In recent months, Air Force leaders have indicated that the combination of a high level of demand for operations overseas and the service’s aging fleet will require the Air Force to add roughly 10,000 active-duty airmen or more by Oct. 1, 2017.
The service’s active-duty end strength is slated to rise from 311,600 currently to 317,000 by this October. And while officials did not include funds for further growth in the Air Force’s fiscal 2017 budget request, Secretary Deborah Lee James has signaled her intention to use her authority to add up to 6,340 personnel next year, reported Air Force Times.
“In reality, I think that mission demands will indicate that we need even more growth [than 317,000] in FY ‘17,” James said during her keynote address at an Air Force Association symposium last month. “We have been downsizing for a long time in our Air Force, and this simply must stop. It is stopping. And now, we’re in an era of a modest upsize.”
If she opts to expand the service’s end strength in FY 2017, James said the service would target fields including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, cyber, maintenance and battlefield airmen. This year’s expansion will bolster those same fields, according to the story.
Growing those critical specialties will not be easy, and will require officials to identify a source of funding and qualified people to fill those jobs. James said the Air Force plans to ramp up its recruiting and training efforts to handle the potential influx of new airmen.
“After 20-some years of downsizing in our Air Force, in order to now grow modestly, we need to infuse resources into both the recruiting corps and into the technical training base, so that we can go out and attract the right kind of talent and then get them trained in the appropriate skills,” James said.
Other strategies the Air Force is employing include offering incentives to retain experienced airmen, allowing more personnel from the reserve components to move into active duty and increasing opportunities for airmen to retrain into high-priority jobs.