By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Oct. 12, 2006) -- Amidst fighting the war on terrorism, the Air Force remains focused on its top three priorities.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley said the Air Force is concerned primarily with fighting and winning the long war against global terrorism and militant extremism, taking care of our Airmen and their families and the overall recapitalization and modernization of aging, obsolete aircraft and spacecraft.
The war on terrorism began after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. But the Air Force has been engaged in continuous battle for much longer than the recent conflict, General Moseley said.
"We've been doing this in the Arabian Gulf in large numbers since August of 1990 when the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing deployed into the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Shield," said General Moseley.
"The Air Force has never left the Middle East. It is critical for us all to understand the following: the Air Force has been in continual combat since that time -- 16 straight years through operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Northern Watch, Southern Watch, Vigilant Warrior, Desert Fox and now operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
"In fact," General Moseley said, "we've been fighting in Afghanistan 14 months longer than the United States fought World War II. Think about that for a bit!" He also said that, "while conducting these Middle East operations, it's critical to understand that the Air Force has also conducted simultaneous combat ops in Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo and over Serbia. No other component or service can say that."
"Out of all this continued combat experience comes an incredible wealth of training, deployment, rotation, expeditionary and true combat lessons learned and an opportunity to capture things that work, reject things that don't work, and take those things on board in a programmatic and fielding sense to ensure we're providing the most modern and most combat effective training and equipment possible," General Moseley said. "And we are doing this while we are transforming, while fighting a global war, and while operating the oldest inventory of aircraft in the Air Force's history."
As the Air Force continues to be engaged in the war on terrorism, the service is changing the way it develops and trains Airmen, so they are better-prepared to fight the war, and so the service delivers a better prepared force to combatant commanders.
Those changes in personnel development begin in Air Force basic training, General Moseley said.
"Every new Airman now gets a rifle, every new Airman will qualify with that weapon, and every new Airman soon will qualify with a pistol," he said. "We're not folding as many socks at BMT any more. We are looking at what it takes to better prepare our people to operate in an expeditionary Air Force engaged in a global war on terrorism that will likely last a generation, and that's a huge set of challenges and opportunities for us."
General Moseley also said the Air Force is changing the way the service conducts occupational training. In coming years, the Air Force will consolidate many officer and enlisted career fields, resulting in Airmen with a broader set of related skills. Technical schools also will put a new emphasis on warrior skills.
"We will focus the technical schools on expeditionary skills, and focus the technical schools on what our new Airmen need to learn ... inside that family of Air Force specialty codes, because at the end-of-the-day ... these Airmen will have to be prepared to fight across all spectrums of conflict. That's our job," he said.
Also of concern to the Air Force is the requirement to recapitalize its fleet of aging, obsolete aircraft and spacecraft.
"As the Air Force executes its annual budget authority and develops its long term programs, the money is divided into one of four general areas; personnel, operations/maintenance, infrastructure/MILCON and investments," said General Moseley. "In the past the investment accounts or the seed corn to recapitalize and modernize has taken a back seat.
"That is exactly why we are operating the oldest inventory of aircraft and spacecraft in the history of the Air Force," he said. "When I (first) put this uniform on, as a cadet at Texas A&M University, the average age of the Air Force aircraft inventory was a little over eight years. That average age today is 24 and a half years. Or said another way, the aging trend on our equipment is in the wrong direction."
The Air Force is on track today to replace its fleet of aging, 1950s, President Eisenhower-era, KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft, but no tanker replacement has yet been selected. General Moseley said once a selection is made, he expects the last KC-135R will still be around for an additional 30 plus years as the new aircraft are delivered to squadron service.
"We will keep them around for a while because the (KC-X tanker replacement) won't deliver fast enough to divest ourselves of those airplanes in the short term," he said. "The Airman who flies or crews that last KC-135R has likely not been born yet. In fact, the mom of that Airman may not have been born yet. This is the cycle we must break."
Another issue facing the Air Force with regard to its fleet of aircraft is maintaining the older aircraft it would like to retire. Congressional legislation has specifically precluded the Air Force from retiring aircraft it no longer needs. These congressional restrictions on retiring obsolete aircraft include the C-5, KC-135E, C-130E, F-117A, U-2, and the B-52.
"Some 15 percent of our inventory is restricted from retirement by congressional language," he said. "The annual cost to maintain those aging aircraft increases as the aircraft get older. And, as the threat continues to evolve, these older aircraft become less combat capable and certainly less survivable. To help us turn this trend around we are working hard with the various committees, staff and members on the Hill to provide relief from the restrictive language, and we're now seeing some support."
General Moseley believes the Air Force needs the flexibility to manage its own inventory as it pursues its massive modernization program.
"Our recapitalization efforts are both monumental and critical for us to be able to defend the nation and provide the joint team with air, space and cyberspace dominance in the 21st century," General Moseley said. "Although we make it look easy, it's not. The air and space dominance we've guaranteed our ground and maritime forces for more than 50 years requires incredibly hard work from our Airmen, who deserve cutting-edge equipment to meet the challenges of the 21st century."
Those challenges begin with war fighting, but do not end there. General Moseley expects the Air Force to continue to be engaged around the world in an array of operations that demand Airmen and their equipment be more adaptive, more responsive and more expeditionary than ever.
"Our modernized inventory will complement the training initiatives we're pursuing for the nearly 700,000 active-duty Airmen, Reservists, Guardsman and civilians in the Air Force," said General Moseley. "Our Airmen are national treasures," he said. "It's amazing what they make possible and we owe it to them to ensure their success."