TOP STORY >>Military is doing more with less
By GARRICK FELDMAN
When a top Pentagon official in charge of military personnel this week told a group of civic leaders at Little Rock Air Force Base that service members will have to do more with less, that hardly came as a surprise to airmen at the Jacksonville base, especially to those who are serving overseas.
More than 100 airmen flew to Iraq from the base Friday morning, joining several hundred others from LRAFB on duty in the Middle East and elsewhere.
But despite personnel cutbacks in the military, the Jacksonville air base will see a slight increase in manpower — about 300 more airmen in the coming months, as well as 17 additional airplanes — but the military will do much more in the long war on terror: About 10 times more than the Air Force did at the end of the Cold War.
The Air Force is about half the size it was at the end of the Cold War — from 600,000 down to 360,000 today and more cuts are on the way — but it is doing so much more than it did 15 year ago that new strategies are being implemented to meet the challenges.
Air Force manpower will drop to 315,000, including a reduction in officers and civilian employees, according to Roger M. Blanchard, Air Force assistant deputy chief of staff for personnel at the Pentagon.
Blanchard appeared Tuesday at Little Rock Air Force Base, where he spoke of a smaller force structure throughout the service. Yet much more will be asked of service members in the war against America’s enemies, which Blanchard predicted would be “a 50-year global war on terror.”
That war is fought with an all-volunteer military that will be leaner but smarter.
“We have the cream of the crop,” Blanchard said. “Every day we’re engaged.”
Savings from a reduced force will allow the military to “recapitalize its equipment,” he said. The Air Force will spend billions on new airplanes and weapons, including $1.58 billion for 13 C-130Js. LRAFB will get at least seven new airplanes.
The key component of the modernization program includes replacing “25-year-old equipment,” the Pentagon official said.
Blanchard said the Air Force has “total confidence in the tactical support from Little Rock Air Force Base.”
“Little Rock is heavily engaged” in the global effort, with several hundred overseas, Blanchard said.
Pointing to an “almost 100 percent expeditionary complex” that is almost constantly on the go, Blanchard said the military must “fix areas where we have perennial shortage.”
“We’ve accelerated reductions,” Blanchard said, yet he noted that LRAFB would see a slight increase in personnel and airplanes.
The current strategy emphasizes “agility, speed and an expeditionary attitude,” the Pentagon official said, as well as “a streamlined management.
“We’re trying to find more efficient ways of doing business,” Blanchard said.
The Bush administration’s 2008 defense budget calls for increasing spending to $622 billion and includes $110.7 billion for the Air Force.
In addition, the administration is asking for $235.1 billion to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Spending levels, adjusted for inflation, will be at least as high as they were during the Reagan administration, when defense spending was at a record high and was credited with the demise of the Soviet Union, which could not keep pace with U.S. defense.
A defense analyst told Bloom-berg News this week that spending “for modernization, force structure and readiness requirements of the U.S. military will, in real, inflation-adjusted terms, be as high as it was on the average during the decade of the 1980s, which marked the height of peacetime spending during the Cold War.”
“We’re building for the 21st Century,” Blanchard said. “The Air Force has a different set of capabilities.”
That expeditionary structure is key to victory, which can be achieved in time, Blanchard said.