Editor’s Note: The “People First” section is compiled from information from the Air Force Personnel Center, TRICARE, 56th Force Support Squadron, Airman and Family Readiness Flight, Veterans Affairs, the civilian personnel office and armed forces news services. For the complete story, go to the web address listed at the end of the story.
Air Force approves RPA initiatives
WASHINGTON (AFNS) — The Air Force recently approved two initiatives for the remotely piloted aircraft career field. First, eight RPA reconnaissance squadrons will be redesignated as attack squadrons. Second, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III authorized RPA aircrews to log combat time when flying an aircraft within designated hostile airspace, regardless of the aircrew’s physical location.
The changes were two of many recommendations that emerged as part of Air Combat Command’s Culture and Process Improvement Program, which seeks to address a number of issues affecting operations and the morale and welfare of Airmen across the RPA enterprise.
The redesignation will affect the names, but not the core missions of RPA squadrons at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico; Whiteman AFB, Missouri; and Creech AFB, Nevada. These units, consisting of approximately 600 officers and 700 enlisted Airmen, will continue to provide real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to commanders, close air support to ground troops, and post-operation battle damage assessment to senior leaders.
Previously, squadrons consisting of MQ-9 Reaper aircraft were designated attack squadrons, while squadrons of MQ-1 Predator aircraft were designated reconnaissance squadrons. The redesignation anticipates the Air Force’s ongoing transition to an all MQ-9 fleet and acknowledges the capability of these units to support military operations that can include strikes against targets. The cost of the redesignation is minimal, mostly affecting signs, stationary and other local items that display the unit’s name or emblem.
Since their first employment over the Balkans, Air Force RPAs have been in high demand, according to Air Force senior leaders. This has led to rapid expansion of both the number of squadrons and the number of operators.
Unique organizational structures and names evolved during this time, and the Air Force is now taking steps to standardize operations and improve conditions for operators.
The RPA mission “is instrumental to achieving decision advantage against our enemies, is an indispensable asset to our national security, and is the backbone to the success of our fights in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and other areas combating extremism and terrorism,” Gen. Hawk Carlisle, commander of ACC, said March 16 in his testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services. “The Air Force is fully invested in continuing to achieve sustainability of this enterprise.”
The Air Force reduced the number of combat lines to 60, from 65 in 2015. They also increased incentive retention pay for pilots to $25,000, matching incentive pay for rated pilots in other airframes.
ACC is expanding the training pipeline for operators, creating a more robust force and decreasing the current operational tempo. A combat operations-to-dwell ratio of 2:1 will provide Airmen predictable schedules, improve work-life balance, enable further professional development, offer increased training opportunities, and ultimately improve readiness, according to Col. Jeffry Long, ACC’s director of CPIP.
Cody engages with deployed Airmen
Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody engaged with Airmen deployed to Afghanistan in support of the NATO Resolute Support mission and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel from April 4-6 through a series of Q&A format all calls, small group discussions and personal site visits.
Cody made stops at Bagram Airfield, Resolute Support Headquarters in Kabul, Hamid Karzai International Airport and Kandahar Airfield, where he was able to see firsthand the impact Airmen are making every day in Afghanistan.
Airmen in Afghanistan are accomplishing critical roles as they perform launch and recovery of aircraft for counter-terrorism missions, find and process detailed intelligence information for combatant commanders, or train, advice and assist the Afghan military.
During the all calls and discussions, the chief candidly and honestly answered a variety of questions ranging from the new Enlisted Evaluation System to health care and compensation. He also received mission briefings from each of the units involved and had an opportunity to see Airmen display the weapon systems they operate. Throughout his interactions, he reminded Airmen of one thing.
Eielson selected to receive operational F-35A aircraft
WASHINGTON (AFNS) — Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, was selected as the new home for the Air Force’s first operational overseas F-35A Lightning IIs.
Air Force officials chose Eielson AFB after a lengthy analysis of the location’s operational considerations, installation attributes, environmental factors and cost.
“Alaska combines a strategically important location with a world-class training environment. Basing the F-35s at Eielson AFB will allow the Air Force the capability of using the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex (JPARC) for large force exercises using a multitude of ranges and maneuver areas in Alaska,” said Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James. “This, combined with the largest airspace in the Air Force, ensures realistic combat training for the (Defense Department).”
Proximity to the JPARC will enable the Air Force to take advantage of approximately 65,000 square miles of available airspace for realistic, world-class training in the Air Force’s most advanced fifth-generation fighter.
The decision culminates a three-year process that included an extensive environmental impact statement that examined impacts on such factors as air quality, noise, land use and socioeconomics.
“The decision to base two F-35 squadrons at Eielson AFB, Alaska, combined with the existing F-22 Raptors at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, will double our fifth-generation fighter aircraft presence in the Pacific theater,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III. “Integrating that fifth-generation force with Navy, Marine, and allied F-35 forces will provide joint and coalition warfighters unprecedented survivability, lethality and battlespace awareness in contested environments. It’s an exciting time for Pacific airpower.”
The base is projected to receive two squadrons of F-35As, which will join the wing’s F-16 Fighting Falcon aggressor squadron currently assigned to Eielson AFB.
On-base construction to prepare for the aircraft is expected to start in fiscal year 2017 in order to be ready to accept the first F-35As, which are currently scheduled to begin arriving in 2020.
Preliminary estimates had the new aircraft arriving a year earlier, but officials say the 2020 arrival will provide the Air Force more time and grow its active-duty maintenance force.
“The Air Force is facing a shortage of experienced, active-duty fighter aircraft maintainers as we transition from legacy aircraft to the F-35A,” said Lt. Gen. John B. Cooper, the deputy chief of staff the Air Force for logistics, installations and mission support. “Adjusting the initial plan and slightly accelerating F-35A arrivals at Burlington Air Guard Station, Burlington, Vermont, to fall 2019 will allow the service to stick to the overall F-35 rollout schedule, while capitalizing on the Air National Guard’s experienced fighter aircraft maintenance force as we put additional measures in place to increase the number of trained active-duty maintainers.”
The F-35A, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, is a fifth-generation fighter aircraft intended to be the Air Force’s premier strike aircraft through the first half of the 21st century. It is a multi-role fighter that is expected to eventually replace the service’s legacy air-to-ground fighter fleets.