The Air Force has shifted to an air and space expeditionary force (AEF) structure to organize operations. This restructuring has returned the Air Force to its expeditionary roots and led to streamlining of the ways it organizes itself and presents its forces.
An expeditionary military force by definition is one that can conduct military operations on short notice in response to crises, with forces tailored to achieve limited and clearly stated objectives. In plain language, the Air Force has taken their combat wings—Active Duty, Reserves, and National Guard— and assigned them to one of ten AEFs.
How Deployments Work
Here's a possible scenario. AEF No. 1 might be composed of F-15 or F-16 flying squadrons and maintenance or support squadrons from multiple bases throughout the United States, both active and reserve.
When it's time for that AEF to deploy, personnel from all of these different squadrons, located at different bases, will all deploy as one large organization. Everyone knows in advance when their particular AEF deployment window is, based on what AEF their wing (or base) has been assigned.
If a deployment is required within that window, the members of that AEF know they'll be the ones to go Ideally, this structure helps to eliminate most of the scenarios that led to "no-notice" deployments.
As part of the AEF, a squadron commander will receive a unit task code (UTC) that tells him or her how many 3-level apprentice supply troops to deploy, how many 5-level technician supply troops to deploy, and how many 7-level supervisor supply troops are needed for the deployment.
Ten deployable AEFs have been constituted. Two AEFs, trained to the task, are always deployed or on call to meet current national requirements, while the remaining forces train, exercise, and prepare for the full spectrum of operations.
In addition, the Air Force maintains a total of five bomber group leads (BGL) to support the on-call AEFs, as well as on-call lead wings to open expeditionary bases.
The rotation structure provides Air Force personnel a measure of predictability for their lives and stability for their training. Predictability also is key for traditional guardsmen and reservists who must balance military duties with full-time civilian employment.
The 20-month AEF cycle includes periods of normal training, preparation, and on-call or deployment eligibility. The approximate 14-month normal training period concentrates on unit missions and basic proficiency events.
The 2-month deployment preparation period focuses unit activities in the area of responsibility and specific events required for the 4-month on-call or deployment eligibility period that follows.
Following the deployment or on-call period, units will enter into a major command (MAJCOM) defined recovery period. Personnel assigned to the BGLs are on the same 20-month cycle.
The ultimate goal of the Air Force is to make sure a given AEF will be able to deploy in 48 hours—fast enough to curb many crises before they escalate. According to Air Force Vision 2020, the Air Force will be able to rapidly deploy additional AEFs—up to five AEFs in 15 days.
Information derived from Air Force Pamphlet 36-2241, Volume 1