The Air Force is revamping its fighter and support units into 10 combat-ready teams that will rotate responsibility for crises around the globe, officials said Tuesday.
The move shifts the service from its Cold War-era mentality, which relied on keeping large numbers of U.S. warplanes at well-stocked allied bases overseas, to a leaner, more flexible force able to respond to ad hoc contingencies in austere environments like Iraq or Bosnia, officials said."We finally got the message. Some of these contingencies are not going to go away," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Ryan.
The four-star general described the move as "an integration of our total Air Force, something we haven't done in the past," because it will give active duty, Guard and Reserve troops a schedule for when they could be sent away from home short of all-out war.
Under the new plan, two of the teams will be deployed on any kind of mission. Others will remain behind - either in the United States or at some bases overseas - to train and prepare for future deployments. Other specialized units will remain on call, Ryan said.
The reorganization means fighters, bombers and support aircraft from geographically separate units may not be together all the time, but they will train together and deploy together. They would be organized under a specific set of commanders established at 10 "lead" bases, Ryan said.
"The Air Force will create an organization that will better use people and resources to meet the national security requirements of the next century," the Air Force said in a statement.
It will take 18 months to implement the reorganization, the statement said.
Ryan first spoke of the plans with the Associated Press in May. "We need to reorganize ourselves," the four-star general said at the time.
The pressure in recent years of establishing bases at overseas crisis points - such as in Bosnia, the Middle East and Africa - had resulted in certain units being "stretched too thin," Ryan said.
And while Air Force combat units have been designed to deploy at a moment's notice, the cooks, engineers, medical personnel, military police and other units that keep bases humming weren't organized for such quick assignments abroad.
During the Cold War, a much larger Air Force was designed to "surge" its forces forward into battle against the enemy - relying to a great extent on allied bases stocked with supplies for arriving combat units. But that hasn't been possible in such places as Bosnia or in the multiple crises involving Iraq.
The service has been plagued with an exodus of pilots, including many who have been enticed by offers to work as commercial pilots. But pilots have also complained about repeat deployments to the Middle East and the monotonous duty of enforcing no-fly zones over Iraq.