New Roles for the Guard and Reserve

Nov. 1, 1999

Transfer more bombers from the active forces into the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserves. … Create more associate program units, with squadrons of reservists ready to step in and help fly regular Air Force fighters in wartime. … Use Guard and Reserve personnel for national missile defense missions, and increase their participation in counterdrug operations. …

These are just a few of the suggestions outlined in a comprehensive new Department of Defense study of better ways to use the nation’s National Guard and Reserve forces. The Reserve Component Employment 2005 Study is the product of a year-long effort by personnel from all the military services and aims to help make reality of the seamless Total Force envisioned two years ago by Defense Secretary William S. Cohen.

“The RCE-05 study is an important step in an ongoing and rigorous process of identifying new and better ways of using the reserve components,” said Charles L. Cragin, acting assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs. “Both the study itself and its follow-on recommendations will significantly enhance Secretary Cohen’s efforts to build a fully integrated Total Force that is able to respond to a wide range of missions well into the next century.”

As it looked at the prospective role of the Guard and Reserve in the next century, the study team focused on three particular areas: homeland defense; Smaller-Scale Contingencies, such as the peacekeeping operation in Kosovo; and Major Theater Wars.

Its general conclusions were that the Guard and Reserve should play an expanded role in providing homeland defense capabilities, could provide relief from the operations tempo for the active forces participating in SSCs, and needed to have their roles in any major conflict further clarified.

Specific recommendations from the report, if implemented, could affect Guard and Reserve units of all the military forces, but many of the study’s most important ideas have particular implications for the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command.

Homeland Defense

Defense of the US homeland is becoming an increasingly important mission for the Department of Defense, said the RCE report. The Guard and Reserve are particularly well-suited to an increased role in this area, as their infrastructure exists in all 50 states, and reserve component units are already quite familiar with one significant part of the homeland defense mission-disaster response.

The growing threat of terrorist use of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons against US targets is one reason homeland defense is more and more crucial. The RCE report recommends studying whether some Guard and Reserve units could be given the additional mission of providing physical security for key infrastructure targets in the event of an attack involving weapons of mass destruction.

Such “dual-missioning” might be impractical for many units, however, as the skills needed, such as poison gas detection, are highly specialized.

“Re-missioning or restructuring a certain number of [reserve component] units to focus solely on specialized homeland defense tasks could be a more cost-effective solution,” said the reserve component study.

Among the units in particular that might be restructured, according to the study: Air National Guard bare base air wings.

During the Cold War these units supported the establishment of operational capability at austere locations. However, with the establishment of the Air Expeditionary Force, this mission has become less viable. AEFs provide their own support.

Thus ANG bare base units might be converted to something resembling the Army National Guard’s Rapid Assessment and Initial Detection teams, said the RCE report. RAID teams are on-call units that provide rapid response capability to assess attacks by nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons to help local authorities manage in the aftermath.

RCE-05 urges the Air Force to study this option in detail. “There are as many as 6,000 Air National Guard personnel in bare base units who could be made available through unit conversions to organize into mission-specific units similar in concept to RAID teams,” said the report.

National Missile Defense

National Missile Defense is another homeland mission that might lend itself to increased participation of the Guard and Reserve.

As yet, the US has no final plans for missile defense deployment, but the rough outlines of such a system are well-known. It would involve ground-based interceptors and upgraded early warning radars, among other items.

Such systems would be located in fixed installations and have regularly programmed activities, the study noted. Such characteristics might make Guard and Reserve participation possible, if not relatively easy. The Pentagon’s acquisition and technology office, in conjunction with the Ballistic Missile Defense Office and the Army, needs to study the issue, according to RCE participants.

“Staffing such a system with a significant number of [reserve component] personnel appears feasible,” said the study.

Similarly, Guard and Reserve personnel might be able to play an expanded role at the Air Force National Preparedness Office, said the RCE study.

The National Preparedness Office currently provides disaster response assistance, such as weather tracking, to national leadership. Currently, it is staffed primarily with active duty personnel. Converting these slots to Guard and Reserve would both save money and enhance flexibility, according to study participants.

Converting 80 percent of the office staff to Guard and Reserve would involve replacing 11 active officers and nine active enlisted personnel. Such a conversion would generate $335,000 in savings annually, predicted the reserve study.

The Air Force should “consider including this initiative in its Program Objective Memorandum,” said the study.

The Air Force’s Alaska Regional Operations Control Center might face a similar personnel switch, if RCE recommendations are ever implemented.

The service has already switched responsibility for its two other ROCCs to the reserves, the study noted. Using the same conversion process, the Alaska facility would require 45 full-time Active Guard/Reserve officers and 266 AGR enlisted personnel, as well as 12 part-time officers and 45 part-time enlisted members.

This change would actually increase manning costs by approximately $1.7 million annually. But “over time the transfer would generate savings due to less frequent permanent changes of station and some infrastructure and base support savings,” said the study.

One hurdle: The site is not exactly a central location. The center’s remoteness could make recruitment and retention of a Guard and Reserve force difficult.

Reserves are already making a strong contribution to the nation’s homeland defense against drugs. The Navy, for instance, already provides significant reserve component aviation support to the counterdrug mission, noted the report.

But some services still might be able to do more. And more help is needed: Currently, optempo for active and reserve personnel who do anti-drug work is substantial, noted RCE-05.

Twenty million dollars would pay for a 25 percent increase in Guard and Reserve participation in the drug war, figured the study. That would generate 237,000 more man-days of small unit and individual reserve support for the counterdrug mission.

The services should all look at such an increase, urged the RCE report.

Smaller-Scale Contingencies

The demand for American military participation in relatively small operations is skyrocketing. Bosnia and Kosovo are just two examples of how national priorities can produce a large workload for a few key military units.

Increasing Guard and Reserve participation in such missions could have the dual effect of providing rest to some hard-pressed active duty units and broadening the range of Guard and Reserve skills.

So-called “High-Demand/Low-Density” units are the ones that contingencies are wearing out the most. These organizations-A-10 units, HC-130 units, Army Patriot missile batteries, and the like-have such a high operations tempo that a distressingly large number of their active personnel are opting to leave military service.

With the exception of the Army, the services already use appropriate reserve HD/LD units as much as they can, concluded the RCE study. But a Defense Department-wide tracking system that would follow individuals with HD/LD skills might be a boon to filling in the units, concluded the report.

The study recommended developing such a tracking system by the end of this year.

The Air Force already envisions substantial Guard and Reserve participation in SSCs through its Expeditionary Aerospace Force concept. Increased reserve component involvement “will be critical to sustaining an adequate [EAF] rotational base,” noted the study.

Beginning this January, reserve component crews and personnel will start rotating into SSC operations on a 90-day deployment basis. The RCE team urged “that as the Air Force fully implements the [EAF] program, it continue to refine Guard and Reserve participation in these types of operations.”

The reserve study team even looked at using reserve component units to entirely staff one continuous, rotational large peace operation, similar to the stabilization force in Bosnia. Such a deployment would not be possible using only volunteers and would require repeated use of a Presidential Select Reserve Call-Up. “The [reserve component] does not have sufficient units in several high-demand areas to sustain a rotational force package of this size,” said the RCE.

Major Theater Wars

The nation’s defense strategy requires the Defense Department to be able to fight-and win-two Major Theater Wars in close succession. Given the current size of the force, that is an ambitious goal and one that could never be met unless the Guard and Reserve forces contribute all that they can.

The RCE study examined a range of possible ways to increase the role of Guard and Reserve units in MTWs. Many involve switching Air Force assets to the Guard and Reserve.

Bombers, for instance. Transferring one B-52 and one B-1B squadron to the Guard and Reserve may generate cost savings of up to $54 million annually and could ease the shortage of active duty pilots for these aircraft.

The bomber mission is a natural one for the reserves, RCE-05 noted, because it has a low optempo during peacetime. But adding to the bombers already in the Guard and Reserve would not be without drawbacks. Guard and Reserve pilots would have to undergo the Personnel Reliability Program required of all who have access to nuclear weapons. Fewer bombers in the active force means fewer pilots with bomber skills-and, eventually, fewer pilots with bomber skills transferring to the Guard and Reserve.

The change could incur some difficult-to-quantify costs in personnel retraining and base reconfiguration.

Still, the Air Force should study the issue, urged the RCE study. “At a minimum, this follow-on study would examine the operational impacts and basing and conversion costs associated with the transfer,” said the report.

The study team also looked at converting another Air Force fighter wing from active to reserve status. The active wing could be broken up and converted into aircraft and personnel used to augment existing A-10 and F-16 squadrons, for example. It might also be converted into three new ANG F-15 squadrons and a number of plus-ups to existing Guard and Reserve F-16 units.

Either of these options would cost large sums in the near term-from $40 million for the first option, to $125 million for the second. Furthermore, remaining active duty units would then face even higher operations tempo pressure.

The Air Force should be able to figure out by March 2000 whether this idea is worth doing, said RCE-05.

Reserve associate units for A-10, OA-10, F-16, and F-15C squadrons might be an easier path to take. Such units-which already exist for the C-5, C-9, C-17, C-141, KC-10, and KC-135 airframes and one E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System unit-provide squadrons of pilots who step in and fly the aircraft of active duty units.

Such an approach has the advantage of lowering the active force’s optempo without the cost of buying more airplanes.

The Air Force has already begun testing the concept. The Fighter Reserve Associate Test program, now in its second year at Shaw AFB, S.C., places an associate unit of 14 Reservists with the 78th Fighter Squadron. When active crews went to Southwest Asia in 1998, Reserve crews went, too. This year, Reserve pilots deployed with their active counterparts to Operation Allied Force.

The possibility of regularly assigning elements of the Guard and Reserve to active fighter wings is a central focus of the Air Force’s on-going Future Total Force study. [See “Future Total Force,” July, p. 29.]

Current personnel shortfalls mean that some active units are not fully manned. By converting 20 percent of active component positions into associate positions, figured the RCE, the total number of crews available to fly could be increased.

Reverberating Benefits

Training costs could reach $12 million, but the benefits could reverberate throughout the fighter force in terms of fewer active deployments, more interesting reserve employments, and increased retention throughout the total Air Force.

Associate programs might help ease the optempo problems associated with E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft as well. The problem here is that these radar airplanes are in extremely high demand. Reserve crews would likely have such a high deployment rate that it would be difficult for them to keep their civilian employment, and retention rates could suffer.

Establishing Joint STARS associate crews would cost about $8.6 million a year, not counting the operations and maintenance costs of harder use of Joint STARS platforms.

Guard and Reserve crews could also help out by operating half of all strategic Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, figured the reserve study. But since strategic UAV platforms are still under development, this is an idea whose time has not yet come, the study team agreed.

Some general restrictions on the use of the Guard and Reserve might need to be lifted if any of the above recommendations are ever to come to pass. Current law includes the so-called 180-day-limit requirement, under which all volunteer reservists who have been on active duty for more than 180 days must be counted against active force end strengths.

The study supports a proposal to modify this restriction to allow reservists to serve for 181 days or more, as long as the total number of reservists on active duty does not exceed 0.2 percent of the authorized active duty end strength. Peter Grier, the Washington editor of the Christian Science Monitor, is a longtime defense correspondent and regular contributor to Air Force Magazine. His most recent article, “Up in the Air About Anthrax,” appeared in the October 1999 issue.