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Rebalancing the Total Force

Rebalancing the Total Force: Leveraging Reserve Strengths for Changing Global Realities

Remarks at the 2011 AFRC Senior Leaders Conference, Washington, D.C., May 16, 2011 by Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley.


Lieutenant General Stenner, thank you for that kind introduction. I appreciate the opportunity to be with all of you today for the annual Senior Leader Conference.

Each of you will benefit from the time spent together during this conference, and I was happy to accept General Stenner's invitation to share a few thoughts with you today. To begin with, it gives me the chance to personally thank you for your service to the U.S. Air Force and to our Nation.

As you well know, the Air Force Reserve is a critical part of our Total Force. You contribute to our national security through your support of every Combatant Commander and Air Force core function, delivering the right capabilities to the right place at the right time. Your contributions to the Joint and Coalition team are felt worldwide, with more than 3,700 Air Force Reservists currently activated.

And we know your commitment is not without a price. You and your families, as well as the employers of Reservists, make countless sacrifices that make your service to our country possible. The willingness of Reservists and other citizen-soldiers and Airmen to make such sacrifices has kept America secure for over 200 years.

So I am proud and humbled to be associated with you and with all of the dedicated men and women who serve this great institution. Our Air Force is, in fact, a world-class institution. And as its stewards, we are committed to ensuring that the United States continues to have the world's finest air force for generations to come.

That is why we cannot ignore the serious long-term financial challenges confronting our Nation, the Department of Defense, and the Air Force. The task ahead of us will be far from easy and comes with its own set of challenges and opportunities. Many difficult choices loom on the horizon.

Air Force Today and Strategic Context

As I begin, I want to take a minute to describe the environment in which we operate, the current posture of the Air Force, and some of the challenges we may expect in the months and years ahead.

Today's complex strategic environment calls for military forces ready to conduct a multitude of missions, on short notice, across the globe. As part of the Joint team, America's Air Force continues to provide the Nation's unmatched Global Vigilance, Reach and Power across the full spectrum of operations.

From the humanitarian relief operations supporting our Japanese friends in need; to the ongoing stability and counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the no-fly zone enforcement and protection of the civilian population in Libya; and to the continuous air sovereignty, space, cyber and nuclear deterrence missions - the speed, precision, and versatility of the U.S. Air Force is being tested and proven daily.

As the Air Force and the other services fulfill today's mission requirements, we also have a responsibility to plan for the future. But it is a simple fact that no matter how much planning we do, the future is defined by uncertainty. In trying to determine what's coming around the corner, and how to shape our forces accordingly, we must frequently use partial information, intermingled with limited experience, combined with inherently flawed judgment.

Nevertheless, there are some things we do know.

First, we are living in an era of very rapid change. While some aspects of rapid change may offer positive opportunities, from a defense perspective it also means our world is full of rapidly evolving threats. Future trends associated with economic globalization, demographics, environmental change, information technology, shifting balances of power, and key regional developments will impact U.S. security interests, DoD and Air Force strategic planning, and the way we engage with the rest of the world. In the past decade, we have already seen mission impacts in homeland security, in 24/7 counter-terror operations, in new requirements for space situational awareness and missile defense, in ISR, and in the evolution of the cyber domain.

Second, given our Nation's focus on economic recovery as well as our history of federal budget deficits, we know that our Nation will face significant fiscal constraints for the foreseeable future. In fact, last year the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen, identified the national debt as the single biggest threat to our national security. If it wasn't evident before, the President's recent speech on fiscal policy made it very clear that defense expenditures will not be exempt from efforts to reduce spending at the federal level. Of note, the timeline for the President's goal of finding $400 billion in defense savings extends to 2023, confirming the long-term commitment that will be required to get our Nation's fiscal house in order.

And while those of us in this room are naturally focused on how these challenges will affect the future of America's defense establishment and our Air Force, we should not lose sight of the fact that every part of government and every citizen will feel the impact of the federal budget policy decisions coming our way.

Reshaping the Air Force

I've stated before and I would still argue that the Air Force is at an inflection point in its history. The evolution in the security environment, resource limitations, and new technologies are combining to transform our capabilities and set us in new directions.

Over the past decade, the Air Force has substantially reshaped itself to meet the immediate needs of today's conflicts and position itself for the future. While we have grown in some critical areas, it has been at the expense of others.

We have added ISR assets, bolstered special operations capacity for counterinsurgency, added 160 F-22s and 120 C-17s to our inventory, funded over 30 satellites, added 2,000 Airmen for critical nuclear and cyber operations and acquisition support.

At the same time, we have also retired 1,500 legacy aircraft, cancelled or truncated procurement of major acquisition programs, shed manpower in career fields less critical for the fight. Overall, in the past seven years we have reduced our active duty end-strength by 26,000 personnel, and our budget -- excluding the wartime supplemental funding to support current operations -- has been flat.

For the future, we face a multi-year effort to recapitalize our aging tanker, fighter, bomber, and missile forces; to continue modernizing critical satellite constellations; to meet dynamic requirements in the cyber domain; and replace other aging airframes, like training, vertical lift, and presidential support aircraft. These recapitalization and modernization programs are essential to core Air Force capabilities. Their requirements are largely understood; we know when we need them; and in many cases we have settled on an acquisition strategy. The issue confronting us is financing: how can we, how will we, afford all these programs?

Budget Environment

Well, that's a brief summary of today's Air Force challenges. But where do we expect to go from here? This question leads back to the uncertainty I mentioned earlier, and today a large proportion of that uncertainty can be traced to the current budget environment. Meeting our nation's security needs has been a significant challenge over the last decade, but now the fiscal effects of the economic downturn and mounting federal budget deficits, and the call for more constrained defense budgets, will compound the difficulties we face going forward.

Historically, we have long recognized that U.S. defense budgets have gone up and down, fluctuating significantly as policy makers react to events, whether meeting wartime or peacetime needs. And knowing that the defense spending levels of the post-9/11 era could not continue indefinitely, planning for a more constrained defense budget has been going on for some time.

For example, as it became clear that the U.S. would begin to draw down operations in Iraq, we knew it was time to start reducing our reliance on supplemental wartime appropriations, known as the Overseas Contingency Operations or OCO budget, and make sure our needs were met in the baseline budget. In FY12, for example, we have proposed moving operational funding for the MC-12 from the OCO to the base budget. And, by the way, as many of you already know, we are facing the same challenge with Reserve man days.

Last summer, Secretary Gates launched his Department of Defense efficiencies initiative to root out waste and improve efficiency and effectiveness. And as part of this process, the Air Force identified $33 billion in efficiencies, most of which was reinvested across the Future Years Defense Plan.

But in the environment we now face, efficiencies alone may not be enough to meet the size of the fiscal challenge we are likely to face. This makes it even more critical for the Air Force and the entire defense establishment to not only continue with any further efficiencies we can find, but also to make the right strategic choices to get the most of every scarce defense dollar.

We are in the business of managing risk, and this process involves setting priorities and making trade-offs. We have to make smart choices that enable us to meet a range of potential contingencies that we cannot accurately predict, and to identify and hedge against those areas where our nation may be willing to accept more risk.

Anticipating the challenges and decisions ahead, Air Force leaders have begun a discussion on how best to balance our Force Structure, our Readiness, and our plans for Modernization at whatever level of resources we are provided. And, as General Schwartz and I have previously noted, the key term here is balance.

If our Force Structure - the size and composition of our Air Force - is too large given the resources available, then we risk not being able to sustain the costs of ownership, such as providing for pay and benefits, training, and materiel readiness. If it is too small, we could unintentionally drive some mission areas and career fields to unsustainably low levels, lose the flexibility to accommodate new or evolving missions, or risk our ability to sustain expeditionary operations.

If we allow Readiness to slip, we risk not being prepared for the rapidly developing contingencies that characterize the current security environment. And shortages in flying hours, other training and spare parts would demoralize our Airmen and threaten our ability to retain a quality force. But if we focus too much on near-term readiness, and on preparedness exclusively for today's fights, we risk undermining the longer-term investment and modernization necessary to sustain our technological edge, and to build the Air Force we will need to meet future challenges.

If we fail to modernize our forces at an adequate rate, the cost of maintaining and upgrading our legacy fleets will only grow, and will itself crowd out longer-term investment; our warfighting advantages in technology could shrink, and the costs of new equipment would likely increase further and be stretched-out even more. But if we put too many resources into modernization as budgets decline, we could risk driving the size of the Air Force to unacceptably low levels, and perhaps not sufficiently sized or ready for the unforeseen contingencies immediately ahead.

These choices are, of course, not exclusive; they are in fact interdependent. So, again, it's all about finding the right balance. And as we consider these issues, I would like to turn back for a moment to the important role of reserve components in our Force Structure.

Total Force Enterprise and Integration

I don't need to tell you that the Air Force depends on the Air Force Reserve, and that we will continue to remain committed to the Total Force Enterprise - the powerful combination of the Active Duty and Reserve Components that together make up the United States Air Force.

We do, however, have an obligation to consider whether we have the right balance and mix of missions across the components, as well as how we can best organize that mix to maximize the capability and efficiency of our Total Force. Accordingly, we have set in motion several initiatives to help work through these issues.

As many of you know, we are examining ways to reform personnel policies to benefit both the efficiency of the Total Force Enterprise and support our Airmen and their families. For example, we are currently collaborating across the Air Force headquarters, Air Force Reserve, and Air National Guard staffs to develop personnel management policies that recognize and accommodate a longer and more flexible Continuum of Service. Recognizing that our Airmen's personal and professional demands change over time, and that this impacts a member's ability to serve either part-time or full time, we need to facilitate movement across components and position the Air Force to retain the skills and talents of trained and experienced personnel.

A related personnel management initiative started last year is known as 3-1 Integration. By integrating 3 existing Air Force Component Personnel Management Systems into a single system, we intend to improve efficiency, but also promote uniformity in policies, reduce barriers across the components, enhance career opportunities for a Continuum of Service, and provide better service to our Airmen. The targeted initial implementation date for this proposal is calendar year 2012.

But there's probably no better evidence of our attention to the Total Force Enterprise than our work to continue improving Total Force Integration.

The first Total Force Integration initiative goes all the way back to 1968, created as a way to get more use of existing iron by augmenting the Active Duty with Reserve crews. Today, we have 144 Total Force initiatives in the Air Force, across many mission sets. With few exceptions these initiatives have generally been successful at the unit level, thanks to the leadership, determination, and professionalism of people driven to get the mission done, despite in some cases the lack of formal guidance and structures to implement these policy initiatives.

Last year, we began to fully institutionalize our approach to the Total Force Enterprise, setting in motion an Air Force-wide process in which Total Force initiatives are more explicitly linked to Air Force planning to meet mission needs, are linked to the Air Force Corporate Structure for approval, and are then linked to resource allocation to ensure the initiatives approved are appropriately funded. Part of the enterprise-wide planning includes a comprehensive review of each of our existing initiatives, including a Business Case Analysis.

During last year's CORONA conference, we selected the five major drivers for the TFE Analytic Framework, which include Demand/Requirements, Weapon System Inventory, Manpower, Cost, and Force Employment Guidance. This framework, balanced with military judgment, is already contributing to more informed corporate decisions on proposed Total Force initiatives. And it will further assist us as we decide how and where to grow new missions, and how to fine tune and better balance Active Duty and Air Reserve Component contributions in each of our core functions.

The Reserve Component has been integral to this effort and will continue to be closely engaged as we go forward in this work. Our objective is to identify the right mission mix across the Total Force, so we will continue to depend on quality inputs from you to ensure all the information we need is taken into its proper account. As we continue to depend on the Guard and Reserve in the future, and the distance between the concepts of a "strategic reserve" and an "operational reserve" continues to shrink, we must strive for even more commonality in the way we operate. We need leaders like you to identify opportunities and improve our efforts to work together as a Total Force.

Role of the Citizen Airman

In addition to what you bring to your traditional military missions, we also depend on the Reserve Component to keep the Air Force connected to local communities. We ask all our Commanders and Airmen to be involved with the local community. As members of the Reserve, you provide a direct link that connects your neighbors to the men and women who wear our nation's uniform.

At a time when only about one percent of Americans serve in the U.S. military, the impact you have on your local communities is even more significant. In many cases, you are the only military members the community sees and knows.

Building strong relationships between citizens and those in uniform creates ownership, which is important to maintaining Americans' support for our Airmen and all of our Armed Forces, and it helps us recruit future Airmen. These close connections should also help the Air Force in our efforts to promote diversity across the force so we are more representative of the American people.


The evolving strategic environment and national budget constraints are factors that will continue to test us in the years and decades ahead. Everyone would like to be able to predict the future, to know with certainty what the Air Force and the Department of Defense will look like in a year, in 5 years, even 50 years from now. But I can guarantee that just as today's Air Force doesn't look like General Hap Arnold's Air Force of 65 years ago, the Air Force of the future will be dramatically different as well.

I recently had the opportunity to visit with the cadets of Air Force ROTC Detachment 060 at the University of Southern California. These young people, and many more like them from all over the country, represent the future of our Air Force. I'm sure you won't be surprised when I tell you that these future officers were bright, articulate, inquisitive, and very excited about the careers ahead of them. As I told these students, I have yet to meet a 4-star general who doesn't envy the future they will have in the Air Force.

The decisions we make today will shape the institution these young people serve in the future. I am committed to doing all I can to ensure that the decisions we make build an Air Force that meets America's 21st century national security requirements, and also puts our country on a path that leads to better lives for our children, our grandchildren, and all who follow.

We are committed to effective partnerships and good teamwork - all of which require good ideas, focused leadership and a collective commitment to a common Air Force vision - one that transcends component or status. The Air Force Reserve brings unique strengths to advance this vision, and I am tremendously grateful to each of you for your service. It is an honor to serve with you in the world's finest Air Force.

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).