Air Warfare Symposium features Air Force success, future

  • Published
  • By JoAnne Rumple
  • Air Force Materiel Command Public Affairs
Aerial support is critical in Iraq and Afghanistan. It saves lives and enables re-supply for troops fighting in difficult, remote terrain. But the heavy demand for aerial support is wearing down available assets, compounding problems already faced by aging Air Force fleets.

The necessity to eliminate problems that threaten to limit air operations was the message from key Air Force leaders, including Gen. Bruce Carlson, commander of Air Force Materiel Command, at this year's Air Warfare Symposium Feb. 8-9 in Orlando, Fla. 

More than 900 military and industry representatives attended the Air Force Association-sponsored symposium. Among them were Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne; Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. T. Michael Moseley; and commanders of Pacific Air Forces, U.S. Strategic Command, Air Combat Command, and Air Mobility Command. The conference's theme was "Striking the balance: Today's war, tomorrow's threats, future technology."

Secretary Wynne opened the conference, discussing his admiration for the "amazing successes, flexibility, ingenuity and enthusiasm" of Airmen he's met. He also recalled last year's dedication of the Air Force Memorial, "a symbol of the strategic shield your Air Force gives this country." He said the country "is now at a crossroads in the national dialogue on sovereign options, where the subject is investment in that strategic shield. We must never allow that shield to tear," he said.

Highlighting Air Force achievements in the interdependent Global War on Terrorism, Secretary Wynne, General Moseley and others spoke about tankers refueling the aircraft that form the air bridge by which troops and equipment are transported. Currently 3-4 million pounds of fuel supply that air bridge each day. The new KC-X tanker will be essential to future operations requiring similar capabilities.

They also spoke of the struggle to obtain funds to replace aircraft lost in combat -- 83 manned and 44 unmanned -- and recapitalize aging fleets -- tankers averaging 43 years old and a total inventory averaging more than 24 years old. Newer, more capable aircraft, they stressed, will take less to maintain than the $1.4 billion a year now being spent on legacy aircraft.

Leaders also addressed increased requirements for Air Force support -- a result of the surge in ground troops for Iraq. The secretary and chief of staff said they're reassessing the need for Airmen in ground combat brigades, because such unconventional roles fail to leverage Air Force skills and because of the consequences of not having enough air cover.

Speakers referenced numerous AFMC initiatives that have saved lives and provided new capabilities for combat commanders. Among them are:

> Deployment of Project Angel Fire, an off-the-shelf camera system integrated with sensors and used to store data for retrieval as needed, to detect possible terrorist activity;

> Use of C-17 Globemaster III, other cargo aircraft and the new Joint Precision Air Drop System to transform intra-theater airlift and reduce numbers of ground convoys;

> The Small Diameter Bomb, fielded six months ahead of schedule;

> ROVER (Remote Operations Video Enhanced Receiver), a communications capability installed on the MQ-1Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, which transmits live video to ground-based targeting teams and has been used to detect, target and destroy improvised explosive devices;

> Improvements in night strafing resulting from increased use of simulators in training.

General Carlson emphasized that more than 1,000 AFMC Airmen provide direct support in theater every day. He also discussed Air Force Research Laboratory initiatives to increase situational awareness in the combat zone. These initiatives include a system that makes it easier to land helicopters in sand-laden "brownouts." This situation occurs when spinning rotors cause dust to swirl upward around the aircraft ,resulting in a dust cloud in which flight crews can lose visibility.

Talking about technical challenges, General Carlson said the command is working on persistent tactical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; data fusion for a common operating picture; rapid, precise, tailorable strike capabilities and enhanced survivability of warfighters and weapon systems.

General Carlson also spoke about how the Air Force will fight in the future and technology to help combatants find, fix, track, target, engage and assess the enemy -- anytime, anywhere.

The general discussed responsive space technologies such as a two-stage-to-orbit military-only space plane and tactical satellites. He closed by reminding the audience that a military succeeds only when it can anticipate emerging threats and develops the capabilities required for the next fight.

Complete transcripts of all the presentations will be posted to the AFA web site later this month.

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