Tuesday, Sept. 18 is the 71st anniversary of the founding of the United States Air Force. As the youngest of the four branches of the Department of Defense, it was born out of the Army’s Signal Corps in 1947 with a mission set that has expanded significantly over the course of its existence.
During its formative years, the service had four major components: Strategic Air Command, Tactical Air Command, Air Defense Command, and Air Mobility Command, which collectively reflected its “fly, fight, and win” motto. Advances in technology and changes in mission sets gave rise to the functional areas of space, special operations, and training—new components with missions as meaty as they were complex.
The decades that followed saw cycles of war and peace, surges in technology, robust budgets, and budgets so lean that the size and readiness of the force was cut to the core. The 28 years since Desert Shield have been filled with constant deployments to the Middle East that have taken a hard toll on aircraft, readiness, and retention.
The last six years have been particularly harsh. Sequestration forced the service to make hard trades in capacity and readiness in order to meet operational demands for the war on terror, while still attempting to prepare for the future. The lack of funding for spare parts forced maintainers to do twice the work, cannibalizing parts from one aircraft to repair another. Successive delays in F-35 and KC-46 development have carried over into production, leaving both the fighter and tanker fleets short of the ready numbers required to train for and execute their respective missions.
The lack of ready aircraft cut fighter pilot flying hours to levels below the “hollow force” days of the Carter administration. Last year, only four of 32 active-duty fighter squadrons were considered mission-ready for a high-end fight. Retention plummeted, and the shortfall of maintainers fell to more than 4,000 in 2016. The service now has more than 1,200 empty fighter pilot billets.
Last year, the Air Force was the smallest it’s ever been, having suffered through arguably the lowest level of readiness in its history. But it appears that downward cycle has now come to an end.
Read the full story from The Daily Signal
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