Many US military reformers advocate merging the US military services into one cohesive force, like Canada has done. This seems logical, but there are disadvantages to centralizing huge organizations and the loss of service esprit is a factor. The political and institutional opposition to such a merger is so great that it is not worthy of consideration. However, absorbing one the the six military services is possible. Few Americans realize that the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard are also military services that are independently funded and organized.
There have been proposals to merge the Army National Guard into the Army Reserve over the years. This has met strong opposition from political, bureaucratic, and constitutional groups. Most people feel the Army National Guard affords states independence from a growing federal government and provides state Governors with manpower to deal with emergencies. This is a touchy issue not easily resolved. However, part of the "Guard" escapes notice in these debates, the Air National Guard. The Air Guard has no state function whatsoever. It slipped into existence in 1947 when the US Air Force was established and grew into a separate entity; it even has 11 musical bands. The USA has no Navy National Guard or Marine Corps National Guard, and if someone proposed the idea it would be rejected as unneeded, costly, and redundant.
There is no need for an Air National Guard; it should be absorbed in the Air Force Reserve. How many times has the Governor of Missouri called upon its F-15 fighter squadron (right) to help in an emergency? How many times have Governors called up a B-1 bomber squadron, or a KC-135 tanker squadron? There are cases where Air Guard C-130s assist state governments, yet there are also cases where Air Force Reserve C-130s assist as well. This is not a proposal to downsize Air Guard assets or personnel, although it will eliminate the 50 state Air Guard headquarters, plus the four in Puerto Rico, Guam, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands.
These headquarters serve no function in the defense of the United States or the US Air Force. They are merely a jobs program that allow Governors to promote political supporters who in turn politicize the promotion and assignment process within the Air Guard. Experienced Air Force pilots often find it difficult to secure a slot in the Air Guard because "they don't know anyone". In addition, training of Air Guard units is often disrupted by demands to support state events and provide expensive "joy rides" in military aircraft for state leaders and political donors. In many smaller states, the state Air Guard headquarters with its General has just one unit to "command". Eliminating the 54 Air Guard headquarters will free over 1000 airmen for real duties.
Another factor is the Air Guard is losing a dozen aircraft each year because the Air Force is buying fewer, more expensive, and more capable aircraft to replace older models. By 2020, the Air Guard will have half as many aircraft since the regular Air Force has few to pass down. Political battles have emerged as the Air Force attempts to consolidate units while uniformed state bureaucrats fight to retain flying squadrons, even with just four aircraft per unit. Eliminating the Air Guard overhead will help the Air Force consolidate units, although this may require political deals. For example, the full-time personnel and equipment for a half-strength Air Guard F-16 fighter squadron can merge into an Air Force Reserve F-16 unit elsewhere, while a new Air Force Reserve base security unit is established at its former location. This will cut waste while creating a unit that can actually help the US Air Force, which needs many more security police to guard remote airfields overseas during wartime.
Consolidating Air National Guard units into nearby US Air Force bases can yield tremendous savings and improve security. For example, there are eight Air Guard KC-135s using leased space at Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix while Luke AFB is 24 miles away; a few Air Guard C-130s operate from leased space at Oklahoma City's airport when the large Tinker AFB is nearby; and an Air Guard F-16 training wing at Tucson's Airport is just five miles from Davis-Monthan AFB. Maxwell AFB hosts no active duty flying squadrons and just nine Air Force Reserve C-130 aircraft, while an Alabama Air Guard fighter wing pays to use a civilian airport across town. Meanwhile, the Air Guard complains that it needs millions of dollars to upgrade facilities.
This proposal is not an attack on the fine airmen of the Air Guard, nor is it a step toward eliminating the Army National Guard. It merely recognizes that the Air Guard command and administrative structure is unneeded, and that state governments, the US Air Force, and the American people will benefit if the Air Guard is absorbed into the Air Force Reserve. This will free a thousand headquarters airmen for duty in squadrons, allow the needed consolidation of some units, and permit airmen to fill reserve positions anywhere in the nation. While leaders in Washington DC talk about "joint" bases and a "total force", they should realize that two Air Force reserve components exist. The first step toward an integrated military support structure is to merge the Air National Guard into the Air Force Reserve.
Carlton Meyer editor@G2mil.com
Eliminate State Air Forces
Right on! No state or governor needs an air force. If snowed-in cattle need hay dropped to them, a call to the White House should suffice. Here is where a cogent and flexible contingency plan needs to incorporate FEMA and the active and reserve forces. Big problem is the political patronage involved with the Army Guard and the Air Guard. I worked with the Puerto Rico Air Guard when they were a crackerjack outfit (1976-1979) but the politics involved were really something.Walt BJ
The Air Guard is Critical
I would like to take the opportunity to correct some misperceptions and incorrect facts that are cited. There are numerous statements in your article which are hasty generalizations at best and simply incorrect at worst. I will address a few of the most misleading. First of all, the actual roots of the Air National Guard do not trace to the National Security Act of 1947 and "11 musical bands" as stated in your article, but are much older than that. In fact, the first United States military aviation unit was the New York Army National Guard's 1st Signal Company, which purchased and operated the National Guard's first aircraft in 1910 with funds they raised on their own.
The early history of aviation is liberally dosed with National Guard individuals and units who flew significant missions and achieved many of the milestones we are celebrating during this 100th anniversary of aviation. (see http://www.ang.af.mil/History/Features/EarlyGuardAviation Secondly, you state that the "The Air Guard has no State function whatsoever." This is patently false. It is true that an F-15 or F-16 cannot directly perform State support, (although one could argue that the air patrols flown over home cities by the Guard are a significant deterrent and local political statement) but the wings from which these aircraft fly are composed of many other support units that are frequently involved in State missions. Our security, food service, engineering, medical, and other support units participate in State emergencies whenever needed.
These units, like their Army National Guard counterparts, maintain combat mission and mission support capability which simultaneously allows them to maintain proficiency and be able to support State missions. I would suggest this dual-capability is a great deal for the American taxpayer, and is especially important in this new age of homeland security. On a higher plane, our Guard aircraft do indeed have a significant impact on State missions, the latest example of which were the C-130's of the California National Guard's 146th Airlift Wing at Channel Islands. These aircraft were the first "military" aircraft to respond and did so in State Active Duty status; they were not federalized. Tell the people of San Diego that their Air National Guard doesn't have a State mission. Many other examples can be cited from my own home state; ice storm relief, rescue missions from Long Island, and 9/11 itself.
Third, our Reserve counterparts are far more difficult to access for State missions than the Air and Army National Guard. In order for a Governor to employ such forces, a federal disaster must have been declared and the approval of the Secretary of Defense must be obtained for the use of these 10 USC forces. The Guard, on the other hand, is immediately available when tasked. As an example, here in Colorado two summers ago, the C-130's from the AF Reserve at Peterson AFB sat on the ramp while the Hayman Fire burned over 100,000 acres only 20 miles away. Had they been National Guard instead of AF Reserve, they could have been used immediately by the Governor.
Furthermore, contrary to your
statement, there are indeed Naval Militias, and my own home State of New
The headquarters overhead, base support costs, and aircraft aging problems you cite are not isolated to the Guard. The active AF and the Reserves are experiencing the same pressures and issues. However, if you had checked the facts, you would discover that of all the Air components, the Air Guard is the cheapest way for America to maintain combat air power, primarily because our base costs are far cheaper than the AF and AFR. We do not burden ourselves with unnecessary base infrastructure you find on every AF and AF Reserve base. We do not own the hospitals, commissaries, BX's, libraries, schools, and other services that exist in the active military and the Reserves; our citizen soldiers live in the local economy and we generally operate off a civil airport with a highly favorable cost sharing and operating budget. These facts would seem to argue that Reserves should be absorbed into the Guard, not the other way around.
Finally, you briefly gloss over the most important reason for having a robust and well funded National Guard. In order to understand the mindset of the statesmen and visionaries who wrote our Constitution, it is useful to read about the debates in which they engaged both for and against a central federal government. The Federalist Papers and their lesser known but just as illuminating counterparts, the Anti-federalist Papers, provide keen insight in this area. The reason we have a Militia is not simply for military purposes, or as a force in reserve, but more importantly when taken in the context of the debates during the Constitutional Convention, as a balance against intrusive and despotic federal power. This is purely a political issue, and in that sense, the true nature of the Guard.
The points I raise above are just of the few that counter the
notion that the Air Guard does not add value for our nation and citizens. In addition, the issues you raise are far more complex then
mere turf wars, which are admittedly are a factor, but which are always a factor when resources are scarce. The true measure of merit is hard
to gauge, but I maintain that the Air Guard more than meets any standard: readiness, effectiveness, responsiveness, flexibility,
cost, and political impact. Thank you for the opportunity to comment.
Ed: I agree that reserve components are valuable, yet I disagree with the need for 54 state air guard headquarters for a separate Air Force reserve component. Modern technology (like the telephone) and the new full-time CONUS defense command (NorthCom) should allow instant nationwide disaster response without the complexity of coordinating with the numerous state Air Guard headquarters. I doubt the Secretary of Defense would object to delegating authority for mobilization of Air Force Reserve transport squadrons to the commander of NorthCom. And I'm sure states would prefer more useful helicopters for their Army National Guard, whose history you borrow for the Air National Guard.
Air Guard assets would cheaper to maintain if they utilized existing USAF bases as squadrons in the USAFR. A direct comparison will show that an Air Guard wing sharing a civilian airport is cheaper than an reserve wing requiring an Air Force Base. However, given that the Air Force base already exists, it is far cheaper for that Air Guard unit to operate from the Air Force base.
All other coastal states seem to function without a redundant "naval militia" that exists in New York. As for the political origins of the Guard, I hope you are not suggesting that Louisiana needs an F-15 squadron to deter despotic federal power. Since the despotic Feds provide for the salaries and retirement for Guardsmen, we all know where loyalties lie. Eliminating the redundant Air Guard will free some 1000 full-time airmen now lounging around state headquarters each day, as well as a few blue suiters there at NorthCom.
The Air Guard is Flawed
I agree whole hardily with your assessment of the Air National Guard. As a former member of the U.S.A.F and the Delaware Air National Guard I can attest from first hand experience of a National Guard system that is flawed with incompetence and cronyism! As well it should be noted that promotion within the Air National Guard is granted by favoritism as no standard tests are needed for promotion, unlike the Reserve and regular Air Force. As well I have witnessed numerous instances of keeping non attending members, retired, non-active and injured members on rosters and manning documents even though these members had not attended active drills for months and even years! We had one case at New Castle Air Base where an airman who was paralyzed in an automobile accident was kept on the active roster for over two years after his accident!