Experience, Efficiency, and Risk

March 1, 2011

Lt. Col. Tim Moses, like his fellow Air Guardsmen at the Toledo, Ohio, 180th Fighter Wing, wears many hats, and depending on the day and the circumstance, you could find him in the cockpit of an airliner or behind the controls of an F-16 chasing one down in US airspace.

“We respond to threats, all types of situations,” Moses, the wing’s air sovereignty alert (ASA) commander and a Delta Air Lines pilot in his civilian job, said in December. Many of the pilots in the wing’s 112th Fighter Squadron, in addition to being volunteers, are also civilian pilots with years of experience flying in both domestic airspace and abroad, while deployed with the squadron. The average major in the unit has around 1,000 flight hours under his belt already, a number any active duty squadron would be pleased to tout.

As part of his duties, Moses oversees aircraft for the alert rotation, their maintenance, the security forces, coordination with civil authorities, and air traffic management—not counting what happens when he takes off on alert, dispatched by NORAD and 1st Air Force.

An F-15 maneuvers into position beneath the refueling boom of an Air National Guard KC-135. (USAF photo by Amn. Whitney Amstutz)

On the ground at Toledo Express Airport, Moses is an Air Guardsman in what is known as Title 32 status: in service of his state’s adjutant general, who answers to the governor. Moses said, “As soon as we are on an active scramble, we are put into a Title 10 status,” the legal designation for Guard forces employed under the auspices of the President—no different than when his unit mobilizes for an overseas deployment.

It is this combination of responsibilities—at one moment, a part-time Guardsman, and a moment later operating on the front lines of Operation Noble Eagle or even deploying abroad—that has brought the health of the Air Guard to the forefront.

Meeting Critical Missions

“We are the most capable ANG we’ve ever been,” said Lt. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III, director of the Air Guard, in a December interview. Since the Guard is now so closely tied to its active component partners, both deployed and in homeland defense operations, Wyatt said many of the problems are familiar, such as older equipment needing recapitalization while also transitioning out of some missions and getting into others that will be critical to the Air Force’s future.

All of the expansion has come with a cost. In addition to the painful BRAC losses of legacy fighter missions, for example, the Air Guard now owns 30 percent less airlift than it did when response efforts to Hurricane Katrina mobilized in 2005. As a result of planned reductions in the C-5 fleet, the Air Guard will lose 12 C-5As from Stewart ANGB, N.Y., by 2012. They will be backfilled eventually by eight C-17s, USAF announced in November. More announcements are anticipated.

At a November 2010 senior leadership conference, with all states and territories represented, the ANG posed itself a question: “2025: Are We Ready?” The point of the question, Wyatt said, was to re-evaluate the state of the force today and how it got to the point of being an operational force tied closely with today’s wars.

The Air Guard is more tightly tied to the health of the active duty Air Force than ever before—and is critical to meeting missions at home and around the world. The Department of Defense plans and constructs should be updated to reflect this reality, some leaders suggest. “If I had been here four or five years ago, … before our last round of [base closures], I would have said that most of our states’ territories would have fought to the death to preserve those missions that we had for 50 years, 55 years,” said Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau, last September.

SrA. Jordan Gunterman crouches on the cargo ramp of an ANG C-130 at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Since 9/11, more than 146,000 Air Guardsmen have deployed overseas, many more than once. (USAF photo by Capt. Erick Saks)

In the five years since the last BRAC round, the NGB and ANG, working with the states and senior Air Force leadership, have embraced new concepts, missions, and ways of doing business. “Our airmen have understood that to survive in the 21st century, we’ll need to transform ourselves, we’ll need to be adaptable, we’ll need to be versatile,” McKinley said.

By the end of this year, the restructuring from the 2005 BRAC legislation will be complete. But questions about force shaping remain unanswered—as does the Guard’s future role in the Total Force. Sharing equipment and missions is no longer an option, many in the Guard feel.

Wyatt noted in December he is in talks with USAF leadership to try to build an “active associate” concept with some of the Guard’s C-27J units, as they are now solely owned by the ANG. Beyond the utility, the reason is simple and the flip side of the Guard’s efficiencies: A mission that becomes the sole province of the Guard is one that could decay over time, as it is the province of Guard funding streams.

Unlike in the past, as with the F-22 program, the Guard and active duty need to be involved with developing platforms and capabilities from the get-go, and should not have to play catch-up later on, Wyatt noted. After years of duty in an operational expeditionary force construct, most Air Guardsmen are not looking to return to the days of hand-me-downs, nor can the Guard become an organization primarily associated with the homeland defense mission, as its unique capabilities would suffer as a result.

“It leads you down a road of becoming a single source operation,” McKinley said when asked of the possibility of the Guard being a dedicated homeland defense force. “It leads you down the road of becoming more of a constabulary force that would not serve the nation well or as effectively.”

This fact is at the root of the modernization problems facing the Air Guard and USAF’s remaining legacy fighter fleet, particularly those that perform the ASA mission. While ASA units do fly homeland defense, the range of scenarios and threats faced are diverse. Also important to remember is that these same aircraft remain integral to the air and space expeditionary force (AEF) construct and domestic Title 10 operations, meaning the units must be ready for everything from disaster relief to full-scale combat operations.

Lt. Col. David Garner, a Florida Air National Guardsman and F-15 pilot by background, is the deputy chief of the combat operations division at the 601st Air and Space Operations Center at Tyndall AFB, Fla., the nerve center for 1st Air Force’s homeland defense and air sovereignty activities in the US. Garner ensures units such as Moses’ have the assets and tools required to carry out alert sorties, respond to radar intercepts, and if necessary, transition to large events—such as providing security for the Vancouver Olympics in Canada in February 2010.

Looming Fighter Bathtub

As Guardsmen, “we are the manning pool, [but] it’s a seamless venture.” When a Title 10 event occurs, we put on our authorizations, Garner said, but if you came in off the street, you couldn’t tell who was Guard or active duty. There’s a great amount of continuity and coordination, he said.

To carry out air defense, however, airplanes are needed—and it appears the ANG and USAF will be keeping some around longer than planned.

ANG and USAF officials anticipate new investments in the force’s F-16 fighter fleet beginning in the Fiscal 2012 budget. However, Wyatt said in December, the extent of these improvements to the service life of older F-16s and increased capability in newer blocks will be closely tied to the health of the F-35 program.

Two C-130s from the Wyoming ANG wait on the ramp at Bagram, before embarking on a mission. (Photo by Clive Bennett)

The problem has been several years in the making, exacerbated by the F-35’s sluggish development program. “About two to three years ago, mainly the [Air Guard] was saying, ‘Hey, we have a looming fighter bathtub and gap between when the F-35 comes in and the F-16s begin to age out,’ ” Wyatt said. This was before the program experienced a schedule slip of 13 to 15 months last year. There are renewed indications, as of December, that Defense Department acquisition boss Ashton B. Carter’s programwide Joint Strike Fighter review will feature unwelcome news. “We think there will be some sort of announcement pretty soon, [that] there will be a further delay in the ramp up to [F-35] full production,” Wyatt said.

While USAF and the Air Guard are now moving out on sustaining the legacy fleet, Wyatt and others hasten to point out that ASA fighters do more than respond to domestic alerts, and many units are written into operations planning for overseas contingencies and could be mobilized to fight in a crisis. “We can’t just discount the [ASA] fleet.” They do alert, air and space expeditionary force rotations, and are “written into plans,” Wyatt said.

The Air Force remains committed to the F-35 as the future of its tactical air fleet, said then-Lt. Gen. Philip M. Breedlove in November, when he was serving as the Air Staff’s head of operations, plans, and requirements. “We have already begun the discussion of how we move the current tacair fleet to the right, in time, such that we maintain that operationally viable capability that we need,” he said. The specific fighters involved would include F-16 Block 30 aircraft comprising most of the ANG’s air sovereignty fleet, slated to exit the inventory by 2018—well before the arrival of replacement F-35s.

Embedded, Critical Capabilities

In addition to the oldest Block 30 F-16s, there would also be a need to invest in upgraded radar and avionics for some F-16 Block 40s and Block 50s, some flown by the Guard, but most residing in the active duty inventory. USAF senior leadership has indicated it will begin setting aside dollars in the Fiscal 2012 budget for upgrades across the F-16 fleet, to bridge the gap to the F-35’s arrival. “We will need to look at some of our newer F-16s to put the right amount of capability on to address [threats], which [continue] to rise across time,” Breedlove noted. These investments would involve some sort of structural modification to almost all Block 40 and Block 50 aircraft, as well as new avionics in some, such as new communication and navigation tools, and even new radars in some instances.

As little as two decades ago, the Guard was still often viewed as a parochial organization flying handed-down aircraft.

All this has changed, especially after 9/11. Since then, more than 146,000 Air Guardsmen have deployed overseas in support of combat operations, many on second and third voluntary tours, according to NGB numbers. This has transformed the Air Guard into a battle-hardened, expeditionary force in addition to being traditional homeland defenders.

After the November leadership summit, Wyatt said his directorate plans to work with the adjutants general and states to conduct an internal review of the condition of the Air Guard, to figure out which missions the organization is best suited for, what can be done most efficiently and cost-effectively, and to work to secure and invest in those areas.

The ANG needs to know, over the next few years, what it needs to do “between now and [2025], … so when we get there, we will be the operational force this country needs with a front-line capability, but also an effective and efficient force used for our role here at home,” Wyatt said.

The pitch for National Guard force structure was summarized in a July 2010 white paper authored by McKinley. Unlike the active duty, with its prodigious logistical tail and support costs in terms of services, facilities, benefits, and other expenses, Guardsmen cost a fraction of an active duty military member, until they are placed in paid-duty status. The use of these forces in the last 10 years has been extensive, as many critical capabilities are embedded in the Guard.

The Air Guard operates annually using less than seven percent of the Air Force’s budget, according to NGB’s 2010 numbers, makes up 19 percent of USAF personnel, and still maintains between 30 and 40 percent of the Air Force’s fighter, tanker, and airlift capability.

Lt. Gen. Harry Wyatt (center), Air National Guard director, speaks with SMSgt. Robert Porter (l) and then-Brig. Gen. Gary Sayler during a visit to the 266th Range Squadron in Idaho. Sayler is now the adjutant general of Idaho. (USAF photo by MSgt. Tom Gloeckle)

More importantly, McKinley suggested, as US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan winds down, America will be looking to reallocate spending, making a ready, accessible, and cost-effective National Guard a part of a solution to balancing national security and fiscal concerns. “Planners and decision-makers must understand how the National Guard can help,” he wrote.

Critical to utilizing these efficiencies is examining associate constructs, missions where active duty airmen are paired with Guardsmen, often on the same equipment.

A new concept emerging from the BRAC round called for “active associate” units, placing active duty airmen in Air Guard units dispersed across the country, working with platforms ranging from airlifters and tankers to the F-22 stealth fighter. In July 2010, the Hawaii ANG’s 154th Wing took delivery of its first F-22s, and the 199th Fighter Squadron became the first Air Guard-led associate Raptor unit, sharing flying and maintenance with the active duty 15th Airlift Wing at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

Classic associate units, in which Guardsmen are assigned to active duty facilities, are also being expanded. The Air Force announced in December that it is aligning elements of the New Mexico ANG’s 150th Wing and the Air Force’s 58th Special Operations Wing at Kirtland AFB, N.M., with the primary mission being flight training for HC/MC-130Ps, HH-60 Pave Hawks, and UH-1s.

Many of these constructs were directed out of BRAC, but only now are the Air Force and Air Guard doing a holistic examination of how successful the efforts have been. A lot of the realignments “did not have intended goals or objectives for those associations, and certainly no metrics for cost or military effectiveness,” Wyatt said.

Just over a year ago, Wyatt noted, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz asked the Air Guard to go back and look at some of the arrangements established through BRAC and some identified through the USAF’s old Future Total Force initiatives. The goal is to examine how these constructs are functioning, what military capability they provided, and how cost-effective they were. “We have gone back and started that process with [Air Combat Command] and [Air Mobility Command] and are finding some that are working pretty darn good and providing exactly what they thought they would,” Wyatt said of the progress of the review. “We have found others we have had to tweak a little bit.”

Associate constructs with fighter units at Hill AFB, Utah, and JB Langley, Va., are due for change in the near future.

Some constructs have not been developed fully, such as the “community basing” effort with the Vermont ANG’s 158th FW, which involved the stationing of junior active duty airmen in the community of Burlington, Vt., where they received training and mentoring from experienced Air Guard members.

Associations with Air Force Reserve units transitioning from KC-135s to C-130s out of Niagara Falls Arpt./ARS, N.Y., and an arrangement splitting KC-135 operations at Tinker AFB, Okla., between the Oklahoma ANG and the Reserve’s 507th Air Refueling Wing have also undergone some organizational challenges, including funding and manning, but appear to have stabilized and are producing solid mission capable rates for the aircraft.

Guard officials say the restructuring holds great promise in the future, but there remains some significant work to do to address the proper training, equipping, and sustaining of the Air Guard and USAF. Despite the efficiencies inherent in the Guard’s force structure, it continues to be dependent for most development and acquisition matters, and relies heavily on overseas contingency operations funding to pay for manpower mobilization hours.

A 109th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief walks the wing during a preflight inspection of an LC-130 at JB Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. (USAF photo by SrA. Gustavo Gonzalez)

The Existing Iron

The Guard has the benefit of operating outside of a “Fortress America” approach to our national defense, Wyatt observed, having always operated, lived, and worked from communities, not bases (66 of the Air Guard’s 88 wings are co-located with civilian airfields).

Despite the proliferation of homeland taskings since 9/11, from ASA to disasters, there has been little work done to figure out who foots the bill for these operations, Wyatt said. “DHS is in the homeland defense arena, but is not that old, so many of the funding mechanisms are not plugged in,” he said.

The Guard would love a steady funding stream, but much needs to be done about determining where those funds come from. Budgeting and funding lines must be secured to ensure Guardsmen get the appropriate number of military personnel authorization days each fiscal year, even as overseas deployments are likely to shrink in the coming years.

Scarcity also has implications for existing iron. For the Air Guard’s part, Wyatt sees a need to rebalance assets, or what he refers to as “leveling our fleet” across the components. With the Air Force’s combat air force reduction and BRAC to be concluded, adjustments are especially needed in the fighter force where most of the more modern fighters are in active duty squadrons.

Historically, the active duty has 24 primary aircraft authorizations in a fighter squadron, whereas a Guard squadron has 18 PAA, Wyatt and others point out. But despite their smaller unit size, years of deployments to Southwest Asia have proved Guard units can handle rotations of 12 of their aircraft fairly handily, Wyatt noted. “There are ways to preserve the life of these units and preserve the experience of these pilots and maintainers … by doing some fleet leavening across the fleet.”

The concept of utilizing the Guard abroad in place of active duty personnel is gaining traction in other areas. In January, the Air Guard began flying Critical Care Air Transport Team missions from Ramstein AB, Germany, to Southwest Asia and back to Europe or the US, helping to ease the burden of aeromedical evacuation operations on the active duty Air Force. The Air Guard will put at least one CCATT on each rotation flying from Ramstein for the next two years, and is looking to combine cooperation with the Reserve in the effort as well.

On average, the Guardsmen flying and maintaining aircraft are far more experienced in their platform than the average active duty airman (as many Guardsmen are prior service to begin with). It is this experience that makes Guard participation in new missions and in associations with active units so constructive in the long term.

SSgt. Ebon Mitchell attaches body panels to an F-16 during a 300-hour phase inspection at JB Andrews, Md. The ANG’s F-16 Block 30s had been slated to retire by 2018. (USAF photo by MSgt. Dennis Young)

There is a close symbiotic relationship between the active and reserve component when it comes to manpower, and too much poorly thought out tinkering with force structure could lead to unintended consequences. Most importantly, leaders from Wyatt down to heads of individual units share the belief it is not in the long-term best interest of the Air Force and Guard to prematurely close units such as those flying older F-16s, as something more valuable than the aircraft will be lost; the cumulative experience of the pilots, maintainers, and crews could be lost and would be hard to replace.

“A fighter pilot, in my opinion, does not reach [the] peak until about seven or eight years in the cockpit,” Wyatt noted.

“Take a look at how you build a cadre that is experienced across the board. That takes 30 to 40 years. … If you take that down, I don’t think we can afford to build it back.”

New Units, New Missions

A great deal of change in the Air National Guard’s force structure has occurred since 2005. Today, six states (Arizona, California, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, and Texas) are home to remotely piloted aircraft units in the Air Guard, and ANG flies 25 percent of overseas drone combat air patrols.

In New York, the 174th Fighter Wing at Hancock Field in Syracuse is the first Guard unit to operate the MQ-9 Reaper, and is also home to the Air Force’s only Reaper maintenance schoolhouse. The Guard has stood up a remote split operations unit for MQ-1 Predator operations at the Springfield, Ohio, ANG base. It was a follow-on mission to the wing’s F-16 training mission, and the ANG hopes to replicate the effort at other locations. Senior ANG leadership is working with Air Combat Command to increase RPA mission locations to get up to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ goal of 65 continuous orbits in Southwest Asia—with plans in the works for up to five more RPA units in the Guard.

The growth is not limited to the RPAs, as the new C-27J transport will bed down at several Air Guard units. The first is Ohio’s 179th Airlift Wing at Mansfield Lahm Airport, which received its first aircraft in August 2010, and was expected to have all four by February. The formal training unit for the new mission will be based at Key Field, Miss., USAF announced in December. In addition to Mansfield, the 38-airframe fleet will bed down at units in Connecticut, Maryland, Michigan, and North Dakota, with USAF indicating it will place some in Great Falls, Mont., as well.

The Air Guard is expanding rapidly into new missions, such as space operations and even the nuclear mission (with an associate squadron of Air Guardsmen now flying the B-2 at Whiteman AFB, Mo., as well as a stand-alone security forces squadron stationed at Minot AFB, N.D., working to protect missile fields). Long-standing concerns with USAF about oversight of part-time Air Guardsmen have been assuaged, as very stringent and continuous evaluation protocols have been put in place for Guardsmen serving in the nuclear mission. The Colorado and Wyoming ANG are expanding efforts in space command and control activities, and the Florida ANG contributes to the space launch mission at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to such a degree that Air Force Space Command and US Strategic Command are offering alternate site locations for Guardsmen involved in C2.

The senior leadership in both the NGB and the ANG stress that the nation’s Guardsmen have unique skills, experience, and operational constructs. Because of this, Guard officials feel well-positioned to move forward a debate about affordability—particularly at a time when the Department of Defense top leadership has indicated budget austerity will not be optional in the years ahead.