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Air Force Chief of Staff



The Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium (Orlando, FL)


February 27, 1998


Building an Expeditionary Aerospace Force

It is a pleasure for me to be here today with many old friends in the Air Force Association who have contributed so much to the Air Force and to our nation through the years. I always enjoy coming to these AFA symposiums. You do such a superb job in putting this on.

It allows us to combine our Corona meeting of the Air Force leadership to discuss and plan how our Air Force can tackle the challenges of today and into the 21st Century, and at the same time interface with our great supporters in the AFA and industry. We also use the occasion to meet with the leadership of the Canadian Air Force to discuss areas of mutual concern and exchange solutions to challenges for both our air forces.

The Air Force has faced many challenges during the past eight year period of downsizing the force. But, what has not downsized during the past eight years has been the incredible commitment and performance of our Air Force people as they meet the challenges of this unstable world. It has grown. During this period our aircraft have landed in every country in the world except five. Those either didn’t have real runways or they had a dispute with the U.S. that perhaps generated a visit in other ways.

Despite an active duty force size which has decreased 36 percent since the end of the cold war, our deployments have increased four fold. Today as I speak we have over 14,000 personnel deployed overseas to support operations in all parts of the world. In Saudia Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Diego Garcia, Vicenzia, Tuzla, Tazar, Korea, and many others. Always alert, ever ready to respond, to the tickle of a search radar, the rattle of a SAM, or the wrenching turn to intercept an unknown, vectoring their way.

It’s a team effort: airborne and on the ground – Transports, Tankers, AWACS, JSTARS, CAP, Bombers, SEAD, Space, Recce, Command and Control, maintenance, and support -- active duty, guard, reserve and civilians. A collage of airmen and machines in an integrated force, performing in a profession that can turn deadly in the blink of an eye. It’s your Expeditionary Aerospace Force doing its job. Air Force professionals at their peak of preparedness.

I’ve just returned from Southwest Asia where we have almost 9,000 of our men and women deployed. You would be so proud of their professionalism and unsung sacrifice.

For the most part they are living in austere conditions, the majority in tent cities they themselves erected and maintain. Many are on their third or fourth tour and are just a portion of the many Air Force members who will spend one out of the next three years away from home.

The bed-down location I visited in the Gulf region is typical. On the ramp are several C-5s off-loading the needed equipment and spares for sustained operations. There are KC-135 Tankers from Grand Forks . . . F-16s from Moody . . . F-15s from Eglin . . . and B-1s from Ellsworth.

Together, they form the 347th Air Expeditionary Wing, an Air Expeditionary Force we deployed there in November of last year. They’re still there, monitoring the no-fly zone in Iraq, and ready for any contingency you can throw at them. Flying their aircraft hard and fixing them when they break.

The first thing you notice when you approach the base is that force protection is of the highest order. You can’t get to the compound without passing a checkpoint five kilometers from the gate, which itself sits hundreds of yards from the perimeter of the living area, and is protected by the latest intrusion sensors developed by our Force Protection Battle Lab in San Antonio. To gain entry, not only are your credentials double checked, but your car is subjected to multiple searches including the most reliable device for finding explosives yet devised -- our K-9 corps.

You then cross a no-man’s land that ends in a tent city, where streets are cleverly named and signs read "keep off the sand." Sleeping 8 to 10 to a tent, privacy is minimal and trust is essential. The hardships shared are the foundation of enduring relationships. What holds it all together is leadership. From the Commander, who in this case is Brig Gen L. D. Johnston from Moody, right down to the flight line supervisors, teamwork is essential.

Each morning brings the hope of discovering new ways to make things better for the young men and women who live there. Each day brings new operational challenges and successes. Each night brings the realization that the next day could bring combat to bases across Southwest Asia. They do their job, patrolling the skies of Iraq, as fellow airmen do likewise from Turkey in the North. And others do their jobs in Bosnia, or Korea. Ever vigilant -- Ever prepared.

Our Air Force is naturally suited for the expeditionary role. As John Jumper showed, we have a strong expeditionary heritage – in Mexico in 1916, in France during World War I, in North Africa, China and Burma during World War II, and during the Cold War, with bomber and fighter reflex operations into Europe and Africa.

Each time the Air Force has shown its unique ability to overcome difficulties and adapt. We did well, given the times. We displayed Herculean efforts to overcome the challenges of terrain and distance. The threats of the next century require us to overcome the next challenges -- the challenges of time and tempo.

We must focus our efforts on developing the process, the structure, the procedures, and most importantly the mindset to be expeditionary.

What does it mean to be an expeditionary Aerospace Force? It means having a force that is fully capable of utilizing the unique aspects of air and space power – range, speed, flexibility, and precision to their fullest capacity. Not where we live, but where we are needed. Not when we can, but when we must.

It means having a force which is light, lean, and lethal. Light - so that it can move rapidly and efficiently to where we are required, as Walt Kross discussed. Lean - so that we can move with fewer airlift resources. It means operating out of any location with a smaller footprint which requires less support and fewer lives put in danger. Lethal - to accomplish the mission, whatever it is, effectively, with minimum resources, as Dick Hawley discussed.

Most importantly, being expeditionary means having a force which is mentally prepared, procedurally sound, technologically advanced, appropriately organized, adequately supported and competently led.

You’ll also notice the growing use of the word Aerospace. I prefer the Aerospace Force to Air and Space Force because it captures the seamless nature of the vertical dimension and highlights that it is one environment. Because of our commitment to integrate all the elements of aerospace power, I am not satisfied that the only thing which holds air and space together is a conjunction. As the young sergeant said in the film earlier, "Space is just a little higher."

Being an efficient expeditionary Aerospace Force is not a vision. It is the fact that we are so interdependent for the capabilities that are both atmospheric and orbital that they cannot be artificially separated. They are both part and parcel of what our service brings to national security.

Being an expeditionary aerospace force is what our nation needs our Air Force to do. And, over the last eight years, we’ve adjusted to meeting that need within the margins that we can control.

Let me recount what Air Force leadership, with the unwavering support of this organization and our partnership with industry has done.

We’ve restructured into an objective combat structure for global reach and global power.

We’ve arranged our command structure to align with our joint responsibilities, assuring that every CINC has an air commander to command aerospace forces.

We’ve provided those regional air commanders with the situational awareness and air and space expertise to execute their missions.

We’ve provided our air commanders with the aerospace operations centers, both fixed and deployable, that are capable of planning and executing aerospace operations, both as air components and as JFACCs.

We’ve written the doctrine that describes the relationships and responsibilities of commanders, charged with the deployment and employment of aerospace power.

We’ve trained our air commanders to command at the operational level of war and peace.

We’ve equipped the force with the most potent arsenal of equipment and weapons the world has ever seen.

And we’ve produced an enduring vision of our gateway into the 21st century -- Global Engagement – which lays out our core values, competencies for the decades ahead, and charges our people to apply their innovative powers for real progress.

In short, we’ve made great strides in melding our mobility, combat, space, and support forces into a unified whole – an aerospace force – an expeditionary aerospace force. And we’ve executed every mission we’ve been given – from the Persian Gulf to Bosnia to Haiti to Korea to Africa.

We were not able to do this without a price, a price partially paid by our most precious asset, our people. They suffer the strain of being an aerospace expeditionary force. A strain felt in equal measure by our support forces both deployed and at home.

Our cold war concept transitioning to our two regional war scenario has ill- prepared us for the expeditionary demands of these lesser regional contingencies. Our 36 percent drawdown of forces has not been matched by a commensurate drawdown in base structure leaving our forces spread thinly across multiple bases.

For instance, we have 12 TAC Fighter Wings in the active forces but they are spread over almost twice that many bases. That leaves us with operational units that lack depth for the demands of deployment and the reserve for home base operations. We need to consolidate our forces into viable larger units for expeditionary sustainment. And our support forces are meeting themselves coming and going, literally.

We have been stuck in a cold war basing paradigm that had, as its basis, that if we need to fight a theater war we would deploy the forces and support, win the conflict, and return victorious. Meanwhile the bases we stripped of support for our deployed forces would just have to make do. But the security demands of the world we live in are not cooperating with the paradigm and will not in the foreseeable future.

We’ve opened multiple expeditionary bases in areas of vital interest to our nation. By taking the support from our fixed home bases, we’ve opened expeditionary bases in Bosnia. We’ve bedded down forces in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, UAE and Diego Garcia for Southwest Asia. We are executing similar, but smaller, support operations in Korea and Latin America. All of these come from a support base we have never sized for expeditionary contingencies.

We have been taking it out of our hide. So our people have had to manage continued operations shorthanded at home bases while supporting deployed operations. Home bases must still be guarded, the remaining aircraft maintained and flown. The families still need medical attention and the remaining forces must still train. In short, we’ve been over-extended for eight years and that must change. How do we change to meet that challenge? The operational answer is we must regroup our forces and their support into robust bases – bases where we can have the depth and breadth of both operational and support forces to deploy and still retain viable operations and support.

The bottom line is that we need a BRAC – a Base Closure and Realignment -- that will allow our nation’s aerospace force to arrange itself into a strong, light, lean and lethal expeditionary force. It won’t be easy, it won’t be politically pleasant and it won’t be popular. Bur for the national need, it is a necessity. We need it not just for the money it saves, but as an operational necessity for our forces and to lessen the hardships on our people.

As we move into the 21st century it will take leadership and cooperation at all levels of government and industry to mold our air force for the national security demands of the future. We have the finest people and the greatest potential to be a dominant power for our nation’s peace and prosperity both for this generation and those to come.

I challenge each of you in this room to help us move toward that vision. A unified expeditionary aerospace power – one team – one force – one family – our great air force.