The Totally Integrated Air Force

June 1, 2006

For decades, the vast majority of home-based Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command forces operated more or less in parallel with their active duty counterparts, working in unison but only interacting occasionally for exercises and such. The two reserve components also generally made do with older, hand-me-down aircraft.

Those days appear to be drawing to a close.

Things have changed largely because of the perceived success of several Future Total Force test cases USAF launched in 2004. In fact, these successes have spawned nearly 50 new Total Air Force proposals, most of which will be announced in the next few months. They will bring together more and more active, Guard, and Reserve personnel, often for new missions.

Total Force leaders and participating airmen seem sold on the benefits of the new integration arrangement. It produces net financial and combat gains, produces mentors for young active duty airmen, and fosters Guard and Reserve participation in new and emerging missions.

The three components have different cultures, and integrating these cultures in peacetime appears to be the hardest part of the Total Force effort. Culture, officials concede, is a challenge because the Air Force needs to preserve the unique characteristics of the Guard and Reserve, components that operate under rules—and even laws—different from the active force.

Fortunately, a new collaborative spirit seems largely to have replaced the tension that existed during last year’s Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process. (See “Total Force Turbulence,” October 2005, p. 44.) At that time, some ANG personnel felt that the Air Force was saddling them with many uncertainties and handicaps.

Uncertainty continues to be the biggest Total Force stumbling block. The Guard leadership remains concerned that its planned missions require more ANG airmen than the 106,800 currently in uniform—not less, as the Air Force envisions.

Similarly, the Guard’s adjutants general are concerned that the Phase II Total Force initiatives were recently presented to them as a fait accompli—with barely a week to evaluate and comment on the impact.

Some states “are seeing proposals in writing for the first time,” noted Maj. Gen. Roger P. Lempke, president of the Adjutants General Association of the US. “Snap assessments” of proposals that will affect the Guard for years are neither “prudent nor possible,” Lempke wrote.

Guard headquarters officials say communication is the key. “As long as we are full partners in this process,” said Maj. Gen. Charles V. Ickes II, acting ANG director, the Guard will be “engaged and involved in helping make some of these decisions. We understand the need.”

“Future” Total Force No More

The Air Force no longer officially uses the nomenclature of “Future Total Force,” a term that many, for one reason or another, associate with the recent unpleasantness and division over BRAC. The new term of art today is “Total Force Integration.”

The Air and Space Expeditionary Force (AEF) system “totally operationalized the Air Guard,” Ickes added, and destroyed any vestige of a “flying club” mentality that may have existed in the past.

Total Force is the future, but shrinking aircraft inventories could make greater integration a bumpy ride. Current plans are that, by 2020, USAF will be flying 25 percent fewer fighters and 10 percent fewer aircraft overall.

Traditionally, ANG units have flown older aircraft, partly because the Guard’s higher experience levels make it possible. The future of numerous units flying older F-15, F-16, and C-130 aircraft was in question during last year’s BRAC negotiations.

Meanwhile, the Air Force is beefing up capabilities in areas such as Predator unmanned aerial vehicle operations and other intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance missions.

Guard and Reserve units are encouraged to move into these “emerging” mission areas, partly because the fighters will go away and partly because the missions represent the future of the Air Force. Furthermore, modern connectivity and “reachback” capabilities mean many of the emerging missions can be performed at home stations, so the airmen do not have to deploy to add combat power.

Total Force Integration “is about making tough decisions to ensure a successful Air Force of the future,” Air Staff officials wrote in a fact sheet. USAF wants “all new mission areas considered, where appropriate,” for integration.

“I know of no capability area, no mission area,” that the Air Force will not examine for possible Total Force capability, said Gen. John D.W. Corley, vice chief of staff, in recent testimony.

The Air National Guard agrees and will consider Total Force arrangements “every time,” said Ickes, though ANG “won’t do it every time.”

The Guard also wants to avoid taking on a new set of missions and then having to go through another tumultuous reordering in a few years.

Possible initiatives will be judged on a case-by-case basis, and ANG wants to ensure there is no mission “gap” between the point when old aircraft are retired and the point when new missions arrive.

The Air Force is committed to this principle.

“If we have a unit that is going to lose its aircraft and transition to a new mission,” explained Lt. Gen. Stephen G. Wood, deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and programs, “we want to bring those aircraft down at the same rate we train for the new mission.”

The plans and programs office oversees USAF’s Total Force Integration directorate, an office established last year and led by a one-star general. It is focused on combined force structure, basing, and organizational issues.

Integration Not New

The Total Force Integration idea certainly is not new. Starting in 1968, Air Force Reserve associate units have worked in tandem with active units in the mobility field.

A different prototype—the 116th Air Control Wing at Robins AFB, Ga.—was launched in 2002. At the 116th, active and Guard airmen and soldiers operate the only E-8C battle management wing in what is known as a “blended wing.” Three months after the blended wing stood up, nine of 11 Joint STARS aircraft and 750 troops deployed during the buildup for Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

Guard units also are currently performing F-15 flight training in Florida and assisting with Global Hawk UAV operations at Beale AFB, Calif.

At Langley AFB, Va., 60 members of the Virginia Air National Guard are now working on the F-22 program. This Langley-Richmond integration effort is one of the Total Force test cases the Air Force announced at the end of 2004.

Wood argues that it is time to stop referring to these arrangements as test cases or initiatives. “I think we need to get away from that,” he said, because these pilot programs are progressing well and the concept will be greatly expanded.

The Total Force arrangements announced in 2004 are collectively known as the Phase I initiatives. For the record, they are:

Langley-Richmond integration. In March, two Virginia ANG pilots were flying new F-22 Raptors, and a cadre of 60 full-time volunteers made up Det. 3 at Langley, home of the first F-22 wing. Eventually, the ANG’s 192nd Fighter Wing will relocate to Langley as its F-16s are redistributed. Guard personnel are involved in every aspect of the F-22 mission. The 192nd was previously known for being one of the first Air Force units with the TARS (theater airborne reconnaissance) targeting system used for strike and tactical intelligence in Iraq. Now it is the first Guard unit to participate in the operational rollout of a front-line fighter.

Community basing in Vermont. Twelve active duty airmen are stationed with the Air Guard’s 158th Fighter Wing in Burlington, Vt. They are currently all maintenance specialists, primarily first-term airmen, with one officer. Through BRAC, the wing will add three F-16s and expand its active duty presence to perhaps 100 airmen—including a couple of pilots. The young active duty airmen are living in the community as if they were Guardsmen and are expected to benefit from their relationship with their more-experienced counterparts.

Guard Predator operations. Arizona, California, North Dakota, and Texas Air National Guard units will fly Predator UAVs as the high-demand reconnaissance and strike drone continues to proliferate. Home-station Guardsmen will operate the MQ-1s through reachback. Officials say UAV and ISR missions are especially attractive as Total Force operations because Guardsmen and Reservists often can perform the missions without deploying or leaving their home bases.

In the Battle Space, It’s Already a Total Force

The Air Force’s reserve components are thoroughly integrated in Air Force operations. In recent testimony, Gen. John D.W. Corley, vice chief of staff, noted how interdependent the components are in wartime.

Since the 9/11 terror attacks, more than 43,000 fighter, aerial refueling, and airborne early warning sorties have been flown for Operation Noble Eagle. More than two-thirds—30,000—of these were Guard and Reserve missions. The Air National Guard also has primary responsibility for maintaining the air defense alert sites that protect US airspace.

“I think about the beans, the bombs, the bullets that are flown into this Global War on Terrorism on an everyday basis,” he added during his March 9 testimony.

Half of the C-130 sorties and 45 percent of the C-5 sorties come from the reserve components. Because of this, USAF’s reserves “cannot have tiered readiness. Every day they have to be trained and ready to stand up,” Corley said.

Today, the Air National Guard flies some of the most advanced targeting pod-equipped F-16 fighters. Reserve component C-130s are often newer than those in the active duty, and Guard A-10s are heavily tasked in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Despite the heavy use of certain assets, Lt. Gen. Stephen G. Wood, deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and programs, says the Air Force has its reserve components balanced about right. He notes that operational tempo, while high, has settled into a steady state, and the demands all along have been met primarily by Guard and Reserve volunteers.

New York State operations. Under the original plan, ANG and AFRC forces were going to staff a distributed intelligence ground station in upstate New York, but this initiative has been shelved for the time being and replaced with another. “After assessing [ISR] requirements and reviewing concepts of operation, Air Force and [ANG] leadership determined the Predator mission would provide a more immediate impact” in the war on terror, officials announced last summer. Thus, New York State’s ANG will join the Predator initiative, which eventually will comprise some 15 squadrons across the country.

Warfare Center integration. At the USAF Warfare Center in Nevada, Guard and Reserve personnel are being brought into every mission, including Predator combat operations and advanced combat training. The center had a high operating tempo and low experience levels—but in 2003 had only one Reservist and two Guardsmen. By late last year, there were about 350 reserve component airmen available, said Col. Peter McCaffrey, warfare center Reserve advisor, “with nowhere but up to go.” Forty-seven Nevada Air Guardsmen currently are supporting Predator ops.

F-16 integration in Utah. This initiative will bring about the blending of two F-16 units located at Hill Air Force Base—the active duty 388th FW and the Reserve 419th FW. They will form an “integrated fighter associate unit” with the Reservists supporting the 388th. Bringing together collocated units performing the same or similar missions has been highlighted as a logical way to create Total Force efficiency.

C-17 airlifters in the Pacific. Reliable new C-17s allow for Total Force arrangements in the Pacific Theater with higher crew ratios and utilization rates. At Hickam AFB, Hawaii, the first of a planned eight new C-17s was delivered in February by a combined crew from the 15th Airlift Wing and the Hawaii Air National Guard’s 154th Wing. The units will operate the C-17s together. Eight more C-17s will be delivered to Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, in 2007; they will be operated by active and Reserve units.

Here Comes Phase II

In addition to these, Ickes noted, there are nearly 50 “Phase II” initiatives currently under consideration. A handful have recently been announced, and the rest will be made public one by one, often by the states, said Lt. Col. Michael Odom of the Total Force Integration office.

Wood said that plans call for Total Force staffing when additional F-22 locations are established at Holloman AFB, N.M., Hickam, and Elmendorf.

Also likely are C-130 active associate units in Colorado and Wyoming, a C-5 flying training unit in Texas, and centralized intermediate repair facilities in eight states. Many of these decisions are driven by recent BRAC moves. Others, such as placing active duty airmen with the Guard units in Burlington and Cheyenne, Wyo., are partly attempts to beef up personnel levels in areas that have small populations and a limited Guard recruiting base.

Officials also noted that the nascent Joint Cargo Aircraft program—in which the Air Force and Army will work together to procure for in-theater lift missions an airlifter larger than a C-23 Sherpa but smaller than a C-130—will inevitably be a Total Force operation. Army Joint Cargo Aircraft may even be based and maintained at Air National Guard locations.

The Missouri Air National Guard will aid in B-2 stealth bomber operations at Whiteman AFB, Mo. The move will pair the 131st FW’s “aircrew, maintainers, and support staff” in St. Louis with the active duty 509th Bomb Wing, according to a March announcement.

Integration creates “great new opportunities” for the Guard, Ickes said, though changes have to be made with caution.

The Guard leadership stresses the fact that ANG members are citizens first—members of communities with families, children in schools, and employers that typically expect them to stay put. Some states, because of small populations or booming or depressed local economies, already have difficulty finding or keeping Guardsmen.

Will Guardsmen Move

If Guard members are asked to move more than 200 miles, the Air Force will probably be looking at “significant losses within that unit,” Ickes said. “It’s going to be turmoil, there’s no doubt about it. There’s going to be a challenge here.”

It is almost exactly 200 miles from Missouri’s Lambert-St. Louis Airport to Whiteman.

How many Guardsmen are willing to relocate is the major unknown. At Langley, Guardsmen from Richmond Airport—70 miles away—have so far all been volunteers. Eventually, however, the entire 192nd FW will close shop and make a permanent change of station (PCS) move to Langley and, at that point, the Virginia Guard will have roughly 300 full-time and 600 traditional Guardsmen at Langley. The “issue” said Col. Jay Pearsall, 192nd commander, is “who will PCS?” All the existing Guardsmen will have an opportunity to move to Langley. So far the jobs are the same (pilots, intelligence, security forces, maintenance, and firefighters), but airmen may have to retrain as the positions at Langley fill.

The Guard does not want to stand up dead-end units. New arrangements must have “all the pieces that would allow a Guardsman to have a life cycle within [that] unit,” Ickes said. Total Force Integration cannot create officer-heavy organizations “with one lieutenant colonel at the top,” he said, because retention would suffer when younger officers realize they have no opportunity to move up in the unit.

For part-timers, this may not be a problem. The majority of traditional Guardsmen are “basic pilots or basic crew chiefs, as opposed to leadership positions, and they’re good at that; that’s what they like to do,” said Brig. Gen. Burton M. Field, commander of Langley’s 1st Fighter Wing.

Most of the Guardsmen at Langley will be part-timers, Field noted. That and a requirement for parallel command structures mean that junior active duty personnel should not be blocked out of career-enhancing jobs by more senior Guardsmen.

For example, Lt. Col. Phil Guy is assistant director of operations for the 27th FS. He is a Guardsman, but the F-22 squadron also has an active duty ADO.

Guy served 14 years on active duty and has about 100 hours in the Raptor. According to Capt. Henry Schantz, an active duty F-22 pilot with 65 hours in the fighter, those 100 hours make Guy “experienced” in the brand-new Raptor.

The mingling works both ways, the pilots said. Schantz, who converted from the F-15 and has never deployed in an AEF, can draw on the knowledge base of the older pilots. Guy added that Guard units can get “stale” without an infusion of new talent and ideas, which is exactly what the young active duty pilots bring to the table.

Command Issues Remain

By law, Title 32 Guardsmen—unless and until they are officially mobilized—work for their governors and do not take orders from Title 10 active duty personnel. Likewise, active duty personnel do not take orders from Guardsmen. These rules hold unless the Guardsmen are mobilized and placed under Title 10 rules themselves.

It is the mobilization factor that allows the Total Force to operate together so effectively while deployed. In peacetime, however, the rules of the road get murky. In fact, there is currently only one case of a Reserve Component airman leading a permanent active duty unit. Reserve Lt. Col. John Breeden is commander of the 11th Reconnaissance Squadron at Nellis AFB, Nev.

Active and Guard airmen have separate chains of command, even when they are working at the same base. The airmen working on the F-22 at Langley have a simple solution to what otherwise might have been a thorny legal issue. Rather than worry about who draws a paycheck from what source or who is authorized to give an order, the airmen collaborate informally.

It is a “group effort, as opposed to top-down,” noted TSgt. Al Perkins, a Virginia Air Guard avionics specialist at Langley.

The presence of the Raptor also contributes to the cooperative environment. The fighter is new for everybody, and no one has a psychological upper hand.

Field said, “We’re still trying to figure out stealth here,” and having the Guard on base will preserve what might otherwise be perishable technical expertise. Langley’s resident stealth expert is a Guardsman, Field noted, and “he will be here for a long time,” with institutional knowledge to pass along to active duty airmen as they rotate in.

The Guardsmen bring “worlds of experience,” said SSgt. Daniel Hansen, an active duty avionics specialist, but technicians experienced on the F-16 still will have to learn the F-22.

The guiding philosophy on the Raptor program can be summarized as “we need to get the job done,” said SMSgt. Mike Bouley, Guard integration supervisor at Langley. In the Guard, small units mean that airmen do a little bit of everything, and that philosophy has transferred to the new base. Even senior master sergeants are turning wrenches on the F-22, Bouley noted.

“You’re going to see Guardsmen that are a little more rank-heavy,” said 192nd commander Pearsall. “Crew chief-wise, walking around an airplane, you’re going to have a stripe or two more than the average active duty guy,” he said. This will take some getting used to, because it is “a little uncomfortable when you’ve got a senior ranking Guardsman [working] next to a staff sergeant.”

Cultural differences between the active duty and reserve components can create friction and are hard to smooth over—especially when everyone is making an effort to prevent the homogenization of the cultures.

“Blending presented challenges for almost everyone involved,” noted a release commemorating three years of blended wing operations at Robins. “The two cultures collided and there was little guidance from higher headquarters.”

“The biggest difference is culture,” agreed Perkins, the avionics specialist. For starters, full-time Guardsmen typically work four 10-hour days, which doesn’t align perfectly with the active duty schedule.

Then there are the legal issues. The “single greatest obstacle to our necessary transformation is ‘legacy’ legislation,” Corley testified March 9 before a Congressional commission tasked with recommending changes to the nation’s Guard and Reserve structure.

Seeking Legislative Relief

Current law “limits effective use of our Guard and Reserve in training of all components,” Corley said. It also limits use of full-time reserve component personnel for support and limits “dual-hat authority for commanders of multicomponent units,” such as the 116th ACW.

DOD sent to Congress, as part of the Fiscal 2007 defense budget authorization request, a proposal to modify these restrictive laws. The proposed legislation would allow:

Full-time Title 32 reserve component personnel to train airmen from other components and train foreign personnel.

Guard and Reserve commanders to assume dual-hat authority to lead active duty units.

Reserve component personnel to perform some operational missions that are currently restricted while in Title 32 status.

The Air Force described the Total Force push as a “significant step forward for the Air Force,” because it identifies and combines the inherent strengths of the active duty, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve. There will be “ups and downs,” Wood said, but, in 10 years, the integrated force may be second nature.