The Air Force expects to erase its maintainer shortage by 2019 as long as Congress funds the requested manpower increase, a service planner told Air Force Magazine on Thursday. The service is taking a multi-pronged approach to reduce the current shortfall of 4,000 maintainers, Col. Pat Kumashiro, a maintenance expert on the Air Staff, said. While accessing an additional 1,500 to 2,000 maintainers a year, Kumashiro said, the service is also trying to retain its experienced maintainers—who are tasked with training new hires while maintaining the service’s complex weapons systems—with retention bonuses. “In combination, those two efforts should close the gap, where we will be balanced by 2019,” Kumashiro said. “We don’t want to bring in 4,000 18-year-olds in one year. We could not absorb that in one year. So we have to do that incrementally over time to drive the optimal training that we need to have to support our weapons systems.” In the meantime, the service is planning to mitigate the shortage by using contractors to fill 1,000 training-unit maintainer positions currently held by Active Duty airmen, who will then be cross-trained to work on the F-35. The service is also getting help from the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard. An Active Duty F-35 aircraft maintenance unit at Luke AFB, Ariz.—currently manned by contractors—will transition to the Reserves in 2017, Kumashiro said. The service also resequenced the F-35 beddown schedule, sending aircraft to Burlington AGS, Vt., in 2019, instead of Eielson AFB, Alaska, which will now receive them in 2020. (See also: The Readiness Conundrum from the June issue of Air Force Magazine.)
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.