July 9, 2009 (by Capt. Gerardo Gonzales & Deborah Silliman Wolfe) - The Air Force announced June 25 a proposed force structure realignment plan for fiscal 2010 and it includes a summary of military and civilian personnel changes and reassignment of aircraft at Air Force bases, including Luke Air Force Base.
According to the proposed plan, Luke will retire 28 F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft and lose the 549 active-duty and five civilian positions that support those aircraft.
"Plans for phasing out the F-16 fleet have been in the works for some time," said Brig. Gen. Kurt Neubauer, 56th Fighter Wing commander. "This proposal is in response to a Defense Department request for the Air Force to speed up the retirement of legacy aircraft that have exceeded their expected lifespan. It's the right thing to do because the Air Force has to posture itself for the security challenges of the future."
General Neubauer also said that reducing the quantity of legacy aircraft, such as the older F-16s, enables the Air Force to modernize a smaller but more flexible, capable and lethal fighter force and redistribute personnel to priority missions.
"The proposed reduction in force for both aircraft and personnel has not yet been finalized or approved," said Rusty Mitchell, 56th FW Community Initiatives Team director.
"Once the final numbers are approved, the thought is that most of the personnel reductions will be accomplished through attrition, meaning that people that permanently change stations out of Luke will not be replaced."
Mr. Mitchell said that there has been a lot of concern around base that these moves will happen soon and all at once, but that is not the planned methodology. Attrition is the preferred way and the majority of the moves will be handled that way.
"We have known about the aircraft draw down for some time, that's not a surprise," Mr. Mitchell said of the proposed cuts. "The personnel numbers were a bit higher than we expected but when you look at all the back-shop support that goes along with the number of aircraft to be drawn down, it is really not out of line as far as numbers are concerned."
Under the proposal five current civilian positions will be lost but eight more civilian positions will be added to support other functions on base.
In April, the Secretary of Defense announced the Air Force's retirement of approximately 250 legacy fighters, including a number of F-16s. Affected bases remain viable as there are no plans to close installations as a result of this Combat Air Forces restructuring, according to the realignment plan.
"The force structure announcement reflects our best effort to meet the expanding Air Force mission areas and growing joint demands," said Gen. Norton Schwartz, Air Force Chief of Staff.