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The U.S. Air Force: 'our mission is to fly and fight'

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Pete-O (Retired Gen. Donald Peterson, AFA Executive Director), thanks for that warm welcome. Bob, (Bob Largent, AFA Chairman of the Board),  members of the Air Force Association, dear friends, senior leadership of the Air Force, what a treat it is to be able to spend some time with you. As the Secretary said, I just got back from CENTCOM's AOR (Central Command's Area of Responsibility) yesterday or the day before, so I'm mightily motivated after having a chance to hang out with the world's finest Airmen doing some incredibly amazing things. It's great to be back here in Orlando, be back here to share some thoughts with you about American air and space and cyberspace power and some of the challenges we've got ahead of us. For the AFA one more time, thank you for being a great wingman. Thank you for being out there 6,000, 9,000 feet flying abreast. Thank you for being such a good partner, and thank you for helping us put a face on this great Air Force with these great people that we have; Guard, Reserve, civilian, and active. 

Mr. Secretary, I also want to thank you. You're skillfully leading us through some pretty complicated times these days, and there's no one more suited to be in this role right now. You and Barbara are world-class and we're blessed to have you alongside all of us and to have you in a leadership role in this great Air Force. Let me also tell you how honored Jenny and I are to be partnered with John and Alice Corley, Ron and Anne Sega, Art and Chris Lichte, and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Rod and Paula McKinley. These folks are not only great Americans and great Airmen, but dedicated professionals in every sense living in that wonderful world of the Washington AOR, where every day is a different fight.

Finally, thanks for the opportunity to share some thoughts with you. Striking this balance, the symposium theme, striking the balance--today's war, tomorrow's threats, and future technologies--is perfect. It truly is perfect with what we're trying to tell the Congress and the American public. Secretary Wynne has already laid the foundations of our positions, so if you all will, let me hammer home some of the other key points.

Let me do two things before I start. Let me highlight again what a great image that was of the flyby of the 4th Fighter Wing, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base (N.C). Remember the 4th Fighter Wing is an adjunct of the Eagle squadrons that flew in the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain before the American Eighth Air Force showed up in East England. Fourth Fighter Wing are also the folks that flew F-86s in Korea and stood between the loss of air dominance and air supremacy and truly then the potential of the loss of the Peninsula. So the 4th Fighter Wing is one of the crown jewels of the United States Air Force--there couldn't be anybody better for a flyby for a past president.

But also before I start, let me recognize another award. It was announced yesterday, the National Aeronautics Association has announced the Lockheed Martin Corporation and the F-22 Raptor team as the 2006 Robert J. Collier Trophy winners.  The Collier Trophy was established in 1911 and is considered one of the most prestigious of all aviation awards. It is granted each year and let me quote "for the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America during the preceding year." It is administrated by the National Aeronautics Association and is permanently housed at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. The Raptor team will be presented the trophy for designing, testing, and operating the newly operational F-22 Raptor. The nomination team specifically noted the aircraft's performance in the 2006 Northern Edge military exercise in (Gen.) Paul Hester's Alaska. The team members include Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Pratt & Whitney (tape cutoff.) ... with the Collier Trophy being awarded to the F-22.

So let me begin and make one thing perfectly clear: the mission of the United States Air Force is to fly and fight, and let's not forget this. We fly, fight, and win through air, space, and now cyberspace. This year we're commemorating our 60th anniversary as a service and over the course of the year we'll celebrate an incredibly rich heritage. And don't ever forget that the United States Air Force was born in combat. As an example, on the night of Feb. 9, 1944, 63 years ago tomorrow, the Army Air Force launched 250 bombers and fighters, one of the largest strike packages assembled at that time to operate from allied bases in the Solomon (Islands) to raid and destroy Japanese positions and facilities on Rabaul in New Britain. This will-fighting ethos so firmly established by the Airmen of the past century is alive and well today.

We accomplish our warfighting mission every day. We're engaged around the world, fighting terrorism and insurgents in the Global War on Terrorism, and fulfilling our roles as Airmen in the joint team. Every day in CENTCOM's AOR, AC-130s deliver ordnance (inaudible) hostiles; F-15Es are now delivering small diameter bombs. I had a chance to be up at Bagram (Air Base, Afghanistan) a couple three days ago. I went out and talked to the folks from the Statue of Liberty Wing at Lakenheath (England) that are sent to deliver right now the small diameter bombs strapped to the centerline of F-15Es. I also had a chance as I came through Ramstein (AB, Germany) to talk to the crew that dropped the first small diameter bomb in combat. What a great conversation with those guys. 

Every day A-10s deliver 30 mm; now we have a squadron of A-10s up at Al Asad in Western Iraq. F-16s are dropping JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) and delivering ordnance, 20 mm, every day. Predators are delivering Hellfires (AGM-114 tactical missile) as well as imagery every day. We also stand prepared for rapid response in conflict around the globe as our nations serve and shield. We fly, fight, and dominate in three warfighting domains: air, space, and cyberspace -- giving this great nation sovereign options to employ military force no other nation has ever had.

At the same time, we're also preparing for an uncertain future by doing all we can to become even more efficient and effective in this warfighting business. I explained to you many of our initiatives to organize, train, and equip, to meet this 21st century challenge back in September in Washington, D.C. When earlier, Secretary Wynne highlighted a few of our successes today then gave you a great glimpse into 2007. These initiatives are critical because the fight we're waging in Iraq and Afghanistan is not our only concern. It is not the only challenge to this country. We cannot afford to become target-fixated on counting terrorists or insurgents. We cannot completely focus on Iraq or Afghanistan and forget about the potentially global complexities and competitions of the future for water, for food, for energy. We cannot forget the challenges in Northeast Asia; China, Japan; Southeast Asia, transforming Russia, the challenges in Africa, the continuing challenges of the narcotics business in Central and South America, and the ongoing battle that we have, the ongoing challenges we have with transnational criminal activity as well as this militant Islamic extremism that we're dealing with.

Our enemies are not setting idly by. Instead, adversaries both declared a potential of developing and fielding newer and better means to threaten our nation, our population, our interests, and our way of life. Tomorrow's military threats span all three of our warfighting domains. Our aircraft will face increasingly lethal anti-access systems, weapons, sophisticated integrated air defense systems, enhanced surface-to-air missiles, advanced fighters, avionics, and air-to-air missiles.

Space, Secretary Wynne discussed, is no longer a sanctuary. We face competition, if not direct confrontation, with other countries in an environment we used to consider an American safe haven. It cannot be lost on us this afternoon the implications of a recent and successful anti-satellite weapons test in orbit. And in cyberspace, we're seeing more sophisticated attacks occurring daily, more frequent attacks occurring daily. There's a virtual terrorism university on the net, helping mobilize, train, and finance terrorist networks, not to mention tarnishing America's image with propaganda.

In short, we cannot forget that the political landscape is less certain than ever. There is no sanctuary in today's globalized world, no sanctuary in any of the domains. We will still have to deal with alliances and international treaties. We have to deal with emerging nations and failing or failed states, and we have a growing number of transnational or non-state actors. Just since we met last in September, think about how the world's military threats in the international security environment has changed. Open-source reporting indicates the Russians have begun delivering SA-15 advanced surface-to-air missiles to Iran. They're also considering purchase of advanced MiG fighters from Russia to complement Venezuela's purchase of 24 new fourth generation Sukhoi SU-30 MKK fighters. The Chinese have announced the fielding of their new latest fighter and now have announced that it's in squadron strength. North Korea admitted to having nuclear weapons and last October, actually Oct. 9, 2006, actually detonated a weapon with an estimated yield of about 1 kiloton. And equally important, on Jan. 11, 2007 a reminder that the Chinese successfully tested a new anti-satellite weapon with a direct hit, now leaving a large debris field in space. It all adds up to a threatening, uncertain, and dynamic global security environment, and our current force is at risk of obsolescence vis-à-vis these emerging threats.

Our challenge then is to ensure we have a total force that's ready to dominate the air, space, and cyberspace domains to hold global targets at risk to be America's warfighting asymmetric advantage today and tomorrow. Over the course of our 16 years of combat in CENTCOM's area of responsibility, air, space, and cyberspace power has had daily decisive effect. The recent battle at Al Najaf in Iraq during which the bulk of the damage killing the hostiles was inflicted by U.S. air strikes. That's just the latest illustration. Having just been a week in the Arabian Gulf, I can assure you the joint team there knows it all very well. I spent a couple hours with the new commander of the 82nd Airborne in place at Bagram AB. I had a chance to talk to every ground commander that I could find to include the BCD (Battlefield Coordination Detachment) commander in the CAOC (Combined Air Operations Center), and it's not lost on our land component brothers and sisters what airpower is doing every day in this fight on terrorism in the Arabian Gulf. And I can assure you that our Airmen and our families know this--this is real for them. I had a chance to spend (time) at 10 bases, I had a chance to conduct troop calls and have lunch or dinner or supper with every single person that I could round up, and it's not lost on them and they're willing to tell you that they believe their contributions are valid, they're frustrated with an aging Air Force, and their only challenge to me as a Chief is get the new equipment and get it as fast as we can get it.

This deployment business, it's not lost on them either. At every opportunity I would ask, how many of you here on your first rotation? Then I would go through all the way up to six or seven or eight, and there would still be hands raising at six or seven or eight rotations. More than 46 percent of our total force has deployed at least once since 9/11, and one in 10 of our Airmen have deployed at least three times. I had a chance to meet with a couple of real youngsters also. I saw a kid who had no stripe, so there's one or two things; either the stripe has been taken or he's not old enough to have it. In this case, he was not old enough to have it. He didn't even have one stripe, and I ask him, "How many times have you deployed?" He said, "One, Chief. This is my first time. I'm into my hundredth day or so." He didn't even have a stripe yet, and he's deployed. I met another young lady, one stripe. I said, "How long you been in this great Air Force?" She said, "Chief, I've been in this Air Force a little bit less than a year." And I said, "How many times have you deployed?" She said, "Twice." Once for 120 days, and she's into about Day 100 of her second deployment. That tells you a lot about what we're asking of people, and about how fast the spin-up time is from Lackland (AFB, Texas) on a Friday afternoon when they graduate to get to a tech school and then to deploy.

So let's talk a little bit about today. Today's Long War missions and tasks range from the traditional, like the approximately 300 airlift, aeromedical evacuation air refueling, command and control missions, ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaisance), strike, and electronic warfare missions--we fly every day in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. To the non-traditional missions like presence, infrastructure protection, and election support; in fact, there's approximately 25,000 Airmen that are deployed in the AOR on any given day, about 5,000 are considered "in lieu of" taskings, meaning we are filling other services' billets in some of their stressed skill areas and taking on tasks outside Air Force core competencies. And in fact since 2004, we've deployed approximately 18,000 Airmen in support of this "in lieu of" tasking, and we had a steady state increase in that total and more requests are coming in. The good news and bad news about this is that we are out doing things that our people weren't originally trained for. The other side of this is folks fall in love with Airmen because they're incredibly quick to adapt, incredibly quick to learn, and folks are reluctant to let them go.

But this engagement in CENTCOM is really just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to these 25,000 Airmen deployed, we have approximately 213,000 Airmen fulfilling other daily combatant commander tasks; 213,000 every day. That's 40% of the total force that wakes up every morning committed to a combatant commander's role--STRATCOM, NORTHCOM, SOUTHCOM, EUCOM, PACOM, Special Ops Command, TRANSCOM, or said another way; on the active side that is 53 percent of the active duty force that is committed every single day to a combatant commander. No other service can say that. No other service has 53 percent of its active component committed every day.
We don't expect much of what we're doing today to change in the foreseeable future. I agree with Secretary Wynne--I expect we're going to be out in CENTCOM's AOR for the next 10 years. Who would have thought that we would still be there 16 years after we started? How many hundreds of thousands of hours on our airplanes as we cross the Atlantic and operate in no-fly zones and operate as ISR tanker intra/intertheater lift, strike, (inaudible), combat search and rescue, etc. How many hundreds of thousands of hours have we put on these airplanes that we have not recapitalized? This increasing uncertainty; the fledgling democracies, the hostile governments and organizations, all make this region critical to our national interests. So, I believe we're going to be there. I believe we have to set the condition to stay for at least another 10 years in our infrastructure, in our base operating support, in our rotation schemes, in our AEF (Air and Space Expeditionary Force) scheduling, I think we have to understand this and we have to be very, very clear with our people.

Yet at the same time, we can't just focus on Southwest Asia. The Air Force also must be able to continue to detect, to deter, to dissuade, or defeat all potential enemies on a global scale. We must dominate across the spectrum of conflict across the globe. That keeps this country safe, and that means we can't rest on (inaudible). We can't sit back and just wait and see. We need instead to build on existing competencies, think outside the box a bit, and derive new solutions; find new technologies and develop new tactics, techniques, and procedures. In short, we need to build the 21st century Air Force for the 21st century Airmen, and equally important, equip them with the 21st century air and spacecraft.

Secretary Wynne's highlighted some of our most important initiatives to create this 21st century structure, like changes to basic military education, battlefield Airmen training, etc. And he's alluded to the warfighting ethos that we're trying to reinforce and to re-drill into every Airman for basic training and throughout an Airman's time and service.

Chief Master Sergeant McKinley and I have worked very hard and we are working every day with General Looney's Air Education and Training Command and with Air University to look at ways to instill this warfighting ethos from basic military training to the tech schools to Airman leadership school to NCO (Noncommissioned Officer) academy and senior NCO academy--from the Air Force Academy and ROTC to OTS (Officer Training School) to the basic course to SOS (Squadron Officer School) to command and staff and to the war college with the connective tissue in each one of those being constant. This is a warfighting Air Force. Our mission is to fly and fight. These important effects complement our efforts to reshape and rebalance our force structure and job specialty mix.

We have 263 AFSCs (Air Force Specialty Codes). Recently, the A-1 Staff (Personnel) has come back and said, looks like we can come off of at least 100 of those so we can combine these into bigger family groupings or deployable entities. And remember last September we talked that we have merged personnel, manpower, and services into a core AFSC, and we're looking at other ways to come off of the 263 AFSCs to get to something much smaller because that saves General Looney a lot of money and time for every one of those AFSCs, you reduce the opportunity for schoolhouses, for desks, for books, for instructors, for light switches; there's got to be a better way to get at a more deployable and long-term balance inside this skill and jobs specialty business.

Then we're drawing down our overall manpower levels. We're increasing manning in stressed career fields, and leveraging new technologies and leaning on internal processes to reduce workload or reduce or eliminate unnecessary work. Secretary Wynne's talked you through AFSO 21 (Air Force Smart Operations) and these other initiatives which are paying big benefits in time and energy and money. Ultimately, our goal is to ensure the Air Force maintains the right size and mix of forces to meet this global challenge of today and tomorrow, and for that reason, educating and training our Airmen remains the top priority.

Let me take a minute to address the force size. You recall that we are compelled to make force cuts to self-finance the recapitalization and modernization that is so important to the future of this Air Force and to the country. Reducing end strength was the only viable recapitalization option and the only place to go to jumpstart this recapitalization journey. Trying to sustain manpower levels without budget increases would have delayed recapitalization and modernization, and might have precluded them altogether, especially when you hold infrastructure, military family housing, and MILCON (Military Construction) as constant as you can, and you hold the operation and maintenance account as constant as you can, the only two places to go for money are the personnel accounts and the investment accounts. That possibility was unacceptable to us, so we made the difficult decision to draw the force down.

It may be time, however, like Secretary Wynne mentioned, to reconsider this in light of recent changes to the land component size and to the planning factors that went into the Quadrennial Defense Review or QDR. Specifically, we need to determine how the President's decision to surge ground forces will impact us--we don't know that yet. Longer term, the President has announced plans to add 92,000 soldiers and marines to the current force at a rate of about 12,000 a year. A larger ground component will certainly mean a corresponding growth in Air Force-provided vigilance, reach, and power. Our airlift units that General McNabb commands are inextricably tied to Army and Marine formations. We give the nation's ground forces the logistics reach to be delivered, supplied, re-supplied, and extracted via air anywhere in the world. Our weather teams, tactical air control parties, ASOSs (Air Support Operations Squadron), ASOCs (Air Support Operations Center), combat comms, and other forces, are embedded or closely tied. And of course, the Air Force provides the joint force commander to the full range of air assets in the theater as part of this interdependent joint fight. So accordingly we're reassessing the planned drawdown with it all maintaining sufficient Air Force end strength to ensure interoperatibility with this larger Army and Marine Corps.

Continuing to draw down the force might leave the Air Force without the ability to sustain steady state Long War deployment demands could cause considerable risk to end place or home station missions and would not correspond with what we know now to the 86 modern combat wings directed by the QDR. More critically it would leave our Soldiers and Marines vulnerable to air attack for the first time since April 1953. We owe it to our nation's ground forces, our nation's maritime forces, our nation's special ops forces, and our nation as a whole to maintain the ability to provide a full range of options, lethal and non-lethal, kinetic and non-kinetic, at the speed of light or the speed of sound, any time, anywhere the nation needs us to deliver effects, across the spectrum of conflict.

To ensure that capability in the future, we must recapitalize and re-modernize this aging air and space inventory now. We cannot wait any longer. There is an urgent national security need, not a discretionary luxury, in this discussion of recapitalization. The Air Force's procurement holiday of the 1990s is already impacting our ability to meet the ends we have been assigned. In the 1990s, the Air Force deliberately assumed risk in modernization investments and chose instead to sustain aging weapon systems through continued combat operations. The tragedies of 9/11 and the resulting war on terror regrettably coincided with a period when the Air Force expected to recover and began a true force-wide recapitalization.

The result is an inventory that's over 24 years old. Our tankers, a single point failure in modern joint warfare, average over 43 years ago. And 50 years ago last week, 50 years ago last week, 1 February 1957, 1957 was a great year for Chevrolet Bel Airs. In 1957, the Boeing Airplane Company announced delivery of the world's first jet tanker, the KC-135, to the Air Force. While that tail number is no longer flying, we do have a KC-135E delivered to us on the 28th of November 1957 that's still in the inventory today. Our long-range bombers average 32 years old with the newest of our vulnerable B-52s entering active duty on Oc.t 28, 1962. And all of them are just getting older. Even if we're able to purchase 15 new tankers per year, it will still take us 30-plus years to replace them. By the end of the buy, we will have 75-year-old tankers. Last month, January 1937, the Army Air Force took delivery of the first B-17. Seventy years ago last month we took delivery of the first B-17--we're talking now about operating the KC-135 for 75 years. What would Norto (Lt. Gen. Gary L. North), CENTAF commander, be doing today in Afghanistan or Iraq with a 70-year-old B-17? Interesting question. It is unconscionable to think about sending America's Airmen into combat in planes that old. I wonder what coverage we would get if we were launching out of Kandahar or Bagram or Balad in a B-17G.

Our nation cannot afford to take another procurement holiday that places its Air Force's future at grave risk. America needs to understand that we will not win tomorrow's fight without this recapitalization. We cannot sacrifice victory in today's fight to prepare for tomorrow. Our top five procurement priorities that Secretary Wynne mentioned, the KC-X (tanker) now that the RFP is out, the CSAR-X (Combat Search and Rescue) we have source selection, space-based early warning and comm. satellites and equipment. We're working hard on the back-to-basics acquisition strategies to enforce much more discipline into the space business. The F-35A, which is now flown, I'm told by this morning eight times, and the next generation bomber which we're just beginning the journey on, all will begin to address this recapitalization and modernization challenge.

Of course, fiscal responsibility's a critical element of our plan. The Air Force is committed to planning and operating with our allocated resources, but our commitments alone will not be enough to achieve what we need to do. We need help from the Congress to remove legislative restrictions on aircraft retirements that remain obstacles to effectively divesting our oldest, least capable, and more costly platforms. Keeping these legacy aircraft active levies additional cost. Beginning in 08, an astonishing $1.74 billion a year, or $4.7 million a day is going to come from our modernization funds to maintain these aircraft. These costs cascade into procurement delays for future platforms and divert resources away from expanding joint opportunities. So, we honestly need Congressional approval to execute our own synchronized, optimized plan for aircraft retirements, replacement, and modernization.

We also need to adequately fund to meet the needs of a nation at war. In 07 and 08 we'll need supplemental funding to help us wage and win the war on terrorism, to replace the aircraft loss since 9/11. And let me talk you through that a little bit, because this one is least understood by all. Since 9/11 we have lost 83 manned aircraft, 18 in contingencies, 65 in preparation for combat. We've lost 44 unmanned aircraft, 30 in contingencies, 14 in preparation for combat. That's a total of 127 aircraft we have lost since 9/11. We've lost two U2s, we've lost five helos, we have lost 48 fighters, 48 fighters since 9/11. Eleven SOF assets, five airlift assets, and one bomber--we've also suffered 62 fatalities. In short, we need the funding to ensure America's asymmetric advantage, US Air Force's global vigilance, reach, and power.

Let me conclude by a couple of other reminders. On this day, Feb. 8, 1908, the Secretary of War approved bids by the Wright Brothers, J.F. Scott, and A.M. Hering to build the military's first plane. Now I like to keep up a little bit on this history and I have no idea who J.F. Scott and A.M. Hering really are. Their bid must not have been useful. We do know who the Wright Brothers are. On this day in 1912, the Army Sigma Corps issued its second set of military aircraft specifications. In many ways we've come a long way since then. We've learned innumerable lessons along the way. We've learned we cannot repeat the mistakes of the past. We've learned we cannot rest on the laws of our current dominance. We've learned to anticipate future security environments and to shape ourselves accordingly. And we've learned that transformations do not happen overnight--they take time, expect planning, patience, and sufficient funding. We are acting on these lessons. We anticipate a future security environment that is fundamentally different than we have anticipated before. And since the Cold War, we are building a 21st century Air Force prepared to dominate in the 21st century strategically, operationally, and tactically.

We are beginning that effort now to ensure the future air and space and cyberspace dominance. In our relatively short history as an independent service, America's Air Force has become the force first and last resort. In fact, General Fogleman used to say the United States Air Force is the Air Force of last resort for the entire world, whether it's humanitarian relief, disaster relief, global vigilance, everything that matters out there about getting somewhere fast and conducting business, your Air Force is that Air Force of last resort. We have become America's asymmetric advantage. We cannot lose that, but we have not forgotten and will never forget that the core mission of this enterprise is still to fly and fight and win our nation's wars.

So to all Airmen here today, I say thanks. Thank you for your daily contributions to air and space and cyberspace. Thank you for your daily contributions to this great country and our coalition partners. I'm so proud to be a part of what we've become, and prouder still to be a force that we're trying to be. God bless you, and God bless our coalition partners. God bless the Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen that are out there alongside our Airmen this afternoon, and God bless this great nation. Pete-O and Bob, thanks again. Thanks for the opportunity to share some thoughts.