Pacific Air Forces will lose no one because of budget cuts
(TNS) — The Air Force is reducing its ranks overall due to budget cuts, but staffing in the Pacific will remain at 100 percent due to the re-balance to the region, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said Monday.
"We are on a trajectory to come down on the order of about 20,000, principally active duty, to a lesser degree (National) Guard and Reserve — very small reductions there — and we're also going to be bringing down our civilian workforce several thousand over the next five years," James said.
She projected the military personnel downsizing will be completed by next summer.
James' biography says the Air Force has more than 690,000 active-duty, Guard, Reserve and civilian airmen and their families, and has an annual budget of more than $110 billion.
Gen. Lori J. Robinson, head of Pacific Air Forces, said the service will maintain its rotational presence of bombers and fighters in the Pacific.
"I think we're likely to see the same (level)," Robinson said.
Both senior Air Force leaders spoke to reporters Monday at Pacific Air Forces headquarters at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam as James prepared to head to Guam, Japan, South Korea and Alaska before heading back to Washington, D.C.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, new Boeing KC-46 refueling tanker and future long-range strike bombers will be part of the re-balance to the Pacific, James said.
James also called for a new round of base closures, citing 24 percent excess capacity in the Defense Department.
"I've had a whole part of my career in the private sector, and I can tell you, without question, a business would never spend money on leases or on buildings that were no longer needed," James said. "And the fact that we have this excess capacity and we're spending money on it — we just have to get beyond this and close some bases."
Cuts in the Air Force that were announced in July led to the elimination of 3,459 positions across the service, including 238 positions in Hawaii at Pacific Air Forces, the command said.
James became the 23rd secretary of the Air Force — and the second woman in Air Force history to serve in the role — in December.
Robinson received a fourth star and became head of Pacific Air Forces last month, making her the first woman to lead the major air command.
James said that of all the U.S. military services, the Air Force has the highest proportion of women: upward of 20 percent.
"We also have the highest number of jobs that are currently open to women," James said, adding that only about seven career fields are still closed to women.
Current Air Force jobs women are barred from include combat rescue officer, special tactics officer, special operations weather officer, enlisted combat controller, enlisted tactical air command and control party, enlisted pararescue and enlisted special operations weather, Pacific Air Forces said.
"Those seven specialties that are still closed, within the next year and a half, it is our goal to see, can't we open up those remaining seven?" James said. "Specifically, what we're doing is we're working on gender-neutral standards for these seven positions. That is to say, whatever the standard is, it will be the same for men and women. But then let's see if we can't open it and let qualified applicants compete."
If the Air Force is more than 20 percent female today, "why can't we be upwards of 30 percent in the years to come?" she added.
"I'm interested in getting the most qualified young people into our Air Force, and to have more qualified women would be a great thing," she said.
Robinson recently returned from her first trip to China as head of Pacific Air Forces, where she said she attended a military flight and training conference with 22 participating nations and the opening of an air show in the southern city of Zhuhai.
She also said she met with the chief of staff of China's air force.
A C-17 Globemaster III cargo plane out of Hickam, with active-duty members of the 15th Wing, was sent to the air show to demonstrate the Air Force's ability to rapidly deliver search and rescue teams, equipment and supplies, Pacific Air Forces said.