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Research Questions

  1. What considerations affect the suitability of a given mission for assignment to the reserve components (RC) versus the active component (AC) of the Air Force? What suitability criteria can be derived from these considerations?
  2. How can these considerations be used to evaluate the optimal distribution of force structure to the AC and RC for a given mission?

The composition of Air Force active and reserve forces is often contentious, especially during a force drawdown. This report builds on previous RAND research that found that the distribution of force structure to the active component (AC) and reserve components (RC) in some missions is not cost-optimal. This document seeks to inform force composition decisions by clarifying issues that affect the suitability of missions for assignment to the RC. The authors considered information contrasting AC and RC characteristics on a variety of factors that bear on suitability of mission assignments. From these considerations, the authors distilled criteria that could be used to weigh the suitability of missions for assignment to the RC, and finally they applied these criteria to a representative set of missions.

The authors identify surge demand, the duration of activations, and continuation training requirements as the three main criteria for evaluating whether a given mission is suitable for assignment to the RC. They also identify seven other factors, such as whether the mission involves high levels of stress-related deployment or overseas basing and consideration of the need to sustain a sufficiently experienced workforce. The authors conclude with several recommendations, including changes to policies and procedures to more fully utilize the RC and more widespread consideration of cost and outcome measures in force composition decisions.

Key Findings

Three Main Criteria for Evaluating the Suitability of Missions for Assignment to the Reserve Components (RC)

  • Surge demand: Force structure is suitably placed in the RC only if there is an anticipated wartime or other episodic surge in demand for forces.
  • Duration of activations: Missions with shorter activation periods are more suitable for assignment to the RC.
  • Continuation training requirements: Missions with a pronounced continuation training requirement are more suitable for assignment to the RC.

Additional Considerations

  • Missions with high levels of stress-related deployment or high home-station operational tempo are less suitable for assignment to the RC.
  • The readiness of flying units depends on careful management of pilot experience levels.
  • To sustain a sufficiently experienced workforce, the RC relies heavily on affiliation of individuals separating from the active component (AC). As the ratio of AC to RC strenghts in a mission drops, the mission becomes less suitable for assignment to the RC.
  • The absorption of new pilots into operational units must be limited so as not to adversely impact readiness but sufficient to sustain both AC and RC pilot inventories at acceptable levels.
  • Missions with higher proportions of overseas basing are less suitable for assignment to the RC.
  • Some missions can be enhanced by engaging reservists in military duties that match or complement special competencies carried over from their civilian occupations.
  • Missions that are relevant to the needs of the states are more suitable for assignment to the Air National Guard.


  • Avoid assignment of the remotely piloted aircraft launch and recovery element mission to the reserve components (RC), and evaluate whether assignment of space and cyber missions to the RC is cost-effective.
  • Change the programming and management of Military Personnel Appropriation man-days to include consideration of costs and outputs.
  • Seek legislative changes to remove the constraints on the use of technicians, active guardsmen and reservists, and Reserve Personnel Appropriation--funded part-time reservists for duties other than training or administration of reserve forces.
  • Adopt more widespread use of cost assessments that consider costs and measured outputs, as well as wider dissemination of cost evaluation results, so that all stakeholders gain a better understanding of how costs for various outputs differ between active and reserve units and how these cost-per-output differences affect the overall costs of various force mixes.
  • Review and revise organizational constructs (i.e., classic associations vs. individual mobilization augmentee constructs vs. separate active and reserve squadrons) to improve cost-effectiveness.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the United States Air Force and conducted by RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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