Senior leaders speak on future total force initiative
6/7/2005 - WASHINGTON -- Lt. Gen. Stephen Wood, Air Force deputy chief of staff of plans and programs joined by Brig. Gen. Charles D. Ethredge, deputy to the chief of Air Force Reserve, Brig. Gen. Charles Ickes, deputy director, Air National Guard and Brig. Gen. Allison Hickey, assistant deputy director of strategic planning, met in a media roundtable June 3 here.
General Wood: If you would bear with me, both those who are listening in as well as those in the room, I think it's very important and it will certainly give what we're doing in the Air Force and with the department, putting it in the right kind of context here.
I think also just to set this in context for you, I'm very proud to be here with the representatives of the Air Force Reserve and the Air National Guard here. General Chuck Ickes is the Deputy Director of the Air National Guard Bureau here; and Brigadier General Rick Etheridge is from the Air Force Reserve. So after a prepared statement we'll be glad to do our very best to answer any of your questions.
Again, we'd like to welcome all of you to this media roundtable regarding the state of the Air Force Future Total Force activities.
We're making some exciting changes to make this the most capable Air Force ever and we'd like to share our plans with you today as we take the next steps in identifying emerging relevant missions for our active duty, our Air National Guard and our Air Force Reserve in partnership together as a total force team.
Since our last media event in December of '04 to announce our sixth Future Total Force test initiatives, or what we call test cases, we have been working very hard to make our Future Total Force vision a reality.
These initiatives have progressed well with there Air National Guard personnel in F/A-22 training as we speak today, on their way back to the new associate unit at Langley Air Force Base which combines Richmond Air National Guard Wing with Langley, the active duty First Wing.
Now living and working in Burlington, Vermont are our community basing initiative are 2 of 11 active member members already assigned to the Air National Guard's fighter wing. The rest will arrive throughout the summer months.
The Predator units slated for Arizona, Texas and New York have been put into the plan lineup and we've been working with the Air National Guard and Air Combat Command to identify the appropriate manning and training requirements. In fact we have those members of those units training in the Predator today.
As of yesterday, Air Force Special Operations Command and the Air Force Reserve have decided to work together on an additional Predator unit, an incredible partnership at Indian Springs in Nevada. Integration at the Air Warfare Center also at Nellis Air Force Base with both the Guard and Reserve grows daily, with hiring processes in full swing for all units.
Pacific Air Command's two C-17 associate units in Hawaii and Alaska take steps daily to address concepts of operations, moving closer to the initial operating capability next year for one of them, and then a year and a half later for the other. We have identified well over 100 relevant mission opportunities in both unit associations as well as emerging missions to include units designed to augment our Air and Space Operations Centers, our warfighting headquarters, information operations units, intelligence units, space missions, medical missions, and numerous C4ISR mission areas to include such things that are far encompassing and very important to the future of our Air Force and Department of Defense.
In addition, we have continued to refining training missions with our Guard and Reserve as lead in some cases in the C-5 and the C-130 flying training units which trains our initial air crews into those aircraft in both Texas and Arizona.
Overall, we are very pleased with the progress of these Future Total Force initiatives.
With the Department of Defense Base Realignment and Closure Recommendations released to the Commission, we are now in a position to work with our stakeholders in the active duty, the Guard and Reserve to lay plans for many more state by state mission assignments. We have identified a defined process and an aggressive schedule in place to make our future total force plans a reality.
If the Commission makes changes to the current DoD recommendations, we are prepared to make adjustments to our [applying] process and shift emerging mission areas to other locations.
The hard work that we are doing in coordination with the Guard and Reserve is best exemplified by our plans taking shape in North Dakota. As you may already know, the Air Force program called for the retirement of the Air National Guard F-16s at Hecter Field in Fargo. In addition, the Department of Defense recommendation to the Commission is to move the KC-135 aircraft currently based at Grand Forks to other locations. Our plan is to take advantage of both of these recommended changes to create in North Dakota what we call a family of UAVs. Using Future Total Force organizations and capturing the highly trained and experience capability of the North Dakota Happy Hooligans.
First we will replace the F-16 mission with what we call an active associate Predator unit which means the Guard will retain primary responsibility for the UAVs and an active duty unit will work with them to get the most out of this incredible ISR asset and the experience of the North Dakota National Guard.
Our current thought is to base the Predators and eventually Global Hawks themselves at Grand Forks. Using a well tested concept of operations, the Air National Guard will operate the ground control station from Hecter Field while a launch recovery element is at Grand forks. This will provide the support to the actual aircraft platforms themselves. This what we call split operations is the current way we increase reachback with the Predators at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. The intent there is to minimize our footprint of our personnel overseas in some of our areas of responsibility in combat zones. This will reduce forward deployed footprints resulting in a reduction in requirements for mobilization and in fact deployment. A perfect fit for our citizen airmen.
In addition to enhancing our efforts on the battlefield these technologies may give us unsurpassed tools to support the states and their respective Title 32 missions. We're currently teaming with OSD on issues associated with this possibility.
North Dakota has unique qualities which make it a good location for UAV operations. That's why we intend to grow the UAV missions in the state by placing our second major Global Hawk location at Grand Forks as well. The vast amounts of airspace combined with low population density and air traffic routes provide us with critical advanced training opportunities to learn and practice all we can to operate UAVs worldwide. And in fact in all weather conditions like we encountered in Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
Adequate air and range space is critical to the Future Total Force and to the nation. That's one reason why the Department of Defense Base Realignment and Closure recommendation keeps Eileson Air Force Base active. The home of the Alaska Air National Guard KC-135s at Eileson has a state of the art heated hangar space in close proximity to the largest airspace ranges, in fact by nearly three times that of our Red Flag airspace ranges in Nevada. This air and range space hosts largescale multinational exercises with many coalition partners and is critically important to our nation's growing national strategies in the Pacific. You may recall we call these exercises in fact Cope Thunder. Plus we have the advantages of long summer days for flying, late fall and early spring periods for increasing exercise opportunities, and proximity to Army forces which enhances our joint training.
This, ladies and gentlemen, in a nutshell is an update on our Future Total Force efforts. I'm happy, in fact I'm honored to be with you this morning, again, to address your questions and provide you with more information.
We'd like to begin and open it up to your questions.
Media: Lisa Reinhart, Grand Forks Herald.
I've heard rumors that the X45 and X47 could be also coming to Grand Forks. Is there any validity to those rumors?
General Wood: This is General Wood. Let me do my very best.
I think it's way too early to even talk about something like that. Those plans are in their initial development stages with no real look at where we're going to place those aircraft when they become fully operational.
I think I would tell you, though, that UAV operations at Grand Forks in North Dakota, because of airspace and other training issues as outlined earlier, make great sense. So we think UAVs at Grand Forks are there for a long period of time a head.
Media: In terms of replacing the KC-135 units and bringing in a UAV mission, is it going to be more or less the same amount of people being transferred to Grand Forks? How would that work? Currently we have about, if I'm not mistaken, about 3,000 active duty military members on base.
General Wood: I can't answer your question fully because those are the details that we're beginning to work out now as part of our Future Total Force directorate here, working as a team between the Air Force Reserve, the Air National Guard and the active duty.
There are some numbers and things that were outlined in the BRAC, the recommendation out of the Department of Defense in regards to BRAC. Those numbers are planning numbers for us, but those things are for us to work out over the next couple of years.
Media: Just so I can understand better, who would be flying the UAVs? Is it the Air National Guard or the Air Force out of Grand Forks? I'm assuming it would be the Air National Guard because they're the ones that have the most expanse of fighter pilots, especially for the Global Hawk. Would that be accurate?
General Wood: This is General Wood again here. I've got these great guys beside me who can answer this, but let me say, it's going to be both. There's great partnership teaming that we can do there at Grand Forks in regards to both the Air National Guardsmen in North Dakota as well as the active duty.
Media: Jeff Nett, reporter at the Forum.
I understand you don't have details as to how this might stack up with what the current mission is at both Grand Forks and Fargo, but I'm wondering, what do you see in the future? Do you see a mission that's at least equal to or even more significant than what we currently have?
General Ickes: This is General Ickes. Let me talk a little bit about Fargo.
We see great opportunity here as we move into this UAV world. The UAV organizations will be very robust. They will have a large pilot requirement and sensor requirement along with a lot of support requirements. So we right now anticipate some of these organizations to require nearly 500 people or so, so they're going to be very robust, mature organizations with a 24 hour, seven day a week, 365 day a year tasking. So it's going to be a little bit different than what we're doing today at Fargo, but we have great opportunities for the people there and great missions for them to move into.
Media: The BRAC plan currently calls for mothballing about 36 percent of the Fargo base. Would this mission at all reverse any of that?
General Ickes: That's still to be worked out through the BRAC Commission. We won't talk BRAC particulars.
I would tell you that we will preserve at Fargo adequate space to perform the mission.
Media: My name's Dale Wetzel. I'm with the associated Press in Bismarck.
I just want to understand what's going on here. First of all, there was someone reading something, or at least it sounded that way, when I first came into the call. Could you tell me who that was?
General Wood: That was Lieutenant General Steven Wood, the Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff of Plans and Programs.
Media: Thank you.
Also, could you talk about what sort of, whether it's more likely that the Global Hawk or the Predator or both will be at Grand Forks or Fargo? Are any of them going to be at Fargo?
General Ickes: Our anticipation would be that most of the airframes would exist at Grand Forks. One of the challenges we have in the UAV world is you are not able to or would not want to right now operate UAVs off commercial and international airports for a lot of reasons.
So we can put the ground control station with a lot of the operators up at Fargo, but the preponderance of the aircraft most likely would be down at Grand Forks.
Media: How does it make sense to have the pilots in Fargo and the vehicles in Grand Forks?
General Wood: This is General Wood again. Sir, we do that right now. We have UAVs flying over Iraq and Afghanistan that are being flown by pilots in Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. I would tell you it works very very well, and it allows us to, through what we call reachback capabilities, to minimize the footprint forward in combat zones of personnel that you could use just as effectively back at stateside bases.
Media: I wasn't trying to question the efficacy of remote flying, I just thought how does it make sense when you have a base in Grand Forks which I would presume has plenty of space for both the pilots and the UAVs, and why would you then split that mission? There's no reason why you couldn't have both the pilots and the UAVs in Grand Forks, is there not?
General Wood: Let me clarify for you. Our concept of operations, there will be forward members of the North Dakota Air National Guard that will be stationed, whether it's on a rotational basis, at Grand Forks.
The concept that we have with our Predator operations now is that we have Predator pilots, very few of them, but we have Predator pilots, sensor operators and maintenance that actually take off the aircraft from bases say over in Iraq or Afghanistan or in this case that would be at Grand Forks, and then through what we call reachback, through technology we have, through satellite, can transfer control of those to a different location.
So you're right in the sense that we will have members of the North Dakota Air National Guard, the pilots and air crews, down at Grand Forks, too.
Media: This is Dan Gunderson with Minnesota Public Radio.
I'm wondering if you can explain a little more about the support staff needed, how that compares with other missions when you're talking about UAVs. The planes that will be in Grand Forks.
General Ickes: I would say a lot of the details of that are yet to be worked out. Both members of the Air National Guard, the Reserves, the Air Staff and Air Combat Command are working those details as we speak. It's kind of hard to pin it down right now because we're still trying to determine exactly what the mission will be and how much each of these organizations will perform, but they'll be pretty large organizations, I'd say that.
Media: This is James [inaudible], WBAV in Grand Forks.
I just wanted to make sure, what's the timetable, ball park, when can we see these UAVs, and when will this all be happening? Is that still up in the air? Are we talking -- Just the timetable basically.
General Wood: This is General Wood again. I think again, that's what we're starting to work through here now. But we plan to implement the Predator operations there rather quickly. I mean there's lots of planning and things to go on there, but it's one that we're going to move right out on and plan to bed that down here in, and I can't give you an exact timeframe, but in the next few years.
Colonel Smolinsky: We'll come back to the field but we're going to take a couple of questions in the room.
Media: Pam Hess with UPI.
Could you go over some of the numbers for us? I understand some of this is in flux, but how many Global Hawks are you talking about? How many individual Predator aircraft are you talking about? And give us some sense of the numbers that you have associated with particular systems at Nellis, particularly so we can get a sense of the largeness of this.
General Wood: Let me just try to bound it. Again, as long as we understand that these are rough numbers here. But we're looking for our Predator squadrons to be somewhere around 12 aircraft that would be part of that squadron.
Media: How many squadrons?
General Wood: One squadron at Grand Forks and at Fargo as part of the Air National Guard.
Media: and is that one squadron with split operations between the two or two squadrons?
General Wood: That's one squadron with that. Then what we're also talking there, as General Ickes said, we're growing the capability and the numbers, but I think the template that we've been looking to is somewhere around 500 to 600 personnel for that operation.
General Hickey: Allison Hickey.
That's just the Predator side of the operation, not the base operation force.
General Wood: Right, and that's a great point. I apologize for earlier not introducing General Hickey. She's our Future Total Force Directorate within the Air Force, the Air Staff here in the Pentagon.
For those listening in, that is just the numbers of people that will be part of the Predator operations, whether it's maintenance, whether it's air crews, or all the associates there. There's still a significant support structure to keep those people doing their mission.
Media: And Global Hawk?
General Wood: Global Hawk, we're still developing. As you know, we are just in the final development stages up here where we're going to start producing the aircraft. We're real proud of it.
As you know, very early on like we did with Predator, before those were even out of testing we'd push them and they've been flying missions since the early stages of Operation Enduring Freedom and certainly Iraqi Freedom in the war on terrorism today.
I think what we'll see is sort of, once again we haven't the final numbers but we're just going to continue to prove it. But probably equally split of Global Hawks between Grand Forks and our first base at Beale Air Force Base in California.
Media: Could you tell us how many Global Hawks you currently have and what your programmed to get?
General Wood: We have mostly test that we pushed into operational, but we have a methodical plan here to buy a number of Global Hawks each year from now on.
Media: Could you tell us so that we --
General Wood: Through our first five year defense plan it's over 50 of the aircraft, then obviously we will continue to adjust those numbers as we continue.
Media: And that FYDP starts in 2007, 2006?
General Wood: Actually it started before now. We're buying the aircraft now.
Media: and how many do you have on hand? I know you've had some crashes. So we all have an accurate number of how many you currently have.
General Wood: I can't give you that accurate number because I didn't come prepared to tell you that, but we do have several of them that are in fact flying today.
Colonel Smolinsky: We can get that number to you.
Media: Michael Sirak with Janes Defense Weekly.
I'm wondering when you talk Predators, are you talking about MQ-1s or MQ-9s?
General Wood: Actually we're talking about both.
Media: A mixed squadron?
General Wood: A possibility. Or as the MQ-9 continues to develop -- We're just in the developmental program with the MQ-9 now. We see a great possibility for it also at Fargo and Grand Forks.
Media: As far as the Global Hawk, I thought you said General, that North Dakota would be the second major site for the Global Hawk. But I thought the Air Force had already identified Andersen Air Force Base in Guam as a Global Hawk site. I'm wondering, would you base the Global Hawks in North Dakota before you start basing them in Guam? What is the schedule there?
General Wood: Let me clarify what obviously came across. We will have two CONUS bases for Global Hawk. One is at Beale Air Force Base and one is at Grand Forks. Then we will, just like we do with our U-2s today, have several locations overseas that those aircraft are stationed to or fly from.
Media: As far as the timing, do you know whether Andersen will get them before --
General Wood: That's things that we're working through right now.
Media: [Amy]. Just a follow-on to what Michael had asked.
I'm curious with what brought you to the idea of having two CONUS bases for Global Hawk, simply because U-2 operations were centered at Beale, and if it was an interest in getting the Guard involved, why not get the California Guard involved at Beale? Why have a split operation?
Media: The unit at Beale is going to be a reserve associate. The Reserves will be involved with the organization there.
General Ickes: And the California Guard will get involved in UAVs. We're just not 100 percent sure yet where that will all work out.
Media: So why split the locations, the support, the training, equipment, the spares in two CONUS bases? It seems like that would be spending more money for the simple fact of having two infrastructures.
General Wood: Actually the very simplistic answer is that we plan with the capabilities of the Global Hawk and what we call the block modifications and things we will see of the airplane, we'll go ahead and develop a number of Global Hawks.
Our number of Global Hawks will grow much more than what Beale will be able to handle.
Media: Because of the --
General Wood: Plus --
Media: -- you have planned or because beyond 52?
General Wood: I think beyond 52. But also too, is the point that with UAV operations, as you all know, as much as they've become household words, there's still a lot of experimentation going on. Two bases that are as distant -- This gives us more of an East Coast location that allows us in less saturated airspace to be able to continue to develop this capability.
Media: Sandra Irwin with National Defense.
General Ickes, I wonder if you can address in the Guard what are the trends as far as downsizing fighter wings and replacing those with UAVs, how much are you downsizing and how much of that is being replaced with the UAVs?
General Ickes: We haven't made a determination yet. Until the final BRAC decisions are made. We're now just getting our hands around how big these UAV organizations will be. We do know that we have quite a few organizations in the Air Guard that will look to transition. How many we're able to transition to will depend on the Air Force plan and how much manpower there is to move into these missions.
So it's going to be a balancing act depending on what comes out at the end of the BRAC process.
Media: I thought the Guard already had a plan to cut X number of wings. Is that not the case?
General Ickes: What came out in BRAC is what we're working with right now. So in the BRAC plan there were 23 organizations that move to other locations, so we're looking for new mission opportunities for them. Then five of our bases were closed, recommended closed, and we're looking for opportunities for them. So we'll do associations and we'll do integrations amongst various states to come up with new missions for them.
Media: Otto Kreischer, Coffee News Service.
Illinois and Missouri, one's 15 squadron, one's 16 squadron, they're gone away. So they're not going to operate UAVs out of those two locations, Springfield and St. Louis. They're not going to operate them out of Fargo. What's ahead for those companies?
General Ickes: We're looking at that right now. First of all, their aircraft are gone but the organizations are not gone, so let's keep in mind that both organizations still exist. They have a support element that will remain there. About half the organization remains as far as the spaces there.
We're looking at new missions for them daily. We're working with the TAGs in those states and the leadership in those states to come up with new mission opportunities.
We will not try to put UAVs at every location that comes open. That would be a monumental job and wouldn't make sense for the Air Force or the ARG. So we have lots of great new mission opportunities. We're working that plan as we speak.
Media: How about the fighter pilots? Will there be slots open for them? The Springfield unit is moving to Fort Wayne, Indiana. Will there be slots open for those guys if they want to move?
General Ickes: There will be opportunities for pilots to relocate. There is also, within the BRAC plan, funding available for people to relocate should they decide to relocated if the aircraft are leaving their base. There will be opportunities for people, yes.
Media: Carl Osgood, Executive Intelligence Review.
To what extent do these missions changes that you're planning depend on BRAC? How much of this could you do if you didn't have BRAC?
General Wood: I guess I don't want to speculate on that. What I will tell you, obviously we're waiting for the results of BRAC and the Commission and Congress this fall and then we'll react to those changes and those things.
We are preparing for the future, though. I think it's very very important with the capabilities we have in UAVs and where we're headed, the success and I think all the utility that I think you all sense that we have as a nation and as a military with them, that we want to keep those in our plans.
Media: I'm just wondering, to my knowledge historically there has not been that mixing of Guard personnel and active duty personnel in the same units. Are there any Title 10, Title 32 issues with doing that?
General Wood: There are many Title 10/32 issues that are being looked at right now. The Air Staff has an organization as part of General Hickey's group that is working through those issues.
I would tell you that in the past we've had numerous opportunities. We've had active duty colonels run Air National Guard wings in the past in Missouri, in Connecticut, highly successful. We've had active duty pilots fly with Air National Guard units. And obviously the Reserve and the active duty have had associate units since the late '60s. So we see the only challenges there being making sure that the Title 10, Title 32 issues are worked out before the organizations are ready to go.
Media: Bruce Ralston, Air Force Times.
Could you talk more about the UAVs with AFSOC out at Indian Springs? Is that going to be a new squadron? And why a separate squadron for special ops versus using the 15th or the 17th?
General Etheridge: I can't get into the reasoning behind a separate squadron for AFSOC other than that they have a requirement for what Predator can do for them. We've just been in some discussion with them this week. The Chief of the Air Force Reserve and General Wooley, the Commander of AFSOC, and they've come to a determination that the associate model will be the best fit for us at this time. So that organization will be stood up at Indian Springs under the AFSOC command and we'll have an associate unit with their active duty unit. So they'll basically own the airframes and then we will have an organization to help operate, maintain and form the mission on a day to day basis.
Media: Allison Maxim, Stephens Media. This is for General Ickes.
For those installations of fighter wings that are losing their F-16s under BRAC, what [inaudible] considering?
General Ickes: The Air Force and the reserve components right now are developing a catalog. General Hickey works that every day. We have an office of transformation run by Brigadier General Duane Lodrig in the Air Guard. They're working daily. By the middle of June they will have developed a catalog of new missions, the requirements that the Air Force has, and then we will sit down with the TAGs and the leadership in all of those states and determine what's the best mix that meets the Air Force requirements and leverages the great experience that we have in the Guard.
We plan to have a basic plan for all of those organizations laid in by the end of August.
Media: Any possibility of putting in drones, converting bases into drone bases? This is something that the Arkansas Governor talked about yesterday. A possibility for the 188th Fighter Wing in Arkansas.
General Ickes: We're looking at a variety of missions. There's an incredible amount of opportunity out there.
Each organization is going to be a little bit different.
The other things we have to do, though, is make sure that we have adequate manpower before we stand up these new mission areas because although there are lots of changes coming in this future total force, the amount of manpower that's available to go to new missions is still yet to be determined because we're not 100 percent sure what all the organizations coming out of BRAC will look like. We need to first make sure they are established correct. We want to also not rush and try to stand up new mission areas and then be short on manpower. So that's going to be a balancing act with each mission.
Colonel Smolinsky: General Hickey just asked that I also correct that in our statement here we had Arizona, and it was Arkansas.
General Hickey: The schoolhouse piece for the [Texas] C-5 and the C-130 in Arkansas. If you could fix that on your written documents.
Media: Another numbers question. How many Predator squadrons do you have now, and in your plans, where are you going? And also in general in BRAC, how many pilot positions are you getting rid of nationwide? I understand that BRAC is not finished yet, but you put forth proposals. What number is in that proposal?
General Wood: Let me do my best to meet you halfway on that question. What we planned, right now our squadrons that we have now are at Indian Springs at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, we have three squadrons there. Our plan is to try to grow to 15 squadrons of MQ1s and MQ9s. That's the two versions of the Predators. That's where we're headed to.
I don't know the numbers of pilots as I wouldn't know the number of individual specialty codes of the other people that are affected.
Media: What about in general numbers? I'm sorry, I just haven't been following the service specific BRAC [inaudible], if you can give me some sense when I'm writing about this, where the Air Force thinks it's going if the BRAC [plans] go through.
General Wood: The 15 squadrons, we have a template associated with each of those squadrons and we think in the Guard for those that will be predominantly Guardsmen, it's 500 to 600 personnel working that. It's going to be a different mix of maintenance people, of sensor operators, of pilots, of technicians.
Media: And what's the delta between the units that you're transferring from flying to doing Predators? With that 500-600 number?
General Ickes: I would tell you that a Predator organization, because of the 24 hour seven day a week requirement will be much heavier in pilots. We anticipate about 70 pilots required for a Predator squadron. The unit at Fargo probably has approximately 35 qualified F-16 pilots, 30 to 35. When they stand up Predator, if they take the entire air crew piece of that, they'll have nearly 70 trained Predator pilots. So you can see there's great demand in the Predator mission for pilots. Due to the nature of the mission, once again.
Media: I'm sorry, in general is there a downsizing anticipated in personnel numbers?
General Ickes: In the Guard we haven't been able to clearly identify that yet because we're not exactly sure how it will all end up. But keep in mind that many of our aircraft are leaving and robusting other squadrons to make them bigger, so the air crew requirements are really not going to go down much as far as overall within the Guard. I don't anticipate the Air Force or the reserve component will come down many rated air crew members. We're going to need all of them we can have. It's just some of the mission areas will be different.
Media: [Amy] Just a little bit more on the Title 10, Title 32 issue. Are there specific legislative reliefs that you are going to try to draw from Congress to help solve the question? And also what is the command structure going to be at these new locations that you're standing up? I ask that in the context of the lessons learned from the 116th [inaudible].
General Wood: In December when we met I think the same things we said there regards to the Title 10/32 issues are still there. We're not asking for any legislative relief at this point. What we're doing through the associate unit concept that we have I think we believe is a great template for us with our Predators and also with our other actions.
So associate, it can be the Air Force Reserve or the Air National Guard associating with an active duty unit or the reverse, and we plan to do both.
Media: So it's not like the command structure is going to be [inaudible] like it was at Robins?
General Wood: No. If you're asking me -- They're not blended. They're different organizations sharing equipment.
This is a huge win for us we think in the Air Force, all of us do. To take the incredible experience level and capabilities that's resident in our Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve, and then have them side by side with our active duty. So I think it's very logical and it's exactly what we see, they're almost, the experience that they share with their active duty, which tends to be much younger and less experienced.
Colonel Smolinsky: At this time I'm going to go back out to the phones for their last opportunity for any follow-up.
Media: My name's Dale Wetzel, I'm with the Associated Press in Bismarck, North Dakota.
I've been following the conversation and it seems that someone mentioned growing to 15 squadrons of Predators, is that correct?
General Wood: That is our goal to do. That's our initial plans to do that. We don't have a timeframe to do that, but we just see the requirements out there that we're working with the combatant commanders overseas that they need this kind of capability.
Media: And of that 15 squadrons, do we have any idea how many might be based at the Grand Forks Air Force Base?
General Wood: I think our plans right now for Predators is just one squadron.
Media: And that involves 500 to 600 people?
General Wood: Remember, that's a rough number, but that is just the portion of those people in the squadron that are really concentrated on the operations of the Predator. There's much more support personnel you need to make the squadron and the wing run there.
Media: How many more, sir?
General Ickes: Actually, I don't think we've pinned that number down. We’re still looking at that and working that with the Air Staff and Air Combat Command, trying to make sure we nail down an accurate number. We can get back to you on that but we don't have a great number for you today.
Media: Is there any sort of target, equivalent target for the number of Global Hawk squadrons, if that's there to be organized?
General Wood: We have not got that far with the plan. The templates for those, to be very honest with you, are still being established now as we field the aircraft in its initial operational capability at Biehl Air Force Base in California.
Media: Scott McDonald from North Dakota Public Radio.
Overall the plans are being developed, but how concrete are these? As the BRAC process continues is there still a chance local delegations could preserve the mission of a KC-35 at Grand Forks?
General Wood: I'm going to speak for all of us. We can't answer that. It's something that we can't get in the air, but I will tell you all of our jobs is to prepare for the future and we think the UAV mission is, hopefully you've sensed here, is very very important to the Air Force. And I think I can speak first-hand to that because my previous assignment was Commander of the Air Warfare Center at Nellis where all of our Predator operations came under my command. So I'm very happy about it and proud that we are doing this as part of the total force.
Media: Where are the existing Predator squadrons presently?
General Wood: Right now as we develop the plan they're at Nellis Air Force Base and really at Indian Springs Auxiliary Airfield near Las Vegas. It's out in a remote part of the desert operations there.
Media: Jeff Batcher at the Forum.
There's been talk that in Fargo there may be four C-27 light cargo planes also assigned to that base. Any information on that?
General Ickes: Right now we are not aware of any exact plan or firm plan even to what light cargo aircraft the Department of Defense will get into. So I know we have had discussions about potential down the road, but there are no particulars on any of that that we could address.
Media: Lisa Reinhart, Grand Forks Herald.
Grand Forks Air Force Base scored very high in the NCI score for base operations in [inaudible] Center here that a lot of people have called the [inaudible] of the skies. I was wondering what are the chances of bringing in space operations to Grand Forks? I know that the flying lab has been confirmed for North Dakota, actually for Grand Forks.
General Wood: Ma'am, we've sort of got question marks over us right now on this one. I can't answer it. I don't think any of us can here. We'll certainly take that back, but we have no plans as it is.
Colonel Smolinsky: Okay, we're going to be going around the room one more time and then we're going to be finishing up here.
Media: -- the unit's stood up in Fargo and Grand Forks, I just want to make sure I'm correct on this. The pilots there working out of Fargo, they'll be flying live operational missions. If we're still in Afghanistan, Iraq or wherever when they're stood up, these guys will be flying live, real time missions over bad guy territory.
General Wood: Our anticipation is that the Predator squadrons will support one orbit overseas and one orbit at home for training purposes, and with the capability to surge to a third orbit if the combatant commanders would require that.
So the answer is yes, they will control from the ground control station, the GCS at Fargo they will control Predators in any part of the world where their mission requires.
Media: Sir, can you just define, just so it's clear, what you mean by Predator orbit?
General Wood: All I'm talking about is what you would call a Predator sortie, whether it be a Predator A, a Predator B. Basically right now the duration of them varies, but if it's launched from somewhere in Iraq, once it's hooked up to the satellite the folks, whether they be at Nellis or whether they be at Fargo or whether they be at Grand Forks or whether they be at any base can control the mission over there with the pilot and with the sensor operators from their ground control station, and then once the recovery takes place, that once again is picked up by the people in country.
Media: Secondly, just another clarification. Assuming the plans do go forth for placing the Predator into Grand Forks and Fargo, General Wood, you said that you anticipate that it will happen rather quickly within the next few years. Would that be pretty much concurrent to what you want to do in standing up the Predator units in Arizona, Texas and New York? Or would it come a little bit after that?
General Wood: We're working those details now. You can't do all those at once. You have to sequence them right, and that's what we're working through to do it.
Media: On the support personnel for UAV units, why do you need so many people for support? What do they do?
General Ickes: They do a myriad of functions. You have people that maintain people's records, track their pay, take care of their medical requirements. You've got engineering support required. All the things that support any Air Force mission are going to be required to support these people too. It will run a fairly standard template as far as the support function.
Media: There are no extra things that are required with UAVs.
Media: Besides Arizona, Texas, New York, North Dakota, Nevada, are there any other places you are looking at or does this absorb all 15 --
General Wood: We are looking at a lot of other places.
Media: Is there some number? How many Predator squadrons are absorbed in those places now?
General Wood: The plan right now is to have four squadrons at Indian Springs. There are three now. We acknowledged this morning that we're going to develop an Air Force Special Operations Command squadron in conjunction with the Air Force Reserve.
General Wood: Correct. Then we're looking for the remaining 11, in fact, being placed in other locations in the United States.
Media: Including Arizona, Texas, New York?
General Wood: Right.
Media: The number of squadrons that you have currently assigned to those bases, how many are left over of the 11?
General Hickey: The ones he just described, that counts up to eight on my math. Four that are at Nellis and then four others including the North Dakota we've just talked about, Texas, Arizona and New York.
Media: So seven other squadrons --
Hickey: Seven additional up to 15.
General Etheridge: I'd like to add a comment to some of the questions, particularly concerning Nevada and Indian Springs.
This is General Etheridge from the Reserves.
We have had for the last several years several reservists who have already been embedded into Air Warfare Center organizations flying Predators, so we've already been involved in this, we've evaluated the possibilities.
In addition to that we've got about 55 people laid in to go in next year, they're already in the POM. So they will be in and probably will associate with one of the active duty squadrons, so that will be moving forward very rapidly next year as the beginning of another squadron. They'll operate the same aircraft that are already being operated by the active duty squadron there.
But these things are already in motion, already moving out, and we're in the process of identifying personnel to go in and fill those positions next year.
Media: Sergeant Burling from Air Force News.
I just want to touch upon the community basing concept which General Wood mentioned in his opening statement. From the reserve component's perspective, what are the benefits of community basing as it relates to the active duty? What do you see as being the benefit?
General Ickes: Let me answer that from the Air National Guard perspective. This is General Ickes again. First of all we think the Air National Guard strength is being community based, and we think the advantage it will do is keep the communities involved with all the mission areas that the Air Force is doing. So bringing an Air Force contingent up, you can leverage that experience level of the Air National Guard. The vast majority of our maintainers are a little older and a little more experienced. They will more rapidly experience the young active duty folks, give them great training opportunities. That's the same for our air crew members. Because of the nature of our organization we happen to be a little more experienced. So the active duty can take advantage of all of that, leverage that experience level to get their people trained more rapidly, and be part of the local community and therefore let the community know about the Air Force and the Air National Guard and of course the Reserves at the same time. So we think that's a great opportunity.
Media: I would just like someone to describe what a Predator mission is like, what it's like to actually direct one. And kind of a subset of that, do you need to be a pilot to fly a Predator? And why do you need to be a pilot? Pardon me for saying so, but it sounds like it's almost like playing a video game of some kind.
General Wood: I think our young people today are very very good at playing video games, but if you're like me, I'm not as good, but I've been flying airplanes for 30 years. I would tell you that what we have seen, just flying the Predator may be relatively easy, especially from a remote location. But what you need to do is also have the situational awareness and the skills of understanding air traffic, separations, all the rules. Because you are an aircraft. You're the size of a Cessna and you'll have the equipment on board the aircraft, and you'll have to talk to the Federal Aviation Administration or controllers or a ground control intercept or AWACS, all those others in our command and control system, just like you were if you were flying the aircraft.
So it isn't something that you can just dismiss lightly that you need skills of a pilot.
Here is what we are doing. We're developing a program called a Combat Systems Officer which is really a development out of our navigator training programs that will prepare certain officers that have been navigators, to send them on to commercial schools that will allow us to open up even more of these jobs that we talked about. Earlier the question was asked what do you think about additional pilots? In fact we think it probably will because of the robustness that you'll be able to fly.
So what I'm getting at here is pilots in the traditional sense of Air Force pilots going through the very detailed long schools that we send them through, may change in the future.
So you're half right there.
Media: Is flying a drone as attractive as flying a plane?
General Wood: In the way you said that question you sort of framed the answer the you expect.
Media: I just want to know if -- I'm thinking about a pilot who's used to flying an F-22 or an F-16, how is that person going to cotton to flying a Predator?
General Wood: We have pilots today that go fly F-16s, F-15s, all our aircraft, and go in for tours into the Predator, and I am going to speak to you as being their commander and watching them at Nellis. It was a very important and worthwhile mission to them with it.
I will also tell you the idea to support our ground forces on the ground, real time, and support them as they do their jobs in the tough conditions in Iraq is something that we take serious and they all thought that was incredibly valuable as Air Force officers.
Colonel Smolinsky: Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes our media availability. Just one more time for those on the phone, if you have any follow- questions you can reach me at (703) 697-5147. Generals, thank you very much for your time, I appreciate it. Thank you very much.
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