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Future total-force concept aims to increase combat capability

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (May 28, 2004) -- Active-duty Airmen, guardsmen and reservists working together to support the Air Force mission in a war zone such as Iraq or Afghanistan is not unusual.

However, in a concept being studied at the Air Warfare Center, Airmen from all components will work together supporting the Air Force's RQ/MQ-1 Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle mission at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.

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The move is the latest by Air Force officials to increase combat effectiveness by leveraging one unit's capabilities off another's. While the overall concept is called future total force, implementation still defies definition, said the Air Force director of strategic planning.

"You can call them blended, integrated, merged, affiliated, associated or even partnered units," said Maj. Gen. Ronald J. Bath. "When you say any one of those terms, it means one thing to one person and one thing to another. But whatever you call them, this is about change -- looking to the future and transformation."

The partnership at Nellis AFB came about because the base had a shortfall in manning, and the closest pool of guardsmen to the base was in California.

"In order to get those California guardsmen down to help the Nellis AFB shortfall, we had to come up with a creative plan that would build a blended unit," General Bath said. The California Air National Guard Airmen would cross state lines to serve in Nevada.

That plan involved reconciling laws governing the federal government's operation of its military with laws governing the states' operation of their militias. Future total force being considered at Nellis AFB represents one of the three pillars of transformation under the Air Force's transformation flight plan, General Bath said.

"The Air Force identifies transformation as three things: technology, concepts of operation, and changes in organization," he said. "Future total force is a conceptual framework for how to increase combat capability by using active-duty, Guard, Reserve and civilian forces in a different way. It is a piece of organizational change."

Another example of transformational organizational change under the future total-force concept is occurring at Robins AFB, Ga.

Less than two years ago, the Air National Guard's 116th Bomb Wing and Air Combat Command's 93rd Air Control Wing merged to form the 116th ACW.

The merger increased the combat effectiveness and organizational efficiency of the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System at the base, the general said. That increase in effectiveness became the push for the Air Force to look for new ways to apply the future total-force concept.

"The Robins issue became the catalyst for coming up with new ideas," General Bath said. "We needed to come up with new ways to (use) the forces we will still maintain as the iron and missions shift. Now we have a lot of templates we are looking at. Robins and Nellis are just two of them."

One template Air Force officials are looking at is completely new. While all states have Air National Guard units, not all states have active-duty components. There are some places where it may be possible to insert active-duty people into what had been exclusively a guardsman's world, General Bath said.

"This would involve moving active-duty people to a Guard location and having them live (in) the community, and blend into the community, as opposed to having the big base infrastructure we are used to," General Bath said.

"Burlington, Vt., is one of the places we have been looking at," he said. "Burlington has an F-16 [Fighting Falcon] unit with enough ramp and infrastructure capacity for more planes. We are looking at possibly moving active-duty aircrews [and] maintainers to Vermont and having a unit up there that has more airplanes than are just in the Vermont ANG."

Such a plan would involve active-duty families living entirely within the community, without the standard infrastructure provided by an Air Force base, General Bath said. Under one proposal, grocery shopping would be done on the economy, with Airmen using a special "commissary card" to buy groceries and then being reimbursed for the difference.

The integration being considered in Vermont is not entirely farfetched, the general said, just part of the future total-force concept.

"I think that over time, all of this integration will evolve. It is part of an evolutionary process," General Bath said.

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