Chief of Staff addresses key mobility, Air Force issues at conference

  • Published
  • By Mark T. Voorhis
  • Air Mobility Command Public Affairs
Gen. Norton Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, recently attended the 41st Airlift Tanker Association conference where he addressed a gathering of more than 4,000 active duty, Guard, Reserve and civilian Airmen.

In his comments, General Schwartz emphasized the importance of every Airman and every job in the Air Force. 

"We all count, whatever we do," General Schwartz said. "This is family business. Our part, however we play it, on the ground or in the air, in the United States or forward, it all counts."

Air Mobility's Vital Contributions

The general acknowledged how vital mobility contributions are to the joint fight in Afghanistan. 

"Afghanistan is a very unique place," he said. "It doesn't enjoy access to major waterways, it's landlocked. And it also provides a crucible where we in our Air Force have contributed in very significant ways."

One of those ways was demonstrated by Senior Master Sgt. Richard Larson, from the 615th Contingency Response Group at Travis Air Force Base, Calif. Sergeant Larson and his team deployed to a small remote outpost in Afghanistan. Their mission was to help increase cargo velocity and visibility.

Sergeant Larson and his team expanded the mission to 24-hour coverage and established a capability that increased C-17 Globemaster III sorties from one or two a day to more than a dozen per day. They eventually moved more than 7,000 passengers and 17.5 million pounds of cargo.

The team also facilitated a ramp expansion program by supporting the delivery of nearly 2 million square feet of AM-2 aluminum matting, the largest temporary aircraft parking area ever constructed anywhere in the world.

"And you know who got that (matting) there?" General Schwartz asked. "You all did that," he said, pointing to his audience. "You should be very proud of the work you've done."

Air Force Priorities

The general continued by emphasizing Air Force priorities. He spoke first of reinvigorating the Air Force nuclear enterprise.

"We had a rocky time in the nuclear business," he said. "But one of the organizations that led the way was the 62nd Airlift Wing, who in the last year has had two nuclear operational readiness inspections. And let me tell you, nuclear inspections are tough. Both of the wing's inspections garnered the highest possible grade."

General Schwartz said when Airmen partner with the joint and coalition team to win today's fight, "we're all in." 

"It doesn't matter what we do," he said, "we're contributing in very substantial ways to today's fight. And to the families and spouses who are here, particularly in a time of war, this is a team sport. So to all of you, thank you, too, for your service in making this possible."

General Schwartz shared some figures on the deployment contributions of Air Force personnel. 

"We've got about 40,000 people on the road in the (Central Command area of operations), but guess what? There are about 150,000 who are not forward deployed who are doing incredible work, and we value both!"

The general also spoke about developing and caring for Airmen and their families and said, "This is about the people who make the mission happen." 

The Air Force family support must continue to keep pace with our current operations tempo, he said. 

Modernizing our aging air and space inventories is critical, the general continued. 

"KC-X clearly is the number one priority for our Air Force," he said. "And we must consider the F-35 (Lightning II joint strike fighter) the future for the combat air forces."

The general also discussed recapturing acquisition excellence. 

"Look, when you're in the World Series, and you're 0 and 2, you have to dig deep," he said. "And we're 0 and 2 in the tanker business. This is the World Series now. This is not only important for the Air Force to bring KC-X home, this is vitally important to the reputation of defense acquisition generally, and, I would argue, even the reputation of our industry partners."

Our Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Capability Is Critical

The general spoke of the tremendous number of hours accumulated flying unmanned missions. 

"We have rapidly expanded our capabilities," the general said.  "Why is this important? Because lives depend on this mission.  The best shooters we have in the Department of Defense will not go around a corner or through a door or window unless they have the situational awareness the United States Air Force provides."

The Direct Support Mission Is Our Mission

General Schwartz spoke next of the Air Force's direct support mission, and how it's different from what he calls the 'general support mission.'

"We are very good at doing what I call general support," he said. "Simply stated, this is 'how efficiently can I run an airline?'  Direct support, on the other hand, is not designed to attain efficiency, but to satisfy the customer's demand completely."

The direct support mission is to put time-sensitive, mission-critical cargo where it needs to be, he said. Air Force officials will field 38 C-27J Joint Cargo Aircraft to provide that support.

"We will adapt ourselves to ensure that our machines, our capability and our people contribute in the best possible way to the missions that our joint team faces," he said. "That's direct support."

Year of the Air Force Family

General Schwartz acknowledged these are demanding times. 

"For all of the leadership in this room, one of the things that we must do as an institution is to sustain and maybe in some ways rekindle the sense of community that our Air Force has always shared," he said.

That sense of community gives a person strength, the general said.

"It is important that we connect, that we reach out and make sure the entire family understands that we are paying attention to their needs," he said. "If we take care of our families, the rest will take care of itself."

There are four pillars the Air Force is concentrating on when it comes to family: health and wellness; Airman and family support; education, development and employment; and Airman and family housing.

"I ask that you devote this year to improving the lives of Air Force families," the general said.

The Modernization Challenge

"These are demanding times," Genereal Schwartz said. "Equipment is expensive and money is tight." 

He equated the age of the fleet and improvements to that fleet to "putting an MP3 into a 1984 vintage vehicle, improving it somewhat," but there are still other areas that will need improvement. 

"The dilemma the Air Force faces is we can fix and improve some of the existing equipment, or we can procure new," he said. "Because defense dollars peaked in 2008, we've been able, in large measure, to do both at the same time. That, however, will become more difficult."

The general said that this year about 40 percent of Air Force procurement funding will modify legacy systems. These modifications will be largely limited to safety of flight and airspace access requirements.

Keys to Future Capability

General Schwartz shared the top acquisition efforts. He said that last year tankers offloaded almost 200 million pounds of fuel. That equates to a full tank of gas with average use for six and a half years for (the nearly 4,000 people) in this room. 

"We need an airplane that isn't the vintage of black and white television," he said. "The KC-X is the Air Force's number one acquisition and recapitalization priority."

Second is the F-35 Lightening II. 

"Our fighter force is aging," he said. "This is a serious issue for our capacity to conduct tactical air operations. The F-35 is the platform that we are relying on to recapitalize our aging fighter fleet."

General Schwartz said there is nothing in the current quadrennial defense review and the nuclear posture review more important to the Air Force than long range strike. 

"I think that our Air Force needs to be able to persist in denied airspace," he said. "I think the United States of America needs something more than fire and forget."

Combat search and rescue is also important, he said. Search and rescue capabilities continue to play a vital role in support of global operations in both peacetime and combat situations, as well as in humanitarian assistance and disaster response. Recently, the CSAR weapons school was closed so CSAR assets could be located in Afghanistan, so that when U.S. and coalition forces were injured, they could be flown to treatment "in that golden hour."

The general added that space assets, especially military satellite communications, are vital to the Air Force mission. He acknowledged Air Force officials could not be running the UAS units from various locations around the world if it were not for satellite communications. 

"It is an obligation for us as a team to provide that capacity," he said. 

Cyber, which the general identified earlier as one of the key forces driving change in the Air Force, has similar mission impacts.

Keeping the Promise

General Schwartz concluded his presentation by saying, "In the end, this is about trust between you and me, between our Air Force and our teammates and it is about trust with our customer, the American people."

"Reputations are hard to earn and easy to lose," he continued. "So every day, we, individually and collectively, must strive to sustain that reputation, which is that we are a trustworthy and reliable partner on the battlefield, that we will do what is needed."

"And so, ladies and gentlemen, from whatever discipline you are in, whatever command you are in, whatever your background, this is our Air Force. This is our family."