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Program Budget Decision 720, Force Shaping: Why Now??

Col. Doug Troyer

Col. Doug Troyer

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Over the past year, the terms "PBD 720" and "force shaping" have been used extensively when discussing the drawdown of 40,000 troops currently underway in the Air Force. Questions often asked when discussing PBD 720 include: "Why would the Air Force cut manning when we are in the middle of a long war? With so many troops deployed, doesn't the leadership care that the ones left behind have to work twice as hard to cover those who are deployed? Why would anyone think it's a good idea to cut bodies at a time like this just to pay for some airplanes we really don't need right now?"

In a democracy, there will always be tension within the government when it comes to how the national treasury should be allocated. Good people will disagree when it comes to how much of our wealth should be dedicated to defense instead of funding our schools, health care, transportation infrastructure, etc. This tension forces compromises every year between the President and Congress over how the federal budget will be allocated.

Because the federal budget has a finite amount of resources, the Department of Defense almost never receives the amount of funding it feels it needs to adequately address all of the defense concerns of the nation. This reality forces tradeoffs and compromises within DoD every year as it seeks to apply its limited resources in a manner which will provide the best defense possible.

Program Budget Decision 720, or PBD 720, is the result of one such tradeoff made within the USAF.

One of the USAF's top three priorities is recapitalizing and modernizing our air, space and cyberspace systems. It was apparent to the USAF leadership that in today's budgetary environment, with a large portion of the defense budget dedicated to funding ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan (supporting another of the USAF's top three priorities of fighting and winning the Global War on Terror), innovative methods would be required in order to secure the funding required to recapitalize our aging aircraft fleet. The answer was PBD 720, a measure which accelerated the retirement of a portion of our aging, and expensive to maintain, aircraft inventory (F-117s, some B-52s, C-21s and U-2s), as well as cutting 40,000 active duty and Total Force members.

By accelerating the retirement of costly to maintain legacy aircraft, and by reshaping the force by reducing 40,000 members and retooling our Air Force Specialty Codes -- through elimination of some and merging of others -- the USAF will be able to transfer its "savings" into much needed systems recapitalization and modernization.

I won't elaborate on the current state of our aircraft inventory and the need to replace and modernize other than to say the USAF has always been the most technically advanced military force in the world. In order to carry the dominance we've been able to sustain over the last 20 years into the future, we require a significant investment in new systems. Our inventory is the oldest in the service's history and is becoming increasingly expensive to operate and maintain.

Although we've discussed the origins of PBD 720 as a budget tradeoff in order to fund systems recapitalization and modernization, we still haven't addressed the questions at the beginning of this commentary. The answer is twofold.

We can't afford to wait until later because with aircraft procurement programs taking years we must begin funding new systems now; technology and smarter ways of doing business will allow us to absorb the manpower losses with minimal pain. Certainly, in the beginning, everyone will have to adjust to doing things differently.

As an example, with email and web based information systems, we are now able to accomplish many personnel actions from our own computers that once required a trip to the Military Personnel Flight to resolve. This change allows us to move from having a Commander's Support Section in every squadron, with all the manpower required to staff them, to a single CSS for the entire wing.

Besides leveraging technology to make some of our work easier and less time consuming, thereby freeing up manpower to do other work, the Air Force is promoting the Air Force Smart Operations 21 initiative.

AFSO21 is all about cutting the non-valued added steps in a process in order to remove wasted time and effort. The Air Force needs everyone to look around their workcenter and determine how they can make it more efficient - after all, no one is as smart at what you do as you are. If you can identify a better, easier and more efficient way of doing business, upchannel it to your supervisor or commander for implementation.

It will only be through the efforts of those in the trenches that processes are changed in a way that will cut unnecessary work. One of the tenants associated with PBD 720 is to not to do more with less, but to do less with less.

In a perfect world, the Air Force would not have to cut any manpower to be able to fund all of its requirements. Based on the state of our current aircraft inventory and future fiscal realities, our only choice was to make a painful decision now or risk losing our dominance of air, space and cyberspace. Although it may seem counterintuitive to reduce manning during a war, by leveraging technology and embracing AFSO21 to help us work more efficiently, the Air Force will be able to use the savings from the reduced manning to procure the equipment required to keep us the most respected air, space and cyberspace force in the world.