Air Force Fleet Experiencing Pains of Age
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 11, 2005 Today's Air Force is a deployed force, the service chief of staff told the Senate Armed Services Committee Feb. 10.
Gen. John Jumper told the committee that the Air Force has 30,000 airmen deployed around the world.
In the U.S. Central Command area, the service has 14 bases that are still open and active. Airmen continue to patrol American skies as part of Operation Noble Eagle.
Jumper said the service continues to mature the Air Expeditionary Force concept begun in 1997. "We now have 270,000 out of 360,000 active duty members in the AEF deployment cycle," he said. "As a matter of fact, we have about a hundred people from the air staff in the Pentagon deployed today, taking advantage of their skills."
The Air Force is also helping on the ground in Iraq. There are about 2,000 airmen on convoy duty with the U.S. Army today. They are "driving trucks with the Army through some of the most dangerous regions and dealing with the [improvised explosive devices] right alongside their Army colleagues."
He said that while airmen are doing well, the operations tempo is putting stress on the force. "The Air Force is putting the full weight of its air mobility, its special operations, its close-air support, its surveillance activity in support of our grand operations in Iraq and in Afghanistan," he said.
At the same time, aircraft based in other areas of the world help assure stability.
The Air Force reserve components are playing huge roles in the worldwide operations. "About 55 percent of our 170,000 airlift sorties and our 36,000 air refueling sorties last year -- more than half of those were flown by Air Force -- are Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve," he said.
Air Force mobility forces showed their capability during relief operations following the Dec. 26 tsunami in South Asia.
The Air Force is also looking to the future. Jumper said unmanned aerial vehicles, the FA-22 Raptor and the Joint Strike Fighter are all systems needed to maintain aerial dominance in the years to come. Developing better worldwide command and control systems and integrating information and intelligence seamlessly across the command spectrum is also part of the Air Force mission, he said.
The Air Force has the oldest fleet aerial fleet ever. The average age of the aircraft in the service is 23 years, according to most recent statistics. Some aircraft such as the B-52 bombers and the KC-135 tankers average more than 40 years old. The F-15 fighter fleet today's air superiority fighter is more than 18 years old. The F-16 fighter fleet averages more than 12 years. Even the F-117 Stealth fighter fleet is more than 17 years old.
"The need to begin recapitalization on some of these assets to us is very important and we will continue to pursue that as we look out toward the future," Jumper said.
Jumper said that recruiting and retention on the active duty side "is right where we want it to be." The service actually ended fiscal 2004 over its end- strength numbers. "When stop-loss came off, people did not leave at the rates that we had expected," he said.
Air Force recruiting figures are high. "We've actually shut down recruiting for the first three months of this year so that we can stabilize at the proper end strength by the end of this fiscal year," he said. "On the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve side, right now they are about 2 percent below their targets in both the officer and enlisted." However, Jumper expects to make recruiting and retention goals in those important components with no problems.