- - Friday, December 4, 2015

After forcing through a devastating manpower cut of 25,000 airmen in one year, it seems the U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff has had a change of heart. Gen. Mark Welsh now says the Air Force is on the verge of a total manpower collapse.

The Air Force Times reports on his recent comments at a gathering in Washington, “Virtually every mission area” faces critical manning shortages, and the Air Force risks burning airmen out. “We’re at 82 to 85 percent manning levels in virtually every mission area,” Welsh said during a discussion Tuesday at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C. “We can’t reach in someplace and grab more manpower to fix a problem anymore. And so we have got to figure out different ways of using our people in a more efficient way or we will wear them out. And if we lose them, we lose everything.”

The decision to reduce manning to pay for aircraft and equipment upgrades will not be easy to reverse. General Welsh admitted to this fact in his discussion saying he hoped the effects of the ‘thinning’ will not be irreversible. What he is not talking about is the negative effect the shortage of trained maintenance personnel will have on the combat and operational capability of weapon systems in the Air Force inventory.

Col. Patrick Kumashiro, chief of the maintenance division for the Air Force’s Logistics, Engineering and Force Protection Directorate, said in an Oct. 15 interview that he gets worried anytime manning drops below 90 percent. But manning for some ranks of crew chiefs and avionics airmen has dipped into the 80 percent range, or in some cases into the 70s.

The next Air Force Chief of Staff will have his work cut out for him to repair the damage.

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