Cover: Options for Improving Strategic Utilization of the Air Reserve Component for Sustained Active-Duty Missions

Options for Improving Strategic Utilization of the Air Reserve Component for Sustained Active-Duty Missions

Published Sep 19, 2022

by Agnes Gereben Schaefer, Kimberly Jackson, Maria McCollester, Thomas Bush, Laura Kupe, Katherine L. Kidder, Paul Emslie, Michael H. Phan, Thomas Goughnour


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Research Question

  1. How do statutes, personnel policies, and resource policies constrain how ARC personnel are utilized to perform frequent or long-term active component operational requirements?

Since the mid-twentieth century, the U.S. military's reserve components have shifted from primarily a strategic force to today's operational force composed of both part-time and full-time members. The aftermath of the attacks on September 11, 2001, led to an increase in the demand for U.S. military forces to project U.S. power around the globe and to the emergence of the reserve components as an operational force. However, there is inherent tension and contradiction in the operational force construct, for it insists on having reserve components—which are, by definition, a part-time force to be held in "reserve"—that are also ready for conflict at any time.

The authors analyze how statutes, personnel policies, and resource policies constrain how Air Reserve Component (ARC) personnel are utilized to perform frequent or long-term active component operational requirements; suggest potential changes that would make accessing the ARC more efficient; and suggest specific strategic solutions for an operational ARC. The researchers used a mixed methodology consisting of focused legal and policy reviews, informational discussions with senior U.S. Air Force leaders, and an analysis of U.S. Air Force personnel data.

Key Findings

One of the biggest challenges of utilizing reserve component forces to support active-duty missions is the reserve component duty status system

  • This system determines the conditions under which a reserve component member can be ordered to perform duty and any requirements or restrictions associated with that duty.
  • The disruptions in pay and benefits that result from transitioning between different duty statuses were a critical complaint among interviewees.

Insufficient funding is one of the leading challenges to the ARC's ability to provide support to the Regular Air Force (RegAF)

  • Although current guidance directs Operations and Maintenance funds to support travel and per diem costs associated with Military Personnel Appropriations requirements, the execution of these funds might not necessarily synchronize as planned and budgeted.
  • Limited funding forces some commands to rely on local ARC members as often as possible, even if individuals located farther away might be better suited for the position.

A primary challenge in permeability is that ARC and RegAF members do not share the same personnel management, readiness, and pay systems

  • Errors and delays in pay often occur as members move between RegAF and ARC systems, which could affect reserve component members' willingness to volunteer for active-duty missions.
  • Members' entitlements, which include health and other benefits, differ based on their component affiliation and the duty status in which they are serving at any time.
  • Personnel and readiness data for RegAF and ARC members are stored in separate, compartmentalized systems, which makes accessing data across components difficult.


  • Further clarify the vision for the ARC and its role in the total force.
  • Ensure that the vision for the ARC and ARC inputs is tied into strategic planning processes.
  • Ensure that total force issues (e.g., force structure, employment of the ARC) flow down from this strategic vision through a deliberate planning process.
  • Consider continuing to support duty status reform to (1) align pay and benefits with the duty performed, and (2) allow volunteers and members involuntarily ordered to duty to serve under the same authority.
  • More strictly set aside funding for ARC operational support to RegAF missions, and actively limit transfers of these funds to other priorities.
  • Continue to integrate personnel and pay systems across the RegAF and ARC, and standardize data collection across components as well.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Force Management Integration and conducted within the Workforce, Development, and Health Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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