Attrition: The Recently Fired Get Rehired


November 1, 2008: The U.S. Air Force is making a major effort to get 900 reserve pilots to switch to active duty, mainly to operate UAVs (like the Predator and Reaper), but also for intelligence jobs in general. Some 15 percent of these reservists had recently participated in a voluntary downsizing program, and transferred to the reserves. In the last year, pressure from the other services, and the new Secretary of Defense, caused the air force to increase its efforts to put more UAVs into service, and to halt its downsizing program. Now the air force is increasing its strength from 324,191, to 330,000 over the next two years. Most of the new troops, and more besides, will be assigned to reconnaissance and intelligence work, as well as UAV and nuclear weapons units.

Since 2005, the air force had been reorganizing and downsizing, and that included the junior officers who are usually immune to such cuts. In the last two years, 2,000 lieutenants were dismissed The air force had planned to cut their strength by 5,400 personnel this fiscal year (which began last October). The downsizing was halted as of this Summer.

The air force has long been accused (by members of the other services) of operating more like a corporation than a military organization. That's a little harsh, because the air force is the most tech minded of the services, and has always taken the lead in adapting commercial innovations to military use. But both the air force and navy decided on downsizing in response to the impact of technology, outsourcing and automation, in a process similar to that faced by many civilian firms. Unlike previous downsizing efforts, where many troops were fired, most of the reduction this time around is from retirement and people not re-enlisting. Higher standards for re-enlisting were used to make cuts, by making it more difficult to stay in. This had a side benefit of improving the overall quality of the force.

The air force is still going to lose jobs that are no longer needed. Most of the personnel in surplus jobs will be retrained. The original impetus for the cuts was money. Each active duty airman costs over $100,000 a year. The money saved was to go towards purchasing more technology. A year ago that means more F-22s, but now it's more likely to be more UAVs and transports.

After three years of cuts, the U.S. Air Force has fewer people on active duty than at any other time in its history. However, if you add in reservists (181,000), strength is a bit higher than it was when the air force was formed (from the U.S. Army Air Force) in 1948. The air force also has slightly more officers on active duty today (65,000) than it did in 1948, but that's a reflection of the growing importance of technology. Air Force personnel today have much more education than they did sixty years ago, and that is reflected in higher pay and, on average, higher rank.


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