The vice commander of Air Force Materiel Command offered insight into recent developments and answered questions regarding the command’s restructure efforts and fiscal challenges at the Air Force Association’s 2013 Pacific Air & Space Symposium in Los Angeles Nov. 22.
Citing significant impacts to people, infrastructure and the command’s readiness mission, Lt. Gen. Andrew Busch described the significant difficulties of sequestration in a command that is supported by a workforce of approximately 75 percent civilians.
Charged with research, development, acquisition, test and sustainment services for weapon systems of the present and future, AFMC relies heavily on the continuity civilians provide, he said.
“Our workforce enables us to have a great deal of corporate knowledge and domain expertise you would not find in a command that is primarily military,” Busch said of his command’s unique composition.
Long term effects of budget cuts, furloughs and hiring freezes are the most serious, albeit hard to quantify, the general said. He cautioned that a lack of hiring will be costly to workforce development in the years to come.
“The Air Force has lost almost eight million hours of productivity with the civilians we lost (during furloughs),” Busch said. “(That) has created the perception in many of our civilian Airmen’s minds that somehow they’re less valuable … that is absolutely not the case. The value of our civilian employees is unchanged by the fact that we went through sequestration.”
Likewise, fiscal constraints affected infrastructure and testing missions — delaying upgrades to facilities, as well as delaying training and test flights, Busch said. By reducing flying hours, even priority modernization programs such as the F-35 Lighting II have lost significant test hours, Busch said.
“As a result of that temporary loss to the F-35, one of the Air Force top-three acquisition programs, we had to reschedule numerous test sorties,” he said. “It is estimated that cost a three-week delay overall in the test program — and the cost to the program ultimately is over $100 million just as a result of what we went through during sequestration and a temporary loss of tanker support.”
Difficult times, however, can also be a chance to innovate and improve, the general said.
Busch’s command has undergone significant changes during its recently completed five-center reorganization, which consolidated units and locations to increase effectiveness by aligning the command’s four core missions of science and technology, life-cycle management, test and evaluation, and sustainment. The command consolidated 12 direct reporting centers to only five.
“Through this process we reduced overhead by over a thousand personnel positions and saved over $100 million per year,” Busch said. “What we see is a sharing of best practices and lessons learned across boundaries in a way we have not been able to do in previous years.”
Besides increased sharing of best-practices, improvements include increases in aircraft production and decreases of part shortages and backorders, he said. By merging maintenance, repair and overhaul activities with supply chain management, the command has accomplished a synergy that has led to significant cost savings.
“In all, AFMC has achieved over $2 billion savings in its first year through the implementation of its new organizational structure,” Busch said.
While many challenges remain within the construct that will require mitigation, the general shared a positive outlook for his command’s future.
“The men and women of AFMC accomplish a critical mission for the Air Force and our nation and continue to improve how we accomplish that mission even in the times we face today,” he continued. “We will continue to strive to operate in a more cost-effective way and will work with our industry partners to create the best possible environment that takes advantage of their ability to innovate – and our requirement to be good stewards of the public money.”
Even though the consequences of the steep decline in budgets are and will remain severe, Busch offered an optimistic approach to senior leaders by looking at similar difficult periods in history.
“We have been here before,” he said of budget reductions. “We have done this in some form or fashion for the better part of the 34 years I have been on active-duty … we will get through this.”