By Air Force Capt. Darin Overstreet
Colorado National Guard
BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (12/15/10) – The director of the Air National Guard told members of the 140th Wing here that the future may include more associate units with its active duty and reserve counterparts.
"I think what you're going to see, as far as associations go, is a continued interest in standing up more associate units," Air Force Lt. Gen. Harry M. “Bud” Wyatt III said during a visit on Dec. 14.
“Our experience level … is significantly higher than the active component’s,” he said. “We have the opportunity through associations to leverage that experience to make both components stronger.”
He also addressed other topics of interest to Airmen, including the future of F-16 Fighting Falcon and F-35 Lightning II aircraft in the Colorado Air Guard, decreasing force structure, the Air Sovereignty Alert mission and ancillary training requirements.
First, delays in F-35 production forces units, like the 140th Wing, to maintain legacy aircraft.
Wyatt said the high skill level of Air Guard maintainers gives him great confidence that they are up to the task.
"We have a timing issue where some older planes may not last long enough to get us to that time where the new airplanes come into the inventory,” he said. “What does that mean for like the 140th? We're going to have to roll up our sleeves, (and) we're going to have to double our efforts to maintain those F-16s."
Another alternative being discussed is to modernize the F-16 fleet (namely the Block 40 and 50 F-16s), which will help to extend their lifecycle.
Wyatt added that the Air Guard must receive the new F-35 aircraft at the same time as active duty units.
"We need the airframes to continue to support our mission,” he said. “In order for us to remain operational, to do the job that the Air Force expects us to do, in order for us to support the active duty in their operations tempo, we have got to fly the same aircraft with the same capabilities, we've got to have access to those airplanes.
“They have to be bedded down in the Air National Guard concurrently or at the same time that they are bedded down in the United States Air Force, and it's got to be done in a sufficient quantity so we can continue to be a support to the (air expeditionary force) rotations at the same time we perform the missions we are required to do in the states, just like Air Sovereignty Alert,” Wyatt said.
“We are a grassroots organization; that's where our strength is.”
The Air Guard is also the most cost-effective force in the U.S. Air Force, which is very important in these tough economic times – and that gives Wyatt hope for the future.
“The Air National Guard can operate (the flying operations) of 66 to 67 wings for about the same amount of money that it costs the United States Air Force to operate one Air Force base,” he said. “When you consider that about 70 percent of our force is drill status and they don’t cost the federal government anything until they’re performing duty, that they maintain that robust capability and capacity, the country has got to hang on to us.
“I like where we (the Air National Guard) are in these tough economic times.”
However, he said, change is inevitable. A decrease in force structure will come as the defense budget shrinks by nearly one-third.
“There are some downward pressures, and there will continue to be some downward pressures,” Wyatt said. “We cannot expect to add any manpower authorizations to the Air National Guard.
“We realize that as we ease back down to full end-strength, most of you are resourced to the tune of about 85 percent of what you need to get your job done, and that’s tough for you to do.”
Wyatt said in these tough economic times, the Air Guard must focus on the missions that “we, no kidding, have to do.”
“We’re at that point in our history where we don’t have the money to pay for stuff ‘out of hide,’” he said. “We have to be part of mission accomplishment and to do that we have got to focus on doing those high priority missions to the best of our ability.”
One example of a high priority mission is the Air Sovereignty Alert (ASA) mission, which is performed by the Air Guard at 16 of 18 ASA locations.
Finally, a common complaint from Airmen is the high level of ancillary training requirements, which take up much of drill weekends and can prevent needed functional area training.
“How do we expect you to be mission ready, mission capable when we keep piling all this ancillary training on top of you?” Wyatt asked.
He added that ancillary training is now on the agenda for major command commanders to discuss at the next Corona meeting in February.