By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Sept. 13, 2005) -- Modernizing and investing in the aircraft inventory and technology is an ongoing process that will never go away, said the Air Force's senior-most civilian and military leaders.
During the Air Force Association's 2005 Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition here Sept. 12, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley and acting Secretary of the Air Force Pete Geren discussed recapitalization of the Air Force aircraft inventory.
Mr. Geren said the process of recapitalization and modernization can never be finished.
"Even if we buy everything we are planning to buy over the next five years, we will still have the oldest (inventory) in the history of the Air Force," he said. "If you fast forward 20 years from now, the CSAF and the SECAF will still be working that problem.
“It's particularly critical now because of the age of the (inventory) and the length of time it's been since we have made these kinds of investments, but it will never go away,” the acting secretary said. “There will never be a time where I believe we can be complacent about the need for investment in new technology."
Of particular concern today is the Air Force's aging inventory of KC-135 Stratotankers, with an average age of 44 years. General Moseley said it is critical to replace that inventory, as it is the backbone of global reach.
"There is nothing we do... without tankers," he said. "The tanker provides the entire joint team (with) reach. Whether you are refueling aircraft off of five carrier battle groups at the peak of Operation Iraqi Freedom, or assets out of the North Arabian Sea at the peak of Operation Enduring Freedom where the targets are 600 miles from a carrier deck, you need the tankers. And you need them to be reliable and to be there."
In the past year, Air Force efforts to replace the KC-135 have been delayed because of controversy surrounding the service's acquisition efforts. Mr. Geren said that controversy is in the past now, but the need for a new tanker remains, and the Air Force is committed to working with Congress to find ways to recapitalize the inventory.
"(We) recognize in the past there were problems … but we are looking ahead," Mr. Geren said. "We need the program to move ahead. We are committed to recapitalization of the tanker (inventory). We are committed to a transparent process and committed to regaining the confidence of the congress and the American public."
Also part of the recapitalization effort are fighter aircraft like the F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon and A-10 Thunderbolt II. The Air Force has plans to replace the current fighter inventory with aircraft like the F/A-22 Raptor and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Fighter, tanker and cargo aircraft all bring different capabilities to the table, but when they get older, they create similar problems for the Air Force, General Moseley said.
"With an aging inventory that begins to cost you more money, you have less operational readiness and less opportunity to deploy the force," the general said. "That's a big deal with us, and it's one of the things that keeps me up at night."