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Air Force Plans 11,000 Layoffs in Next 2 Years : Defense: The first notices of shortened tenure will go out this month. Budget cuts and the changing world situation are blamed.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Air Force, acknowledging for the first time that looming defense cuts will cause major layoffs within its ranks, said Friday that new personnel policies will force as many as 11,000 uniformed personnel out of the service during the next two years.

Affected servicemen and women will begin receiving notice of their shortened tenure at the end of this month, Air Force officials said.

Under orders from Defense Secretary Dick Cheney to make deep spending cuts in coming years, the Air Force plans to reduce its roster of 566,528 active-duty servicemen and women to about 465,000 by 1995, an 18% reduction.

While the Army already has said that it will be forced to lay off as many as 74,000 soldiers, the Air Force previously had predicted it would be able to pare its personnel rolls through retirements and by limiting new recruits.

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The Air Force outlined its plans as members of Congress and Cheney, after a two-month deadlock, struck an agreement Friday on a budget matter that will avert immediate cuts of as many as 70,000 military personnel.

The compromise, negotiated by Cheney and House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.), would allow the Pentagon to transfer $800 million to personnel accounts from a variety of weapons programs, including a nuclear-tipped short-range missile originally designed for deployment in West Germany.

Defense officials have said the funding shift, which had been opposed by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Les Aspin (D-Wis.), was needed to cushion the potentially devastating effects of 1990 budget cuts dictated by the Gramm-Rudman deficit-reduction law. By winning Foley’s support, Pentagon officials said they were confident that Aspin also would accede to the compromise.

The Air Force, which plays a leading role in manning and maintaining the nation’s arsenal of strategic nuclear weapons, had hoped to avoid involuntary personnel reductions. But planned cuts in those programs, as well as in tactical aircraft and military transport fleets, will be deeper than initially expected, forcing the service to take more drastic steps.

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In responding to Cheney’s budget-cutting mandate, the Air Force has said it must cancel plans to deploy 50 MX missiles on rail cars and to place 500 new single-warhead missiles on mobile launchers. Air Force Secretary Donald B. Rice recently told Congress that the service probably also would have to reduce its force of tactical warplanes from 36 wings to 30.

“It is clear the Air Force will become smaller, because of changes in the world situation and changes in budget priorities,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Larry D. Welch in a memorandum announcing the decision. “It is inevitable that the same people will be adversely affected by the changes. But for most, the news is not bad.”

The services must receive congressional approval to institute the new involuntary retirement policies for officers. But they can initiate personnel policies affecting enlisted people and noncommissioned officers immediately.

To reduce its senior noncommissioned officer rolls by as many as 5,500 men and women, the Air Force plans to limit the time that such soldiers are allowed to stay in the service once they stop climbing through the ranks. A similar limit would reduce the number of lower-ranking sergeants in the service by as many as 3,000.

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In addition, about 2,500 relatively senior officers--lieutenant colonels and colonels--would be affected by the proposed policy changes.

Once the new policies are in place, Air Force senior master sergeants will be permitted to stay in the service for no more than 26 years--down from 28 years. Technical sergeants and master sergeants will be forced to leave after 20 and 24 years, respectively--down from 23 and 26 years currently.

Sergeants, who tend to be younger and have less seniority, will be limited to 10 years of service in the Air Force if they have been passed over for promotion.

The service also proposed to turn out of the Air Force lieutenant colonels who have been passed over for promotion two or more times and colonels who have served in their grades for four or more years.

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There is growing sentiment in Congress that servicemen and women subject to such departures should receive better assistance in making the transition to civilian life. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, plans to introduce a bill next week that would give laid-off enlistees some severance pay and unemployment benefits equal to those available to civilians in similar circumstances.

“There’s enormous uncertainty out there and we’ve got to, at the very least, assure these men and women that if they are separated from the service involuntarily, they can expect some transition assistance,” McCain said in an interview. “We have an obligation to cushion the impact on them of events over which they had no control.”


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