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Leaders discuss Air Force priorities

BOLLING AIR FORCE BASE, WASHINGTON, D.C. (AFNEWS) -- Representatives from Air Force major commands discussed Air Force initiatives, systems and operational issues that tie into the top three Air Force priorities during a press conference March 26 here. 

Fighting and winning the war on terrorism, developing and caring for Airmen, and recapitalizing and remodernizing the Air Force were the three main topics MAJCOM leaders discussed.

Fighting and winning the war on terrorism

Airmen from around the world are engaged and committed to fighting terrorists and insurgent forces wherever they may be. About 32,000 Airmen are deployed at any given time, with approximately 5,000 to 6,000 Airmen filling in-lieu-of taskings for the sister services, said Gen. Ronald E. Keys, the commander of Air Combat Command.

The Air Force is prepared to use all its assets to fill its role in fighting the war on terrorism. Whether that means sending more unmanned aerial vehicles to the United States Central Command area of responsibility or deploying Airmen to the front lines, General Keys said. 

The joint precision airdrop system radically changes sustainment issues for troops on the ground, said Gen. Duncan J. McNabb, the Air Mobility Command commander. It allows mobility assets to airdrop food, ammunition and supplies with astounding accuracy to places where convoys can't quickly access, if at all.

"This gives us another tool by which we can make it easier for those folks on the ground, to make sure they know that resupply will be there -- where they need it and when they need it," General McNabb said. "It gives us all-weather day or night (delivery) with precision, and we're working with the Army, Marines and special operations forces on how to make the system work even better."

Develop and care for Airmen

One of the proposals to better prepare Airmen for wartime deployments is to incorporate contingency training begining in basic training, continuing in technical training school, and is readily available for Airmen before they deploy.

While many aspects of basic military training have been changed to reflect the importance of instilling this in the newest Airmen, Basic Military Training doesn't last long enough for everything they should know, said Lt. Gen. Dennis R. Larsen, the Air Education and Training Command vice commander.

"We're teaching our Airmen from day one a lot of things they didn't learn in the past," General Larsen said. "We've learned we're not training to the depth we want to. We're going to expand Basic Military Training to 8.5 weeks. That will start next year."

Currently, Airmen are not receiving expeditionary training at most technical school training sites. That is something that should change in the future, General Larsen said.

"When (Airmen) get to their units, some of the things they learned in Basic Military Training they've probably already forgotten. So we're going to continue that (expeditionary) training during tech training also," he said.

General Larsen also said the Air Force is developing a Common Battlefield Airmen training program. Within the next few years a training location will be selected and Airmen, specifically those in career fields which perform tasks outside base operating perimeters, will receive the training.

Recapitalize and remodernize the Air Force

The average age of the Air Force's aircraft inventory is approximately 25 years. Leaders have stressed new equipment isn't needed just to accomplish today's missions, but those of tomorrow as well.

Since 1996, the cost to maintain Air Force aircraft has risen to two to three times more than it did then. Some aircraft have been repaired so much; they've practically been remanufactured from scratch. In addition, as they age, new unforeseen problems crop up, General Keys said.

"Just last week I had most of my U-2 fleet grounded because we had a wire bundle that was chafing on a fuel sump," he said. "It's always bad to have arcing and fuel in the same sentence -- that's what we had. That was something we hadn't seen before. So as (the aircraft) get old they break in exciting ways."

The Air Force has been at sustained combat operations for 16 years, said Gen. Bruce Carlson, the Air Force Materiel Command commander.

As a result, readiness has decreased 17 percent, meaning fewer airframes can perform the missions for which they were designed. In the meantime, operation and maintenance costs have risen 179 percent because the Air Force has not recapitalized the aircraft or equipment that continues to age and continues to be used in at a very high operations tempo, he said.

"The wear and tear on the fleet is from what we do on the mobility side by getting convoys off the road and getting people above the threat wherever we can," General McNabb said. "Obviously, the wear and tear is a lot more now than it would be under peacetime or contingency operations."

This media engagement came on the heels of the Four Star Conference, held earlier in the week at nearby Andrews AFB, Md. There, Air Force leaders met to discuss the service's top challenges, opportunities and priorities. 

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