Mobility commander addresses Incirlik Airmen
by Senior Airman Erica Picariello
39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
10/7/2009 - INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey (AFNS) -- The Air Mobility Command commander talked with Incirlik Air Base Airmen Oct. 5 in the middle of a trip through the Operation Enduring Freedom area of responsibility.
Gen. Arthur J. Lichte conducted two town hall meetings with Airmen from the 385th Air Expeditionary Group and the 728th Air Mobility Squadron fielding questions ranging from the base's role in war and humanitarian efforts to the KC-X program.
"AMC is totally engaged in the fight," General Lichte said. "The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan aren't our only efforts. AMC is called at a moment's notice providing relief worldwide to those in need."
President Barack Obama issued a statement Sept. 30 declaring a major disaster in American Samoa after an 8.0 magnitude underground quake triggered huge waves that overtook small villages. Less than 48 hours later, AMC had aircrews and aircraft from Hawaii to Illinois, poised and ready to fly.
"We fly 800 to 900 sorties a day and, on average, there is an aircraft taking off every 90 seconds somewhere in the world," General Lichte explained. "However, last week we had a couple of days where we flew more than 1,000 sorties a day."
In addition to providing war and humanitarian aid, Incirlik AB officials deployed aircrews of the 385th AEG play a key role in worldwide rapid response through ongoing cargo movements and aerial refueling.
"Having tankers gives us a whole new way of doing business, it allows you to keep that airplane airborne," General Lichte said. "It gets the cargo, fighters and bombers to the fight quicker. The (expeditionary airlift squadron) at Incirlik is doing fantastic things."
With the average age of the KC-135 Stratotanker almost doubling that of average Airmen, extra elbow-grease is needed to keep the geriatric tankers flying.
"The reason we can continue to operate is because we have great people; the great Airmen maintaining those aircraft are doing a fantastic job," General Lichte said. "In fact, they are working seven to 10 hours for every one hour the KC-135 remains in flight. So when you combine the great maintainers with the great aircrews, we are able to continue that wonderful KC-135 mission but the time is now that we need to get on with that recapitalization mission and replace those KC-135s."
According to a recent Department of Defense news article, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates announced the return of the KC-X program, the Air Force's tanker acquisition program, during the 2009 Air Force Association Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition Sept. 16 at the National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md.
"Obviously, the KC-135 is getting rather old," General Lichte said. "If everything goes right with the KC-X procurement, the KC-135s will be more than 60 before we can even start retiring them. And by the time the recapitalization is complete, the KC-135s will be more than 80 years old. So it is absolutely critical that we get on with this modernization program."
In order for AMC to continue providing a wide range of support, General Lichte predicts the KC-X project contract will be decided by the tanker's 53rd birthday, with some stipulations.
"If everything goes well, the KC-X should be on contract by early summer 2010," General Lichte said. "Then, a lot will depend on which offerer wins the competition, as to the timeline. But I hope that by 2015 we have aircraft up and flying, and around 2017 we have a full squadron reaching initial operation capability."
In the meantime, Incirlik AB maintainers and aircrews continue to keep aging aircraft soaring high to maintain mission readiness in the midst of an eight-year war on terrorism and various humanitarian missions.
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