If the U.S. Air Force and the Air National Guard were a married couple in some television sitcom, you’d have to marvel at how such mismatched people manage to stay together. Their love-hate relationship has lasted for nearly 60 years, and yet the same problems keep coming up year after year. The man of the house (the active-duty Air Force) is too overbearing, while the little lady (the Guard) has trouble getting ready for the family’s many overseas trips. She complains that he doesn’t give her enough respect, and he complains that she always wants to go shopping without understanding the family finances.
Sometimes the little lady gets so frustrated that she complains to outsiders, and her view of what’s wrong with the relationship tends to be self-serving. That’s what’s happening right now, as the Air National Guard reacts to Air Force proposals to realign domestic bases and missions with future military needs. The Guard’s various associations are alleging that it was not consulted in base closure and realignment decisions; that it is suffering disproportionate losses to protect the active-duty Air Force; that the cuts will leave it too small to do its job; and that its future looks bleak due to a loss of flying missions.
None of the complaints is really true. Take the allegation that the Guard wasn’t consulted on which bases to realign. The leadership of the Guard has been briefed over a dozen times in the last two years by senior Air Force officials about the service’s plan to reorganize for new missions. That plan is called the Future Total Force, and the Guard was invited to suggest which new missions it should take on as its capabilities were integrated with those of the active-duty force. Its leaders chose not to respond so they could later allege they weren’t consulted, but the truth is that they were trying to protect their beloved flying missions at the expense of the rest of the joint force.
The complaint that the Guard is suffering disproportionate cuts isn’t just wrong, it’s ridiculous. In the four decades between the Cuban Missile Crisis and Operation Iraqi Freedom, over 90% of the cuts in Air Force aircraft numbers have come from the active-duty force rather than the reserves. As a result, the ratio between active and reserve airframes has declined from 4.3-to-1 to 1.8-to-1. The Air Force’s realignment proposals would preserve the existing active/reserve ratio in almost every category of plane — fighters, tankers, transports, etc.
The contention that the reserves will be too small after realignments to do their job is equally absurd. In fact, the Air Force’s reserve component will remain the fourth biggest air force in the world — bigger than the air forces of France, Germany and Japan combined. It’s true that Russia and China will have more planes than the Guard and Reserve, but the U.S. Navy won’t. As for the complaint that the Guard’s loss of a few flying missions signals a bleak future, the opposite is true. It is getting new responsibilities in intelligence gathering, space and other emerging mission areas that are much more important than being able to buzz the state capitol in Cold War fighters. The Guard’s leadership ought to wake up and take a look at how the world is changing.
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