Question & Answer with SECAF during visit RAF Mildenhall

RAF MILDENHALL, England -- Q: What is the Air Force going to look like in five years? 

A: The Air Force in five years is going to be a little bit smaller; it's going to be more agile, it's going to be, I think, smarter. We're going to operate more efficiently. The Air Force in five years is really going to be a product of these great Airmen who are here today, and there's no doubt they intend to leave the Air Force with a better operational tempo and a more efficient and effective force.

Q: As far as right-sizing, how will that affect Airmen, operational tempo and assignments? 

A: That is a great question because we're also examining, "How do we career broaden? How do we essentially take a large number of specialty codes and reduce them so we can allow our Airmen to career broaden within that broader career field?" Right now we think we've really got a great (Air Expeditionary Force) rotation. About 70 percent of our Airmen are in the AEF rotation now. That means about 30 percent of the rotations are a little bit longer. I think security forces go about 180 days and the command staffs go about a year to match up with their Army friends. Our Army colleagues are actually looking at our AEF and wondering whether or not they can reduce some of their rotations, and I think they're about to take some action. So it appears that the people in the past who are great thinkers and thinking about the future of our Air Force actually came up with something that we can live with for this long war.

Q: There have been initiatives like Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century to reduce some redundancies and work smarter. How are those initiatives working? 

A: Well I would say it this way ... there are stressed career fields right now. We have taken the strategic decision to reduce our force structure. I think where those stresses re-occur we need to apply the best management and organizational tempo to get that down. Whether it's flyer organizations or whether it's a different organizational style using the Air Force Smart Operations 21 to start a team building exercise and increase our communication, it has helped dramatically - even in operations where there are no reductions whatsoever, but in fact, just a reduction in overtime.

Q: what are your thoughts on the Reserves, the Guard and the active duty working together in deployments and at home bases? 

A: The Air Force has really become the leader in total-force integration. Our active, our Reserve and our Guard just operate in such a cooperative environment that they really bring an increased energy to all the operations. 

In fact, we're wondering how we can better use the capabilities that are brought to us by the Guard and Reserve on a regular full-time basis, not just on down-range deployments. 

We are thinking of better and better ways to essentially use our Guard and Reserve in ways that they will continue to be volunteers for our force.

Q: Is the current basing structure in Europe going to stay the same or is it going to change? 

A: I don't see any large muscle movements for the bases in Europe. On the other hand, I do see growth and reductions in personnel as missions change and as the operations tempo changes. 

I do also see that in the future. Europe is going to continue to play a major role, especially as we bring in the new NATO partners, and we look, if you will, a little bit differently in our spread of our force structure. But right now, for example, here at Mildenhall and at Lakenheath I don't see any dramatic changes at least in the geography. 

I don't see us, for example, dramatically reducing the base size. I do see that personnel could move about. They could move back to the states; they do all the time anyway or rotate somewhere else.

Q: On the budget, is there any new equipment coming up? 

A: Part of our strategy is to make sure we recapitalize our Air Force. 

This goes all the way across the spectrum, from the combat search and rescue helicopter to the tanker. We have already made a commitment, if you will, on wide-body lift that we're going to stop the C-17 program at about 180 (units). 

We think that the first tanker is more important that the 181st (C-17) because it brings inherent lift with it, as well as being a refueling operation. 

It can self deploy, if you will, and that some saves us some things. We're also doing some operations very differently, which really adds to our capacity in a very different way.
Frankly, the Air Force Smart Operations and Lean operating through our depots has already effectively produced more capitalization by increasing our operational readiness rate. On the F-22A and tactical air, Congress is right now debating whether to offer us multi-year. We think that's the most effective way to purchase the remainder of our fleet.
We've been authorized up to 183 units. We'd like to get more, but we just flat don't see where the resources are coming from ... In the area of expeditionary warfare, it is absolutely mandatory that we have tanker operations, and we continue to expand our lift capabilities. 

It is also mandatory, we have a moral obligation to refit our combat search and rescue helicopters. I'm really looking forward to the completion of that, which should be by the end of this year. 

As for tankers, it looks like the request for proposal is going to come out this fall, and then if we're lucky, the downside could occur by late spring of next year.

Q: Airmen have taken extended roles in Iraq and Afghanistan to supplement security forces and such. Are there other extended roles in those theaters? 

A: I would say it this way: right now the Army is overstressed. We look for the day when the Army is no longer overstressed and possibly has their combat-service support totally together. 

But, you know, when your partner is in trouble, you rise to the occasion. But as the Air Force shrinks in size, we wonder about how much longer we can sustain that.
And, it's a good debate to have. But I will say this; all of the operations we are conducting have broadened the skills of our Airmen. It has taught us to increase our basic military training to include rifle training, to include combat medic support. And so, there are things our Air Force has learned from this whole exercise, and I think it's a good thing.