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‘General’ perspective: Future for U.S. airlift lies in modernization, partnerships

Maj. Gen. William Bender, U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center commander, addresses representatives from NATO and the U.S. at a conference in London, Sept. 26, 2012. Key topics of discussion focused on ways to more effectively conduct military airlift operations. The general elaborated on the future of the C-130J Super-Hercules program, the KC-46 fleet and how NATO and the U.S. could ill afford to throw teamwork by the wayside. Additionally, Bender made a site visit to RAF Mildenhall’s 727th Air Mobility Squadron, a tenant unit there under his chain of command. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt Christopher Mesnard)

Maj. Gen. William Bender, U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center commander, addresses representatives from NATO and the U.S. at a conference in London, Sept. 26, 2012. Key topics of discussion focused on ways to more effectively conduct military airlift operations. The general elaborated on the future of the C-130J Super-Hercules program, the KC-46 fleet and how NATO and the U.S. could ill afford to throw teamwork by the wayside. Additionally, Bender made a site visit to RAF Mildenhall’s 727th Air Mobility Squadron, a tenant unit there under his chain of command. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt Christopher Mesnard)

Maj. Gen. William Bender, U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center commander, addresses representatives from NATO and the U.S. at a conference in London, Sept. 26, 2012. Key topics of discussion focused on ways to more effectively conduct military airlift operations. The general elaborated on the future of the C-130J Super-Hercules program, the KC-46 fleet and how NATO and the U.S. could ill afford to throw teamwork by the wayside. Additionally, Bender made a site visit to RAF Mildenhall’s 727th Air Mobility Squadron, a tenant unit there under his chain of command. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt Christopher Mesnard)

Maj. Gen. William Bender, U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center commander, addresses representatives from NATO and the U.S. at a conference in London, Sept. 26, 2012. Key topics of discussion focused on ways to more effectively conduct military airlift operations. The general elaborated on the future of the C-130J Super-Hercules program, the KC-46 fleet and how NATO and the U.S. could ill afford to throw teamwork by the wayside. Additionally, Bender made a site visit to RAF Mildenhall’s 727th Air Mobility Squadron, a tenant unit there under his chain of command. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt Christopher Mesnard)

From left, Maj. Gen. William Bender, U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center commander, discusses the future of airlift with Lee McDowall, Royal Australian Air Force flight test engineer, and Jose Garcia Figueiredo Neto of Embraer Sociedad Anonima, at the Military Airlift event in London, Sept. 26, 2012. Key topics of discussion focused on ways to more effectively conduct military airlift operations. The general elaborated on the future of the C-130J Super-Hercules program, the KC-46 fleet and how NATO and the U.S. could ill afford to throw teamwork by the wayside. Additionally, Bender made a site visit to RAF Mildenhall’s 727th Air Mobility Squadron, a tenant unit there under his chain of command. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt Christopher Mesnard)

From left, Maj. Gen. William Bender, U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center commander, discusses the future of airlift with Lee McDowall, Royal Australian Air Force flight test engineer, and Jose Garcia Figueiredo Neto of Embraer Sociedad Anonima, at the Military Airlift event in London, Sept. 26, 2012. Key topics of discussion focused on ways to more effectively conduct military airlift operations. The general elaborated on the future of the C-130J Super-Hercules program, the KC-46 fleet and how NATO and the U.S. could ill afford to throw teamwork by the wayside. Additionally, Bender made a site visit to RAF Mildenhall’s 727th Air Mobility Squadron, a tenant unit there under his chain of command. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt Christopher Mesnard)

From right, Maj. Gen. William Bender, U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center commander, Emma Smith and Shawn Pike, both members of Omni Air International, discuss topics from the Military Airlift event, in London, Sept. 26, 2012. Participants included representatives from NATO and discussions topics centered on how to most efficiently conduct airlift under tightening budgets. The general also made a site visit to RAF Mildenhall’s 727th Air Mobility Squadron, a tenant unit there under his chain of command. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt Christopher Mesnard)

From right, Maj. Gen. William Bender, U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center commander, Emma Smith and Shawn Pike, both members of Omni Air International, discuss topics from the Military Airlift event, in London, Sept. 26, 2012. Participants included representatives from NATO and discussions topics centered on how to most efficiently conduct airlift under tightening budgets. The general also made a site visit to RAF Mildenhall’s 727th Air Mobility Squadron, a tenant unit there under his chain of command. (U.S. Air Force photo/2nd Lt Christopher Mesnard)

LONDON -- The U.S. expeditionary commander explained to U.S. and NATO partners about the need for Airmen to be capable of operating outside of their comfort zones and to prepare to operate in joint and coalition communities during a conference Sept. 26, 2012, in London.

"Going it alone is becoming less of an option for us," said Maj. Gen. William Bender, U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center commander. "Our forces need to be able to respond with short notice and be able to interact with our sister organizations and partner nations."

During his speech, the general highlighted key points from the U.S. Air Force priorities, particularly steps that our expeditionary forces are taking toward a more flexible military service. He also put special emphasis on boosting partnerships to "win today's fight," and modernizing our air inventories while addressing today's joint assembly.

"A good example is the C-130J Super-Hercules. It's a very large, collaborative community with seven partner nations involved in upgrades to the airframe," he said. "The interoperability of those nations is a good thing because nobody gets left out when it comes to training and upgrades."

Discussion of the future of strategic airlift within the U.S. Air Force and NATO was a hot topic for the gathering. Modernizing the C-130J fleet, in addition to other aircraft, will provide a more universal fleet not only in the U.S. military forces, but for coalition forces as well, according to the general.

Creating continuity between countries participating in NATO will be vital in coming years with force shaping, budget cuts and coalition forces withdrawing from Afghanistan in the coming years.

"Operations in Libya showed that the U.S. Air Force could step back and lead from the rear, by providing key support roles," he said of Operation Unified Protector in 2011. "If you look at our expeditionary capabilities in retrospect, we were able to have 24 KC-135s and 10 KC-10s in a matter of 36 hours to provide support for joint and coalition forces in Libya."

The general further discussed the need for improvement in maintaining an effective expeditionary force that can operate with partner forces anywhere in the world. Bender has a "train like you fight," mentality and believes in being able to coordinate with partner nations to identify logistical problems in these types of discussion forums to allow for more effective airlift and support when actual situations requiring joint operations come about.

"Both internally and internationally, there is a premium on teamwork," he said. "We can no longer look at a situation through a stove pipe lens. Our Airmen need to strive to become experts outside of their functional group."

Bender echoed the tone Chief of Staff of the Air Force, U.S. Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, talking about the need for a strong Air Force. He also acknowledged how times ahead will be tough, for junior Airmen up to the most senior officers, and how all must make the most out of the force that we have available.

The coming drawbacks will present a new era for our active-duty members, the general said.

"It all comes back to being able to work together effectively and efficiently," Bender concluded. "We have a long road ahead of us, and it's not one that we should be treading without partners."