NEWS ANALYSIS: Mechanic Shortage Grounds Air Force

By Joseph J. Honick
Joseph J. Honick
Joseph J. Honick

           The headline in today's [Oct. 30, 2014] Wall Street Journal jumped right off the page at me:  "Air Force Says Bombing Worsens Staff Shortage."         

         

Translation: a relatively limited campaign against ISIS revealed the impact of airplane maintenance experts…a gap the WSJ says is “rekindling tensions with Congress about how to manage the nation’s combat aircraft.”

          In other words, if we cannot handle what should be medium size demands from such a limited conflict, what if we had to meet the massive pressures of any more complex war? 

Surely this unusual story must have been music not only to Russia’s Putin but must also have jangled the nerves of our overly dependent newly minted Arab friends who have been heavily dependent on American support. 

And what of the so-called “coalition” members who must have been promised as yet undisclosed deals to join in the ISIS attacks?

          According to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee Jones in the Journal article, “We believed we were going to have a bit of a pause coming out of Afghanistan”….”Now we are flying the pants off those aircraft with no end in sight.”

          Imagine that!  Anyone surprised here?

          Perhaps the revelations of nearly $200 billions for the Raptor aircraft not really ready for prime time, or the massive overruns on the vaunted F-35 not up to snuff but certainly up on the expense scale, along with the suggestion we may have to prematurely retire the A-10 on which lots of dough has been spent….maybe all these realities are only the surface of the larger and deeper realities.

          The Journal also goes on to say “Congressional experts say it is a short-term problem because mid-level experts can be trained in a couple of years.”

          A couple of years?!  That bears repeating:  a couple of years?! 

          Given the reality of how many different and ill-planned scrapes we’ve managed to get ourselves into, two years can not only be a perilous strategic lifetime, but the revelation that there is a lot lacking in communications, cooperation and leadership among not only the military but both political parties, the last of whom more bent on knocking each other off than concerned for the nation’s mid and long term security.

          Much of this perilous situation can be laid at the feet not only of the current White House but from the day we decided to invade Iraq and then Afghanistan in two fruitless but terribly costly wars, making the past four presidential terms a lot less reliable than even expected…regardless of party.

          What then must be done?  Certainly any enemies we have, and they seem to be growing, are going to laugh at the limitations recited here and aren’t going to give us some time off to fix the air maintenance problem just to be nice. 

           But do not be surprised if a passel of private defense contractors suddenly appear, for healthy fees of course, to fill the void, almost like the private military operations that found themselves into the Iraq/Afghanistan operations until exposed.

                                                     * * *

Honick is president of GMA International Ltd with offices on Bainbridge Island, WA.  He is an international consultant to business and writes on a variety of public affairs issues.

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