Growing Airmen, modernization and change vital to preserving airpower advantage

  • Published
  • By Rich Lamance
  • Air Force News Service

Growing Airmen, dealing with organizational change and modernizing the force were key points from the top ranking officer in U.S. Air Forces Europe during a presentation focusing on preserving airpower advantage at the 30th annual Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium and Technology Exposition Feb. 20.

Gen. Frank Gorenc, commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe, as well as U.S. Air Forces Africa, told an audience of Airmen, industry experts and AFA members when it comes to preserving airpower advantage, people are the keys to success.

Gorenc said there are three things that have to happen to grow Airmen to preserve U.S. airpower advantage -- five years from now, 10 years from now or 20 years from now.

“First thing is training. We have to train with an eye that our Airmen have the certifications required to hold them accountable for the job they are doing,” Gorenc said. “We have to give Airmen the training that gives them the tools to handle known situations. They need to understand their job to be fully qualified for their job.”

The USAFE commander said the second thing in this “three-legged stool” is education. “Education is what gives Airmen the critical problem solving skills that will help them when no guidance is available. They need to be able to solve the unknowns. And believe me, in the execution of combat power from the air, you are placed in situations every single day where there isn’t a checklist, where you have to fall back on your education.”

Finally, Gorenc said, “you have to have on-the-job experience. Giving Airmen the opportunity to lead, to be held accountable for their decision is key... To operate with integrity, excellence and service in mind, and with the requirement to train the next generation better than they were trained.”

Gorenc believes we are a meritocracy … and that, in the Air Force, leaders are grown from within. “Air forces fail because trained leaders retire and there’s no one there to take their place.” He pointed out the three-legged stool has to be balanced to keep it from falling over.

“You’ll be less valuable to the Air Force if you don’t have a good mix of education, training and on-the-job experience. With downsizing it’s important to be the best Airman you can be every day. We’ll give you the training, we’ll give you the education, and we’ll give you the on-the-job experiences. But if you don’t take them and help nurture yourself, I can’t make you do it. That’s why people are such a large part of preserving our airpower advantage.”

In addition to the people factor, Gorenc stressed that aircraft modernization is also a key factor to preserving airpower advantage. He emphasized three different things the Air Force is focused on: F-35, KC-46 and the long-range strike bomber.

“Today, we have some must-have modernizations: we have the F-35, a fifth-generation fighter, but we also have fourth generation fighters like the F-16 Fighting Falcon, where passing data back and forth is still a requirement.”

In the area of procurement, and its impact on preserving airpower advantage, Gorenc admitted that as an operator he knows little about the procurement side of the house, but he maintains “to be successful, those in procurement need to understand the needs of the operators and the operators need to learn the research and development side, so as we go along the procurement process we don’t make mistakes along the way.”

Gorenc added it is also extremely important to learn how to sustain our equipment as it gets older, determine what the cost is and how it will be maintained in the future.  “We have to understand as that aircraft or piece of equipment gets another year older, how is that 19-to-20 year old Airman going to fix that airplane and provide combat power for America?”

The USAFE commander said organizational change can be an effective tool to get more combat power from the air. He believes lessons learned from the first Gulf War helped prepare us for future wars.

“We revamped training, we revamped equipment, we revamped the way to do targeting, we revamped our ability to take all that data we receive from our ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) and put it in a way that ends up on a chart, in a cockpit, with the ability for the Airman to deliver that weapon with precision.”

With tighter budgets, shrinking resources and fewer people, Gorenc sees himself as an example of doing more with less to keep that advantage alive.  In addition to his roles as the USAFE commander and the U.S. Air Forces Africa chief, he is also the commander of the Allied Air Command and director of Joint Air Power Competence Center.

“I was introduced into organizational change when I came with four hats: I provide the air competency to two combatant commanders. That’s a change we had to make. It reflects the fact we’re getting smaller and we’re going to have to do it faster, better and (less expensive) and I’m happy to say we’re doing pretty good in Africa and Europe, providing what they need from the air component.”

Gorenc said alliances and coalitions are important in the mix of preserving airpower advantage, but tends to separate the two into different categories.

“I separate these two because there is only one alliance. It’s called NATO. It’s the world’s greatest alliance. It’s been a force for peace for decades and it continues to be an example of what you can do when you commit to interoperability. Particularly when you share the same values and the same goals.”

He also said coalitions are “absolutely essential in today’s world and it’s going to be even more important in tomorrow’s world. They are politically relevant and operationally essential.”

Emerging capabilities, emerging threats and emerging opportunities Gorenc said are things Airmen should not fear.

“We need to look at what it is in that area that is emerging and we need to adopt it, to make sure we are much more effective,” he said.  “If we do that properly, if we take it on with the same zeal we take on everything else, we will preserve our airpower advantage.”