WASHINGTON — The US Air Force has submitted a congressionally mandated report on force structure and integration between the active, Air National Guard and Reserve components, but work is already underway for the next wave of analysis on three key mission areas.

The report represents the service's official response to 42 suggestions laid out by the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force, a congressionally formed panel that which submitted its final report more than over a year ago.

In charge of the response to Congress was the Total Force Continuum, a full-time group of one-star generals that was stood up in the wake of Congress creating the Commission. An annual update on the progress of these recommendations is required by the service through 2019, based on congressional language.

Of the commission's 42 recommendations, the Air Force agreed with — and is working towards implementing — 25 recommendations. Some of those have already played a part in driving the fiscal 2016 budget request, including adding 3,000 positions to Reserve component end-strength, adding active associations for F-15Cs in the Guard, and growing the Reserve's share of the cyber mission.

The service is working toward implementing There are another 16 recommendations the service is working towards implementing, but needs help with issues – things such as base closures that would require congressional aid to make happen.

That leaves the sole sticking point: the commission's recommendation to shutter Air Force Reserve Command at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia. While the commissioners decided that would help streamline headquarters costs, the service's internal analysis warned that disaggregating that office would actually increase expenses.

Brig. Gen. Randall Ogden, director for the Reserve's plans, programs and requirements arm, said "if we got rid of the Air Force Reserve Command, these functions would need to be spread out through all the different [major commands] MAJCOMS in the Air Force…. Disestablishing this would not save money, but probably decentralize [operations] and potentially cost more money."

He added that the congressional staff his team has briefed on this issue has have been receptive to the service's point of view.

At the core of the continuum's studies has have been a series of "high velocity analysis," 90-day reviews of both individual weapon systems and skill sets such as lawyers and engineers. At the end of those reviews, the continuum makes a recommendation on what the force structure mix should look like.

While the majority of those are complete, there are a few which still need to be finished to help inform the fiscal 2017 budget planning cycle. And three areas that which have already been analyzed will be getting a fresh look — the fighter, bomber and rapid mobility sectors.

Intentionally or not, those three areas cover the service's top three recapitalization priorities, which are the F-35 joint strike fighter, KC-46A Pegasus tanker, and long range strike-bomber programs.

Brig. Gen. Timothy Cathcart, who represents the Guard on the continuum, said that second look will help drive decisions in the next budget. He also emphasized the need to double check those areas before making major budget moves — "measure twice, cut once," as he put it — as something that came about due to the enterprise-wide levels of risk the analysis turned up.

"In pretty much every mission area there is some level of risk, sometimes very significant levels of risk," Cathcart said. "So as we've worked through this and started to identify all these different areas, we realized the Air Force can't play whack-a-mole, because what's really going to come down to is the prioritization of all that risk.

"The Air Force is not rushing to make adjustments with every [analysis] we brief out, and instead wait and make sure we try to do it in a methodical fashion," he added.

Brig. Gen. Patrick Malackowski, the active representative on the continuum, noted that the only mission set the group analyzed and found no risk in was the Office of Special Investigations.

"Through the iterations of the high velocity analysis, we've realized that our force structure, our supply to meet the demands the Air Force is being demanded on, is way below where we'd like it to be," Malackowski said. "So that's the risk. We are not meeting our capacity as measured against the demand signal."

Catchcart also emphasized that the service is focused on having an transparent process, a far cry from the days several years ago when the active component was accused of keeping the Reserve and Guard in the dark during budget season — complaints that eventually led to Congress creating the commission to help settle the service's internal fights.

"We're going to iterate this, and make it transparent," he said.

Twitter: @AaronMehta

Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.

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