Air Force Adopts New Technology, Confronts Rising Fuel Costs
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va., Jun. 19, 2008 The Air Force is using more high-tech platforms such as unmanned aerial vehicles to combat extremists overseas while it seeks ways to mitigate the rising cost of fuel, a senior U.S. military officer said here today.
Unmanned aerial systems constitute “a growth industry,” Air Force Gen. John D.W. Corley, commander of Air Combat Command and air component chief for U.S. Joint Forces Command, told attendees at the 2008 Joint Warfighting Conference.
“There is an appetite for unmanned aerial systems, and in my mind, I think that will continue unabated,” Corley said.
Corley recalled that he requested more funds to accelerate the production of UAVs a few years ago. Since then, he said, the amount of military UAV activity has exploded.
UAVs can provide reconnaissance or attack capabilities for combat commanders, Corley noted. However, the system’s flexibility prompts questions, he said.
“If we use them as weapons, can we use them as replacements for some of our historic tactical aviation assets?” Corley asked, noting that’s a question “that we have to embrace, both for the relevance in terms of irregular warfare and beyond.”
The Air Force also has seen the cost of fuel for its aircraft go up $600 million for each $10 increase in the price of a barrel of oil, Corley observed. Air Force logisticians are looking at switching to alternative fuels for some aircraft to help mitigate rising costs, Corley reported, noting that strategy represents a viable “Plan B.”
In addition, there is interest within the Air Force to examine how more sophisticated ground-based pilot-training systems could help to cut back on flying hours and thus save fuel, Corley noted.
The Air Force prides itself on the outstanding capabilities possessed by its officers and enlisted members, Corley said, as well as the superb training regimen that keeps them ready for combat missions.
“But, is there a way for us to get at some of that combat-skills training and do it by burning less fossil fuel?” Corley asked.
The oil-price situation presents the Air Force with an opportunity, Corley said, noting his service has “an aging fleet that demands recapitalizing -- an aging fleet that can’t fly as frequently” due to the rising cost of fuel. The answer, Corley said, is well beyond common simulator training, indicating that more-sophisticated “virtual” training systems could fit the bill.
New fuel sources and different ways of powering aircraft are likely in the future, the general noted.
“But, as a mitigation strategy in the near term, I’ve got to also deliver on increased combat capability, perhaps by flying less, and that is a terrifying thought for an airman,” Corley said.