The Air Force will temporarily transition some legacy active-duty maintenance units to contract maintenance beginning in fiscal year 2017 and continuing through fiscal year 2020.
The move to contract maintenance for some legacy non-deployable flying units and back shop maintenance will allow the Air Force to cross train approximately 1,100 experienced maintainers from legacy aircraft (F-16 Fighting Falcon, A-10 Thunderbolt II, and C-130 Hercules) into the F-35 Lightning II program.
There is a shortfall of 4,000 maintainers as a result of budgetary constraints that has significantly impacted our overall maintenance manning, said Lt. Gen. John B. Cooper, the deputy chief of staff for logistics, engineering and force protection.
“Changes in the geopolitical environment also require us to maintain our current fleet, rather than divest legacy aircraft,” Cooper said. “All of this has affected our plan to transition maintenance manpower from legacy aircraft to the F-35A as originally planned.”
Cooper said contract maintenance is a short-term solution that will ensure the Air Force remains on a steady path toward full operating capability for the F-35A as the maintenance career fields grow and strengthen.
“This is one of many deliberate measures we are taking to help manage this shortage of experienced aircraft maintainers until we can grow and develop our new accessions,” he said.
Additional initiatives to manage the maintainer shortage include: increasing the number of maintenance accessions; offering selective reenlistment bonuses as an incentive to improve retention; offering experienced former Airmen the opportunity to return to active duty; offering high year of tenure extensions; implemented direct duty prior service accessions; implemented voluntary limited period of active duty; and evaluating total force manning solutions.
Locations affected include formal training units at Davis Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, and Little Rock AFB, Arkansas; A-10 Weapons Instructor Course and operational test and evaluation units at Nellis AFB, Nevada; F-16 aggressor maintenance at Eielson AFB, Alaska; aerospace ground equipment units Anderson AFB, Guam; Holloman AFB and Kirtland AFB, New Mexico; Peterson AFB, Colorado; and Rota Air Base, Spain; and avionics units at Eglin AFB and Tyndall AFB in Florida.
Beginning in fiscal 2017, the Air Force will use an existing contract vehicle to begin the transition. As contract maintainers come onboard, military members will begin moving to operational units in the summers of 2017 and 2018. As accessions grow, it will allow the Air Force to phase out the contract support by 2020.