Senator Leahy And Senator Graham Launch Their Counterarguments To Air Force's Plans To Scale Back Air Guard/Reserve

[Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are the co-chairs of the Senate National Guard Caucus, the Senate’s largest caucus.  Today they began pushback on the Air Force’s budget plans, revealed last week in the AF’s ‘sneak peak’ white paper, to make irreversible cuts in the Air Guard and Reserve components.  Leahy and Graham argue that maintaining strength in the Guard and Reserve allows flexibility and operational readiness under the budget pressures that lie ahead this year.


In their Floor colloquy on Thursday, Feb. 9, Leahy and Graham made these four basic points:


(1)   The Air Force is making severe cuts to the Air National Guard in FY13. 

(2)   The Air National Guard is less costly, equally capable, and fits better with the constitutional approach to defense laid out by the Framers.

(3)    Air National Guard cuts should be delayed until we have the facts about the relative costs of the Guard units versus active duty units. Recently enacted legislation authored by Leahy and Graham in the latest Guard Empowerment reforms requires such studies and reports to Congress.

(4)   Once the Senate has the facts, the Senate should help the Pentagon craft a sensible manpower strategy for the future that relies more on the Guard and Reserve.]

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Senate Floor

Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012

Senator Leahy: Thank you, Mr. President. I thank the senior Senator from South Carolina, Senator Graham, for joining me to address a matter of great importance to the Nation at a crucial moment in our history.

Mr. President, the United States Air Force last week offered a preliminary look into its budget for Fiscal Year 2013. While the President will formally submit his budget proposals on Monday, last week’s briefings and information papers offered enough detail for the Senate to begin considering the overall strategic direction of the Air Force Future Years Defense Program, which in Pentagon jargon is often colloquially called the “Fie-dep.”  And, I am disappointed to have to say, this first look was deeply worrisome.

-       Senator Graham: To meet the requirements of the Budget Control Act the AF intends to substantially cut its force structure, with most of the cuts coming from the ANG.  AF intends to eliminate more than 280 aircraft across the force (123 fighters, 133 mobility aircraft, 30 intelligence platforms)..  The ANG will lose substantially more airframes (e.g., 27 C-27Js, A-10s). 

-       Example: One of the A-10 units slated for cutting, the 127th Wing from Michigan, has just returned from fighting in Afghanistan to learn that their planes and their mission will go away in the next fiscal year.

-       Air Guard set to lose more than 5,000 personnel while the active duty force will lose just 3,000 people.

Senator Leahy: Mr. President, the approach to budget cuts that the Air Force has decided to take is simply wrong and for a wide variety of reasons, and the Senator from South Carolina and I will explain why.  First, I would draw the Senate’s attention to a study produced by the Pentagon last year. This report, signed by the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, conclusively demonstrated what we have all suspected for many years: that even when mobilized, Reserve Component units are far less expensive than their peer units in the Active Component. Of course, it has always been a foregone conclusion that the Guard costs are far less than Active Component costs when in garrison. Its personnel are not drawing salaries or benefits like peer units in the Active Component. But this Pentagon report also showed that the Guard and Reserve save taxpayers’ dollars even when mobilized. It’s simple math. The Reserve Component units are estimated to be a third as expensive as similar Active Component units, and they can deploy nearly half as often. The difference between those two proportions adds up to savings. And as I said a moment ago, those savings dramatically increase when the Reserve Components are not constantly mobilizing and deploying.

Senator Graham: The wisdom of the approach of relying more heavily on the Guard and Reserve is evident in the Army’s and Marine Corps’ approach to cuts.

-       The Army will make only minor cuts to its Guard and Reserve forces while substantially reducing its Active Duty force.

-       The Marine Corps has no plans to reduce the Marine Corps Reserve.

-       These plans are based on a new strategic concept called “reversibility”: we cannot be sure of what contingencies might arise and we cannot afford to make cuts that will leave us incapable of responding when necessary.

-       Michele Flournoy, during her last speech as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, stated that: “the Guard and the Reserve will play an extremely important role,” in the reversibility concept because they give the military “built-in adaptability and resourcefulness.” And, “We expect the reserve components to continue to provide both an operational and a strategic reserve in the future. They will continue to be a source of innovative approaches to building the capacity and critical partners around the world.”

-       But AF is taking the opposite approach by cutting ANG and Reserve personnel and equipment.

Senator Leahy: Mr. President, even before the Air Force announced its plans, General Ron Fogelman, former Chief of Staff of the Air Force, published a guest column in DefenseNews arguing for a larger Reserve Component and a smaller active duty force.  Here are a few of the pertinent points he made. He said, quote,

-       “The big question is, how does the department reduce its budget and continue to provide a modern, balanced and ready defense when more than half of the budget is committed to personnel costs?”

-       “The answer to that question is right before us: We should return to our historic roots as a militia nation. So, what does that mean, exactly? Simply put, it means we should return to the constitutional construct for our military and the days when we maintained a smaller standing military and a robust militia.”

-       “To do that, leaders must put old parochial norms aside and be willing to actually shift forces and capabilities to the National Guard and Reserve.”

-       “This would enable significant personnel reductions in the active components. It would also result in a larger reserve component. Most important, it would preserve capability and equipment that has cost the American taxpayer trillions of dollars, nest it in our mostly part-time Guard and Reserve, and have it available should it be needed.”

-       “This concept worked well for our country for the better part of two centuries. Unfortunately, several generations of leaders have come and gone, and most of today’s leadership fails to recognize the true potential of the militia model.”

-       “We need our collective senior military and civilian leaders to recognize there is a way back to a smaller active military and a larger militia posture. The fiscal environment and emerging threats demand it.” Unquote.

-       Again, those are not my words, but the words of a former Air Force Chief of Staff.

Senator Graham: General Fogelman is right. And as he points out, there are more than just fiscal reasons to reduce our standing forces and dramatically increase our reserve component.

-       The Founders did not envision a vast, permanent standing military. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution gives the Congress the responsibility and authority to “raise and support Armies” and to “build and maintain a Navy” but limits appropriations to no longer than 2 years.

-       Language demonstrates that the Founders envisioned that armies would be demobilized after conflicts and then raised again when needed.  Further down in Section 8, the Framers make clear that the militia, what has become our National Guard, is intended to be the permanent military force on land, and later, in the air. The Congress is to provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the Militia, and for governing them when they are called to federal service. States must therefore organize and train the National Guard according to federal standards.  The approach Senator Leahy and I are describing is not only economical, it is truly the model of Constitutional defense.


Senator Leahy: Mr. President, Alexander Hamilton was speaking about military forces during normal economic times. His message becomes all the more compelling and pertinent during times like this, when the country must figure out how to do all that needs to be done, with fewer resources.  Senator Graham and I introduced a successful amendment to last year’s defense authorization bill that requires the Pentagon and the GAO to perform studies this year to produce more conclusive analyses of the relative cost of similar units in the active component and the reserve component. We are also aware of at least two other third-party studies currently underway to address the question. By the end of the year, we can expect to have three or four studies in hand to answer this question conclusively. Therefore Senator Graham and I – and, we believe, most of our colleagues here in the Senate -- consider these proposed Air Force cuts to be dangerously premature. Once you cut the reserve component, sending their aircraft to the “boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, and their airmen and pilots out to civilian life, you do not get them back. That fact is precisely why the Army and Marine Corps have taken a different approach of preserving their reserve component force structure. You can mobilize active component troops you place in the reserve component. But once you cut the reserve component, those people and that equipment are gone forever.

Senator Graham: Even before we receive those studies, we do have some legacy data from the Air National Guard.

-       According to an Air Guard briefing, the Air National Guard, operating under today’s deployment constraints, is still only 53% of the cost of an equivalent active duty Air Force major command.

-       The Air National Guard costs $2.25 billion less annually than a similarly sized active duty Air Force command.

-       That is a daily savings of $6.2 million.

-       After 20 years of service, your average enlisted airman costs nearly $80,000 a year in total compensation. On the other hand, an identical Air National Guard enlisted airman costs about $10,000 a year, about an 85% savings.

-       Over a 20 year career, an Air National Guard airman will save the country more than $1 million compared to an active duty airman.

-       At 22 years, an active duty pilot will cost the Air Force more than $150,000 in total compensation.

-       On the other hand, an Air National Guard pilot at 22 years costs the taxpayer about $30,000 in total compensation.

-       Over a 26 year career, an Air National Guard pilot will save the country more than $2 million compared to an active duty pilot.

-       Active duty pilots retire, on average, with 22 years of service. Air National Guard pilots retire on average with 26 years of experience, giving the country a greater level of experience and ability for those final four years at a much lower cost.

-       These cost figures do not even account for other lifecycle and infrastructure savings that a “reserve component-first” model would yield.

Senator Leahy: Clearly this approach will save our country precious resources at a time when we desperately need to tighten our belts. All of us in the Senate agree that our military must remain strong and vigilant to threats from our enemies. But the source of our military strength has been, and will always be, our economic might. And if we are to protect ourselves militarily while also marshaling our economic power, moving to a Constitutional defense model that my colleague has discussed should be our first choice. Therefore I find these Air Force proposals to be ill-advised and premature at the very least. Based on what we already know, they are flat out wrong, and I anticipate that this year’s reports on the cost effectiveness of the Guard and Reserve will further prove that the reserve component is a better option for military manpower in the future.

Mr. President, for many years, in a trend that has greatly accelerated over the last decade, the National Guard has been given a much greater role in our overall national defense.  More missions.  Greater responsibility.  Heavier burdens. The Guard has performed these missions superbly, with great skill and effectiveness.

The Senate National Guard Caucus has worked closely with all concerned to accommodate and facilitate these changes.  And the Senate National Guard Caucus now will take an active role as well in informing the Senate as these new decisions are made. We will not sit by while any of the military services decimate their reserve components. For all the reasons that Senator Graham and I have mentioned today, we will work together with the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Senate Appropriations Committee, and the entire membership of the Senate to produce a thoughtful and well-conceived strategy for military manpower that makes full use of a cost-effective, accessible, fully operational, trained, and ready reserve component.

Senator Graham: Mr. President, I could not agree more with my colleague. Constitutional defense is an idea whose time has come. Maintaining a Cold War-era Defense Department just does not make sense. Keeping the “active duty-first” approach will mean smaller and smaller and smaller forces that are stretched thinner and thinner and cannot respond where and when we need them to. That is not the military American deserves nor the one she has come to rely upon. I call on our Pentagon leaders and all of my colleagues in the Senate to join Senator Leahy and me in working for a more original approach the financial strains our country is facing. We can afford nothing less.

I thank my colleague and I yield the floor.

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