The United States military has been engaged in combat operations for more than a decade and a half, fighting the Global War on Terror and taking on Islamic extremism throughout the middle east and Africa. This constant tempo of deployments has stretched forces to their limits, and some portions of the military are hoping to expand.
Especially after the various military freezes and cuts during the Barack Obama administration, some organizations within the military have said that they are not able to do what is demanded of them with what they had. The Air Force is faced with just this problem, and hopes to expand its way out.
At a conference outside Washington D.C., the civilian leader of the United States Air Force announced the she had an idea on how to do something about her manpower issues.
According to Heather Wilson, the Air Force is “too small” for what’s expected of them.
She maintains that the current 312 squadrons that they have is simply not enough to get the job done, or to project force as they have been asked to do.
At the Air Force Association Air, Space, and Cyber Conference, she stated that instead of 312, the youngest branch of the military needs 386 operating squadrons.
The proposed growth of the Air Force and the addition of 74 new operating squadrons would make it the largest it has ever been. Furthermore, it would be the biggest increase in the size of the USAF since the Cold War.
Part of the reason behind the idea is the need to counter Russian and Chinese expansion.
In recent years, the United States Military, including the Army and the Marines, have taken multiple steps in response to the aggression that the Russian government showed in annexing Crimea.
The Marine Corps has stepped up training operations in the area, and has repeatedly worked with nations bordering Russia to train for ground wars.
The nation of Poland, long a target of European powers looking to expand, has similarly extended an invitation for the United States Army to house 20,000 soldiers in the nation.
This request would provide them with additional backing in the event of Russian aggression, which many in the Polish government and society have feared since the nation broke away from the USSR-controlled Eastern Bloc, only to face a threatened invasion.
Meanwhile, the Navy is concerned with the spread of the Chinese Navy in the Pacific Ocean, where they have constructed man-made islands and built landing strips.
It only makes sense that the Air Force, which often provides support to operations carried out by the rest of the armed forces, and which provides emergency medical rescue through their elite PJs, would need to grow in size to keep up with growing threats.
Wilson said that the USAF needed to accept the “world as it is” and to prepare for the future of armed conflict.
She suggested that the Air Force would have these new squadrons operational and properly staffed for deployment to trouble spots around the world by 2025-2030.
She also suggested the type of squadrons that the force would need in order to be effective.
Her view for the Air Force of the next decade required the addition of five bomber squadrons, seven space squadrons, seven fighter squadrons, seven special operations squadrons, nine CSAR (Combat Search and Rescue) squadrons, 14 tanker squadrons, 22 command and control ,intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance squadrons, two more drone groups, and a single new airlift squadron.
However, adding 13 squadrons built around flying might not be as simple as some would hope. The youthful military branch recently suffered a number of issues with pilot manpower.
They’re having trouble finding enough pilots in the first place.
Once they commission pilots, however, they’re also having issues with long-term retention.
The private sector airlines have started to offer much more attractive incentive packages to pilots, especially those with military training.
For fighter, cargo, bomber, and tanker pilots, the commercial airlines can offer better pay, better benefits, and the ability to be home a few times a week. The military simply cannot compete for most pilots.
There is little doubt that after eight years of less-than-stellar military leadership in the Pentagon and White House, the branches will need to invest in equipment and manpower. However, the Air Force’s goals may be hard to meet, given the issues they’re having now with finding pilots.