints. Nonetheless, the mission capable rates for all Air Force weapon systems steadily declined almost 9% since 1991. Indeed, mission capability rates have dropped another two percent from just seven months ago, when I last testified before this committee.
Overall equipment capability rates are just one part of the readiness equation, people, training, and supplies make up the rest. Because we place first priority on our forward-deployed and stationed combat forces to keep them at a high state of readiness, our stateside-based forces have suffered. For example, as the below chart shows, while overall major unit readiness declined by 14% in the last two and a half years, stateside combat readiness has declined by 49% in that same time period. Nearly half of that decline has occurred in the last seven months.
Over the past few years, the cost of spares and depot repairs have continued to outstrip funding. As a result, the rate at which we must use our aircraft as spare part sources (cannibalization rate) to keep the rest of the force ready has increased 50% since 1995. These indicators point to significant readiness challenges now, and in the future, as we strive to maintain our aging aircraft in an era of heavy contingency operations.
Finally, as the age of our aircraft increased, we incurred greater costs and workloads to maintain readiness. Next year, the average age of our aircraft will be 20 years old. Even including planned procurements, in 2015 the average age will be 30 years. Modernization is tomorrow’s readiness. If we don’t modernize by replacing aircraft that are beyond their useful life and revitalizing those with life left in them, we can expect additional maintenance requirements, reduced reliability, and increased costs as these aircraft continue to age. That takes a toll on our people who must maintain and fly them.
People continue to be our most vital resource—they are the most critical component of readiness. The intense demands we place on them as they perform Air Force missions around the world require highly motivated, highly skilled, professional airmen.
We are committed to recruiting and retaining high caliber people. In 1997, we achieved our recruiting goal of 30,200 recruits–99 percent were high school graduates. In 1998, while we are meeting our recruiting goals, recruiters are working harder and harder to find the required number of quality recruits. A strong economy and alternative opportunities have decreased the pool of interested and qualified recruits.
Recruiting quality personnel, however, is only part of the challenge. The highly technical nature of our aerospace force today and in the 21st Century, requires us to retain highly skilled individuals to ensure we can execute our mission. Overall retention is a serious concern. We especially must retain sufficient numbers of mid-level non-commissioned officers. These mid-career airmen represent an experience and leadership base critical to force readiness.
Our reenlistment rate for those entering their second reenlistment contract (those with eight to ten years of service) is currently well below our goal and declining. Importantly, many key warfighting career fields such as avionics specialists, aircraft crew chiefs, and air traffic controllers are experiencing even larger drops in reenlistment. In an effort to improve second-term reenlistment rates, we’ve expanded the number of career fields eligible for reenlistment bonuses. Unless second-term rates improve in the near future, we risk losing critical non-commissioned officer experience and leadership vital to maintaining a world class aerospace force.
For the Air Force to continue attracting and retaining quality people, we must be competitive with contemporary labor markets. We are especially interested in restoring the retirement system as a retention incentive. At the same time, we need to keep pace with inflation and close the gap between the military and private sector wages. Pay and retirement are not the only areas of concern. Because the majority of our people we want to retain have families, quality health care, safe, affordable, and adequate housing, valued community programs, and expanded educational opportunities--these are especially important to our families who endure frequent separations resulting from our increased operations tempo. Our members who leave the Air Force often tell us that we are losing them because they are torn between the job they enjoy and the needs of their families. Therefore, while we recruit individuals, it is families we retain.
Of great concern is the retention of our experienced pilots. Our primary retention indicator for pilots is the number accepting the bonus to stay in the Air Force five more years beyond their initial eight year commitment after pilot training. That rate has dropped well below the Air Force goal of 50% both last year and this year.
Major airline hiring is projected to remain well above 2,000 pilots a year through 2004. For our pilots, the airlines offer better pay and more stability for their families. Today, we are over 700 pilots short of our requirement and that number is steadily growing. If retention does not change, we will be short 2000 pilots by 2002. That will be 15% fewer than needed for Air Force requirements.
In an effort to minimize our pilot shortfall and with the help of Congress, we have increased aviation continuation and incentive pays. While that program has helped, it has not turned around pilot retention. We have also reduced operations tempo and implemented increases in pilot production. To bolster pilot manning levels in the future, we also recently increased our initial pilot training commitment from 8 to 10 years. However, this change will not provide any relief until well into the next decade. In the interim, we face one of the most serious pilot force challenges in Air Force history.
Because quality people are so important to readiness, so also is the quality of where they work and live. Because of funding shortfalls, we have significantly under invested in our base operating support, real property maintenance, family housing, and military construction. We cannot continue to mortgage this area of our force readiness without significant long-term effects.
The men and women of your Air Force are dedicated and selfless professionals. Nearly 90,000 of them are stationed and forward deployed throughout the world doing what’s necessary for the defense of this country. They deserve the best equipment and training, quality medical care, housing for their families, and equitable pay and a reasonable retirement for their service. I am truly concerned about the downturn in readiness I have outlined in this statement. Force readiness is fragile. If we do not reverse these trends through substantial and sustained funding for our forces, the concern expressed today could turn rapidly into a readiness crisis tomorrow.
Thank you for inviting me here today to speak on behalf of our dedicated Air Force men and women throughout the world.