The Air Force has deployed almost every active duty and most Air Guard and Reserve aerial refueling units it has—and mixing the airmen as needed—to accommodate operations in the war on terror, reports Capt. Wes Ticer. The Southwest Asia-based 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron currently comprises crews from eight bases in the US—including two Air Guard bases—and two overseas bases. Lt. Col. Tom Riney, commander of the 340th EARS says, “We are a very young active duty crew forces, and our Guard and Reserve crews round out our total force team by providing the experience and expertise that only years of flying can bring.” Riney praised the tanker maintainers for keeping the elderly KC-135s in shape to fly the hectic pace and the boom operators for being on their “A game” to make the transitions needed to go from refueling fighters to large aircraft and back again on nearly every mission—which he said presents “serious challenges.”
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.