By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Sept. 14, 2005) -- Air Force senior leaders answered questions on topics ranging from the buildup of military power in China to the status of Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., during an open panel discussion here Sept. 13.
Six Air Force major command commanders joined Gen. T. Michael Moseley, Air Force chief of staff, to field those questions as part of a four-star forum during the Air Force Association's 2005 Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition.
The generals answered questions from a crowd of several hundred civilians and Airmen.
Mobility and tanker studies
General Moseley fielded the first question about the status of the air mobility and tanker analysis-of-alternatives studies. He said the air mobility study is now working its way through the Pentagon and includes options for the C-5 Galaxy and the C-130 Hercules aircraft.
The study discusses how to properly work the avionics modernization and reliability enhancement and re-engining programs for the C-5, and includes a separate study that discusses problems with the C-130E center wing box and whether that problem could appear in the C-130H. That study also includes discussion on the emerging requirement for a light cargo aircraft.
"Out of our experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq, I think all of us agree there is some utility in having an aircraft that you can get in and out (of an airfield with a runway) that is about 2,000 or 2,500 feet," General Moseley said. "(If) you can carry two pallets or so and 25 or 30 people … think how useful something like that would be down in the Gulf Coast."
The general also discussed the analysis of alternatives for the Air Force tanker replacement program. The AOA is working its way through the Pentagon, and presents several possibilities for how the Air Force can deal with its ageing tanker fleet.
"Those options are across the board, from re-engining, from new procurement, to big tankers, medium tankers, across the board options," the general said. "I don't think there is anybody … who would disagree that the key to global mobility; global intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; and global strike, on the air breathing side, is the tanker."
The China question
Gen. Paul V. Hester, commander of Pacific Air Forces, addressed concerns about the recent military buildup in China.
The general said it is impossible to know exactly what China's military is capable of in terms of purchasing power, because the U.S. doesn't know what their budget is. He did say the U.S. is capable of gleaning information about that country's military prowess based on the purchases they make from defense suppliers around the globe and the types of research and development they are doing.
General Hester also said it is important for the Air Force to make a determination as to China's long-range plans in the Pacific, and whether they will be an ally in keeping stability in the region or present themselves as rising threat.
"That will keep both our intelligence analysts as well as commanders awake at night trying to figure that out," he said. "A misstep in the region will have us in a position where we will be behind."
For the United States, General Hester said that officials must work with another growing military power in the region, India, to learn how to support them. Additionally, he said the U.S. must continue work to solidify relations with South Korea and Japan.
Hurricane Katrina decimated areas in the southern United States along the Gulf of Mexico. In Mississippi, Keesler Air Force Base, a major training installation for new Airmen, was decimated by winds and water. That installation was shut down after the storm, and formal training conducted there has temporarily stopped.
General William R. Looney III, commander of Air Education and Training Command, had visited Keesler twice since the storm. He discussed what is going on at Keesler today, and what will happen in the near future.
"(Keesler) has been referred to as a battle zone," he said. "The vast majority of the trees had come down … power was off. There was potable water, which was encouraging, but just about everything else was gone."
Training was halted, and more than 1,000 students were evacuated from the installation after the storm, though several hundred were kept at the base as part of the cleanup effort. Several hundred more volunteered to stay, to take part in the cleanup, but were ultimately evacuated.
"That's the kind of young Americans we are developing in the U.S. Air Force today," the general said.
Recovery work at the base, aided by a Red Horse squadron, resulted in power being returned, air conditioning, and water in the dining halls, all in less than six days, the general said.
"It still looks like it has had a rough time, but it is amazing the progress that has been made," he said.
Portions of the base, in particular the new buildings at the center of the installation that include student dorms and educational facilities, were left virtually untouched by the hurricane. Those new facilities had been built to withstand storms like Katrina.
The general said he expects selected classes to begin again sometime next week, mostly for students training in certain critical fields.
General Looney also said he expects to have full training back up in about two months, though there may be difficulty in securing billeting arrangements for permanent party instructors and support personnel.
The Total Force
Today, the Air Force is involved in the middle of the global war on terrorism, fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, and poised to defend the United States against attack as part of Operation Noble Eagle, said General Moseley. The Air Force is also fighting forest fires, flying hurricane missions and helping with recovery efforts in the Gulf Coast region. That effort does not rest solely on the shoulders of the active duty force, rather, it is a shared effort, he said.
He took time to allay suspicions that there are really three Air Forces in the United States, and reinforced the idea that the work done by the flying component of the U.S. military is truly a Total Force effort.
"There is a bit of urban myth out there that there is a split between the Guard, the Reserve and the active component. But I don't believe that," General Moseley said. "We are not separate tribes, we are one Air Force.
"We are doing this as a Total Force," he said. "And no other air force in the world could do the things you do and that our magnificent Airmen do out there every day."
Ensuring the Total Force -- active duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve -- can work together with the greatest efficiency is a challenge, especially with the age of the Air Force aircraft inventory, he said.
"We are sitting on the oldest inventory in the history of the Air Force, with the requirement to conduct all these ops simultaneously while recapitalizing and modernizing," the general said. "The reality is we will have less equipment, and the equipment we have got, needs to be replaced."
Part of keeping the Total Force efficient and viable means making changes in force structure and expanding synergies by consolidating flying assets. That is part of the purpose of both the 2005 round of Base Realignment and Closure and Future Total Force initiatives.
General Moseley said FTF is not about one particular component of the Total Force, but rather, about making things better.
"It is not about the active duty Air Force, or the Reserve or the Guard, it is about what's right for the country and what's right for the Total Force," he said.
Unmanned aerial vehicles
The roles of unmanned aerial vehicles such as the Global Hawk and the MQ-1 Predator are becoming increasingly more important, said General Ronald E. Keys, commander of Air Combat Command. He said as fast as the UAVs are being built they are being put downrange.
One reason for the increased importance of a UAV like the Predator is that its use has expanded beyond its original intent. The craft was originally designed as an Intelligence/Surveillance/Reconnaissance aircraft, but it can now be weaponized and has become an integral part of the Air Force arsenal.
"They are one of those things where if you had 1,000 of them, I don't think you'd have enough," General Keys said.
The challenge however is not in having more Predators, but in getting the information they provide to the right people, in particular, the soldier on the ground, he said.
"That's why we have linked up more technology with the UAV … to allow us to get that streaming video down to the (Soldier) on the ground to let them know what's around the corner before they go around the corner," the general said.
The Global Hawk is still in operational testing, with about 4,000 combat hours. It is in high demand in the Central Command area of operations, but General Keys said its use could extend to other areas, especially in conducting ISR over the broad expanses of ocean in the Pacific region.
"The staring, ruthless persistence these UAVs bring to us, make them particularly suited to that," General Keys said.
UAVs also make ideal missions for Guard and Reserve units, he said.
Guard and Reserve units involved in UAV missions can be mobilized locally, conducting most of the flying and ISR portions of the mission from their home station. Only a small contingent of Airmen would need to be sent forward to launch and recover those aircraft.