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Prioritize Strategic Depth and Accelerate Readiness

  • Published
  • By Commander’s Action Group
  • Citizen Airman Magazine

The reason the Air Force Reserve exists is to provide manpower and capabilities to support and defend this nation. This mandate spans the entire spectrum of operations, so we must be prepared to respond to any potential scenario. As a military organization, our primary focus is combat and operational readiness. However, threats to national security are not limited to adversarial forces. We cannot limit our focus to just combat readiness. Ultimately, our mission is to respond when needed to any scenario or requirement.
Lt. Gen. Richard Scobee, Chief of the Air Force Reserve

At the end of fiscal year 2021, the Air Force Reserve met its annual end-strength goals. While end strength provides a snapshot of the number of Reserve Citizen Airmen currently serving, it provides little insight into strategic depth. Assessing the readiness of the Air Force Reserve solely by end strength is like trying to predict who will win the Super Bowl three years from now by counting the number of players on a team.

It is not simply a straightforward accounting of personnel on the team roster. Determining readiness of our force is equally complex. To help minimize complexity, the Prioritize Strategic Depth and Accelerate Readiness Team has concentrated on assessing the health of each career field, developing standardized unit health measurements and ensuring robust exercise planning so that when Reserve Citizen Airmen are needed to respond they are ready.

Career Field Health

One significant advancement in assessing career field health is AFRC’s Functional Area Management Toolkit. The FAM Toolkit is a business intelligence software tool that was developed at AFRC headquarters. 

It fuses data from across personnel, readiness, financial and medical systems to provide near real-time information on the number of personnel on each duty status. Every career field management is now able to use the FAM Toolkit to look at staffing levels by Air Force Specialty Code and location, allowing them to make decisions about how to positively affect career field health.

Visualizations can also help to detect trends and take corrective action. Additionally, the FAM Toolkit can help to better understand nuances in the data. For example, maintenance staffing might be at 100% enterprise wide. However, it may not tell the entire story as one maintenance squadron may be staffed at 120% while another is staffed at 80%. This could create an illusion of adequate staffing across the enterprise. The FAM Toolkit allows career field managers to drill down into the data and better understand this context.

An additional part of maintaining AFSC health is ensuring FAMs are trained to use data analytics to assess career field health. Many FAMs are one-deep positions, leaving the potential for significant gaps in coverage at headquarters. 

To mitigate these gaps, the Strategic Priorities Team developed meaningful standardized processes for FAMs to provide coverage across career fields. Additionally, the team developed formal training for all FAMs through the Professional Development Center to increase FAM proficiency, allowing them to better serve their career fields.

Unit Health

Most units consist of a variety of AFSCs. A unit’s staffing, when viewed as just a percentage rate, may not be indicative of overall unit health, depending on vacancies and overages. Further, looking at just the staffing rate does not take into account skill levels, dwell time between deployments or medical profiles.  

The Force Availability Utilization Tool was developed to provide better insight into readiness through a unit-level dashboard to help command teams focus on areas impacting readiness. Part of the building of the FAUT was to develop measures of effectiveness to help leaders focus their efforts to improve readiness.

Additionally, the FAUT provides both leadership teams and FAMs the ability to examine how units are being employed. The FAUT uses this information to forecast unit readiness. This feature helps FAMs better understand projected readiness, preventing them from overcommitting units for deployments at planning conferences. 

Exercise Planning

A final part of prioritizing strategic depth and accelerating readiness is exercise planning. In 2019, the Force Generation Center began the Deliberate Planning of Exercise process. DPEX optimizes readiness by centralizing planning for participation in large force exercises at the FGC. 

Instead of an ad hoc voluntary process, DPEX matches projected deployments with large force exercise objectives 18 to 24 months ahead of time. DPEX also works to ensure funding for exercises to avert budgetary shortfalls. DPEX manages limited exercise opportunities and resources to provide just-in-time training to units.

In addition to DPEX, AFRC has published its commander’s training guidance and a strategic training plan. This guidance has already shaped internal exercise planning at every level of the Air Force Reserve. For example, Rally in the Rockies, a collaborative effort between 10th Air Force, 22nd Air Force and the Army National Guard, practiced specific objectives for austere operations such as landing aircraft on a length of highway.  

These practices have been visible across the command with C-17s from Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, practicing for operations in contested air space, C-130s from Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Georgia, working out of austere air fields, and medical teams at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, practicing for mass casualty events with local law enforcement. 

Prioritizing strategic depth and accelerating readiness is foundational to the Air Force Reserve. Every Reserve Citizen Airman makes contributions to this effort to ensure we are ready when our nation needs us.

A ready, credible and lethal Reserve force is a deterrent against potential adversaries. The recently published National Defense Strategy is clear in its focus on our role. The Air Force Reserve is an essential component of the Joint Force and must be continually ready to operate against pacing threats in contested and austere environments.

To ensure Reserve Citizen Airmen are prepared, we are accelerating readiness and prioritizing strategic depth by training and equipping FAMs to maintain career health, providing tools for command teams to assess unit health, and ensuring meaningful training in exercises at every level.

“We need to ensure we have real-time data on career field health and unit health to make informed decisions on deployments and resource allocation,” said Maj. Gen. Matthew Burger, AFRC deputy commander. “Developing tools to enable more analytical rigor in near real-time will provide more granularity in understanding the readiness posture of the Air Force Reserve. Additionally, thoughtful and deliberate exercise planning will provide realistic training against high-end threats that we face in a security environment defined by strategic competition.”