Will New Retirement System Affect Retention?

The new military retirement system could make retention more difficult, personnel officials told the House Armed Service Committee's military-personnel subcommittee last week.

Under the Blended Retirement System, service members can invest in a plan similar to a 401(k) and take that money and any accrued gains with them when they leave the military at any time.

"I think it will be a significant indicator on retention in the out years," Lt. Gen. Thomas Seamands, the Army personnel chief, said, according to Military Times. "I think we're going to have to fundamentally change how we address retaining talent."

He said a soldier who stays 10 years under the legacy retirement system is likely to stay 20 years. Under BRS, he said, "that dynamic could potentially change, but we won't see that probably for the next seven to 10 years. So we need to be prepared. We're thinking about it now, trying to get our heads around it."

Any service member who has joined since Jan. 1 is automatically enrolled in BRS. Others who are eligible to join BRS have until the end of this year to opt in or choose to remain in the old system. In the reserve component, those eligible to choose BRS are in paid status with fewer than 4,320 points as of Dec. 31, 2017, according to Military Times.

So far, about 11 percent of eligible service members across all services have joined BRS, the publication reported. That's about 183,000 men and women out of 1.6 million eligible for BRS.

Warrant Officers Cure for Pilot Shortage?

The Air Force is studying a report on the feasibility of returning warrant officers to the service and will provide its findings to Congress this month, Air Force Times reports. Nothing has been decided, but the service's personnel chief was looking ahead when she spoke to the publication in late March.

"This idea of warrant officers is not new," said Lt. Gen. Gina Grosso. "The Air Force . . . deliberately chose not to have warrant officers. When we talk to [Capitol] Hill, they believe some sort of warrant officer program might help with the pilot shortage. And then there's other career fields that also are interested in having a technical track."

The Air Force started phasing out warrant officers after grades E-8 and E-9 were created in 1958, according to Air Force Times. The last active-duty warrant officer retired in 1980. addressed the idea in a story about enlisted airmen becoming pilots. Will Stafford, a former staff sergeant who flew civilian aircraft while serving, said, "If the Air Force is so concerned about the pilot shortage, they should consider warrant officers in . . . the transport pilot, flight engineer, boom operator and drone pilot fields."

He once addressed the issue with Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, who was then the Air Force chief of staff, and was told the idea was not in the service's plans.

But the report that the Air Force is studying could potentially change that attitude. Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth Wright told Air Force Times in September that he was "agnostic" on the idea, but asked the service's manpower and readiness department to determine if warrant officers would make the Air Force more lethal and efficient.

"If so, I'd be OK with implementing that program," he said. "If the research proves that, in today's Air Force, if we had warrant officers in cyber, if our enlisted pilots someday become warrant officers, in space, in contracting? I can see a couple of areas where it would be beneficial to us."

Budget Provides Black Hawks, More to Guard

The fiscal 2018 budget signed into law Friday provides 20 new UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters for the Army National Guard, eight more than in the original budget request. The budget funds a total of 56 of the helicopters with $1.1 billion.

That's one of the highlights of the budget report prepared by the NGAUS legislative staff and now available on the NGAUS website here. The budget comes several months late following five continuing resolutions and a shutdown of the federal government. President Donald Trump signed the budget Friday after initially threatening to veto it.

The defense budget of $655.1 billion is $62.1 billion above the fiscal 2017 budget. It includes a 2.4 percent military pay raise that was effective Jan. 1.

The budget includes more than $405 million for recapitalization of the JSTARS program that the Air Force wants to end. The Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System mission is flown only by the 116th Air Control Wing of the Georgia Air National Guard. Congress wants the defense secretary to describe the Pentagon's plan to replace the E-8C JSTARS fleet as it begins work on the fiscal 2019 budget.

The National Guard and Reserve Equipment Account receives $1.3 billion, with $429 million designated for the Army Guard and the same amount for the Air Guard.

Army Guard military construction receives $220 million, including funding for designated projects in eight states. The Air Guard receives $171 million for MILCON, including designated funding for projects in 11 states.

Other Guard highlights in the budget are:

  • $220 million for modernization of Army Guard Humvees;
  • $12 million for Army Guard Cyber Protection Teams;
  • $639.7 million for new C-130J aircraft for the Air Force, including six designated for the Air Guard;
  • $236.4 million for the Counterdrug Program and $25 million for counterdrug training centers;
  • $30 million for the Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program;
  • $12.9 million for the Defense Department STARBASE program, and;
  • $8 million for the State Partnership Program.

The budget also includes items that will likely benefit the Guard, but include no specific allocations. These include:

  • $951.4 million for 30 AH-64E Apache helicopters;
  • $695.4 million to modernize AH-64D Apaches into AH-64E;
  • $439 million for CH-47 Chinook helicopters for the Army;
  • $103 million for the A-10 Thunderbolt wing-replacement program;
  • $144 million for C-130H modernization;
  • $209.8 million for full-spectrum electronic warfare survivability systems for the F-15 Eagle;
  • $10 million for infrared search and track for the F-15; and
  • $40 million for active electronically scanned-array radars for the F-16 Viper.

Aviation Accidents: Coincidence or Something Else?

When an AH-64 Apache helicopter crashed Friday at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, killing two Army aviators, it was the military's fourth aircraft crash in four days involving aircraft. An F-16 from the Air Force's Thunderbirds had crashed in Nevada, killing the pilot, two days earlier. One day before that, four Marines died in the crash of a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter in California, the same day a Marine AV-8B Harrier crashed in Djibouti. The pilot ejected and survived.

The accidents continue an upward trend in military aviation mishaps. A Military Times investigation published this week found a 40 percent rise in accidents-a total of 5,500-involving military aircraft from fiscal 2013 through fiscal 2017. The crashes included about 4,000 involving manned aircraft that claimed 133 lives. The numbers involving manned aircraft went from 656 in 2013 to 909 in 2017.

That period coincides with the budget cuts approved by Congress in 2013 known as sequestration. And some people believe there is a connection.

"We are reaping the benefits-or the tragedies-that we got into back in sequestration," retired Gen. Herbert Carlisle, the former commander of Air Combat Command, told the publication. He said the increase is "actually a lagging indicator. By the time you're having accidents . . . then you've already gone down a path."

Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Saturday in a statement about recent crashes, "What has been evident to me for some time is now becoming clear to the American people. The readiness of our military is at a crisis point."

He said the recent approval of a budget increase begins to turn the crisis around.

The Air Force is looking into less serious mishaps known as Class C, said Gen. Stephen Wilson, the Air Force vice chief of staff.

"We've got our safety professionals digging into it and seeing if there is a noticeable trend that we have in our Class C mishaps," he said during a Future of War Conference put on by New America and Arizona State University. He said those accidents have been trending up and are a concern to the service.

"Any Class A accident [which involve deaths, injuries or massive damage to the aircraft] is one too many," he said. "The safest year was 2014 and 2017 was our second safest year, so Class A mishaps have been trending down."

Last week, Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the Joint Staff director, told reporters at the Pentagon, "I would reject 'wave' and 'crisis.' Those are mishaps that occurred. We're going to look into each one in turn. . . . I'm certainly not prepared to say that it's a wave of mishaps or some sort of crisis."