Lt. Gen. Richard W. Scobee, chief of the Air Force Reserve and commander of Air Force Reserve Command, highlighted Total Force integration, the Reserve’s rapid response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Reserve’s unique weather reconnaissance, aerial spray and aerial firefighting missions during the Airlift/Tanker Association’s 52nd annual convention, symposium and technology expo Oct. 27-29. This year’s event was held virtually due to ongoing COVID-19 health concerns.
“When I spoke to this forum two years ago, I said that the only missions we don’t do as Reservists are sitting in ICBM silos and flying the U-2,” Scobee said. “Since then, we’ve had Reservists integrate into both of those missions.”
He went on to explain that Reserve Airmen operate 20% of the Total Force’s missions, but utilize only 3% of the budget. Also, one third of all of the Reserve’s personnel belong to Air Mobility Command, making Reserve mobility Airmen a vital asset to the Total Force.
“We produce combat power for America … period. We do that through strategic depth for the national defense and operational support to the joint force. We are a cost-effective force,” he said.
Scobee said two new KC-46 Pegasus aerial refueling aircraft have recently been added to the AFRC inventory, making it a total of four in the fleet. He described how the KC-46 embodies the Total Force concept through the integration of skill sets by Reservists who fly and maintain the Boeing 767, the airframe the KC-46 is designed after, and how they work alongside their active counterparts during every step of the development process.
“Reservists used their combined civilian and military expertise to make the KC-46 better from the start,” he said. “They helped the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) with certification, they assisted with the development of the aircrew training and maintenance programs, and they provided input to a bunch of working groups, improving things like cockpit design and avionics. Then they flew it during testing.”
During the COVID-19 outbreak, more than 1,700 Reserve Airmen were activated, and within 48 hours, medical personnel were sent to hot spots in New York and New Jersey, carrying along with them much needed personal protective equipment, testing kits and ventilators. Their ability to rapidly mobilize and get people and supplies where they were needed saved thousands of lives, and provided medical Reservists with invaluable skills.
“The lessons our medical Reserve Citizen Airmen learned on the front lines of the pandemic were then brought home to each of their communities, strengthening our response as a nation,” the general said.
Scobee also talked about AFRC’s three unique domestic operation mission sets: weather reconnaissance, large-area aerial spray and aerial firefighting.
“The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season has been the most active on record,” he said. “In August, the Hurricane Hunters of the 403rd Wing conducted dispersed operations from Charleston (South Carolina) when Hurricane Laura and Tropical Storm Marco threatened their primary base at Keesler (AFB) in Mississippi. In September, they went through a similar series of operations with Hurricanes Sally and Paulet flying from Ellington in Texas,” he said. “The data they provide helps our mission partners at NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) make more accurate forecasts to save lives across the country.”
Following major hurricanes, clouds of mosquitoes often engulf the affected areas, and can endanger cattle and horses, and threaten the lives and property of many Americans. Reservists with the 910th Airlift Wing, Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Ohio, possess the Department of Defense’s only large-area, fixed-wing aerial spray capability, and are currently conducting missions in response to Hurricane Delta in southern Louisiana.
As wildfires wreak havoc across the western United States, mobility Airmen assigned to the 302nd Airlift Wing from Peterson AFB, Colorado have been busy flying their Modular Airborne Fire Fighting-equipped C-130s alongside their Guard counterparts for three of the four largest wildfires in California’s history, contributing to the Total Force effort and keeping Americans safe.
“All of these capabilities that our Reserve component maintains – weather reconnaissance, large-area aerial spraying and aerial firefighting – are about one thing – taking care of our fellow Americans,” Scobee said. “That is what the Guard and Reserve do. We surge to relieve human suffering and protect Americans.”
Circling back to the convention’s theme, Connecting Warriors in the Digital Age-Big Data/AI and the Roaring 20’s Version 2.0, the Scobee likened the historical events and challenges of today to that of the 1920s – talking specifically about the development of many of today’s technologies and how we must reform the way we think on and off the battlefield.
“The prospect of state-on-state conflict was unthinkable, but preparation for it is now a priority. At the same time, new technologies such as big data and artificial intelligence will permanently change warfare,” the general said. “Joint all-domain command and control is absolutely essential going forward to enable real-time mission management.”
Expanding on command and control, he spoke of the highly effective exploits of Gen. Claire Chennault‘s “Flying Tigers,” also known as the American Volunteer Group, in China during World War II. With the emergence of technology, Chennault was able to create a network of early-warning spotters that signaled the approach of oncoming Japanese forces and allowed the Airmen to take off and get to a superior altitude and dominate the airspace.
“But this (early warning network) wasn’t an on-the-spot innovation,” Scobee said. “General Chennault didn’t make this up when he got into the area of operation. He’d gone through this before when he was assigned to Luke Field in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, from 1923 to 1926. As he began to look at the operating environment and gauge the shift in the geopolitical environment, he began experimenting with command and control techniques. Much like the Airmen who came before us a century ago, we have to think through complex problems across warfighting domains.”
In closing, the general reiterated the need for rapid change both as a service and nation, and encouraged others to look back at the actions taken by our predecessors during the interwar years for inspiration to meet the challenges ahead.
He also left mobility Airmen with a heartfelt thank-you for their continued support to the nation and to the Total Force.
“Each of you is a part of that ongoing story,” he said. “As mobility Airmen, you carry on a tradition from the Hump, to the Berlin Airlift, to Eldorado Canyon, and everywhere in between. You are the people part of the equation that make airpower possible. On behalf of the more than 70,000 Reserve Citizen Airmen that I am so fortunate to lead, I cannot tell you how proud I am to serve with each of you. Thank you for everything you do.”