The Air Force's readiness problem
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has published a report on the ability of the U.S. Air Force to meet the growing demands placed upon it. A big area of concern? Readiness, and how the Air Force manages its personnel and equipment. Among the problems the GAO identified:
The Air Force has had trouble finding enough people to fly and repair its aircraft. For example, we found that it’s had progressively greater problems filling its fighter pilot positions between 2006 and 2017.
In addition to lacking pilots, between 2012 and 2016, the Air Force also didn’t have enough aircraft ready or the training ranges it needed for pilots to meet their annual training requirements.
If that wasn't a big enough problem, maintenance was also at the top of the worry list:
From 2011 through 2016, we found that the Air Force was generally unable to keep some of its key aircraft available for missions—mostly due to aging aircraft, repair delays, and a lack of spare parts.
One of the biggest problem aircraft is the B-52 bomber, which should not come as a surprise as the Stratofortress has been in continuous service since 1955 (the last B-52 was built in 1962) . It is expected to still be flying in 2050 -- assuming it can be maintained.
The GAO has made a series of specific recommendations to the Air Force to help correct its problems. Doing so is critical, because the demands on the service are only going to get bigger:
In September 2018, the Secretary of the Air Force described the need to grow the number of Air Force squadrons from 312 to 386—a 24 percent increase—between fiscal years 2025 and 2030 in order to meet persistent operational demands and address the challenges identified in the National Defense Strategy.
Keeping pace with those demands won't be possible if there aren't sufficient personnel and resources to fly and maintain the aircraft we already have.