As long as US Northern Command has a requirement to protect US skies from aerial attack, then the Air National Guard is a “a cost-efficient way” to execute that air sovereignty alert mission, Air Force Gen. Craig McKinley, National Guard Bureau chief, said Wednesday at AFA’s Air & Space Conference. McKinley said that the threat of air attack remains today and, per NORTHCOM’s assessment, there is a need for “up to 16 alert sites” with fighters, plus the tankers to support them, plus the AWACs to scan the horizon for bogies. “We have got to be able to see, detect, and destroy [the threats, including low-flying cruise missiles] before they would hit a city,” he said. McKinley agreed with Air Guard boss Lt. Gen. Harry Wyatt that sustaining ASA is a challenge since ANG fighters are aging out. “It is not about politics; it is about the physics of the actual aircraft wearing out,” he said. But he has confidence that Wyatt and Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz will work out a solution. But that solution “is going to be complicated” and “difficult,” he said.
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.