Lt. Gen. Bud Wyatt, director of the Air National Guard, spoke to a small forum at the Minuteman Institute for National Defense Oct. 6 covering a myriad of topics, helping give voice to the necessity to preserve the Air National Guard.
Of particular interest to the entire Air Reserve Component were his comments regarding the concept of concurrent and proportional beddown of aircraft and equipment in the Reserve Components next to their active duty counterparts.
Cascading equipment from the active duty to the Guard worked during the Cold War, but not today, he said.
Gen Wyatt alluded to problems caused by not concurrently and proportionally equipping the total force. The first problem is that programs of record for various weapons systems have traditionally fallen below their original numbers. If the Reserve Components are scheduled to receive their equipment at the end of that acquisition tail, they may never see it.
He used the example of the F-22, stating the Guard has only one classic associate squadron flying the F-22 today at Langley AFB, Va. When the F-22 program of record was over 700 aircraft, a proportional amount of those were destined for the Guard. Today, however, the Guard is not a major player in that mission and therefore cannot help alleviate the stress on that active duty mission if a strategic surge were necessary.
Gen. Wyatt brings this up now as the service considers its Joint Strike Fighter beddown plan. Currently, the Guard is not scheduled to receive its first F-35 until 2021, however with the agreement of Lt. Gen. Charles Stenner, Chief of the Air Force Reserve, the Reserve Components are gaining traction in convincing Air Force leadership that concurrent and proportional beddown is a necessity.
If the Guard were to receive F-35s under this concept, they would get one squadron a year for the duration of the acquisition under the current planned buy.
That buy may change though as the Quadrennial Defense Review considers the need for tactical air support for the National Security Strategy. Gen. Wyatt surmised that fighter requirements would drop after the QDR is published.
With such a projection, the proportional percentage of fighters in the Guard will be smaller, forcing more Guard units to consider different missions, like the 174th Fighter Wing who now flies the MQ-9 Reaper in New York.
The announcement of fewer fighters caused jitters through the audience who mused about the fact the total Air Force only has about 2,000 fighters today, less than the Air National Guard had alone in the 1950s with further cuts projected through the Combat Air Forces reduction and 2010 POM.
While the Air Force has been vehement about not acquiring any 4.5 generation fighters, harsh budget realities might force the service to think otherwise if the QDR does not determine a reduction in tactical air is necessary. While Gen. Wyatt clearly stated the party line of no 4.5 gen fighters, the audience could tell he would quickly and easily warm to the idea of such purchases if the big Air Force were to change course. Given the Air National Guard's struggle to redefine its missions at a number of units after the last round of Base Realignment and Closure, a fighter strategy including 4.5 generation fighters would provide more modern equipment and a relevant mission for many Guard units.
While 4.5 generation fighters would help fill the hole of a fighter gap, they would be a bandage on a greater problem of survivability in parallel warfare.
But that argument is for a different story. The point here is that there is a perception of culture that the equities of the Guard and Reserve are seldom considered by Air Force strategic planners when it comes to acquisition.
Case in point is the new KC-X Tanker, which for the third time is now out for bid. The Reserve Components have a high stake in today's tanker mission. While the Reserve units who fly the KC-135 are primarily associate units, the Guard units who fly the KC-135 today could be in trouble in the future if the Guard's requirements are not looked at during source selection.
Guard bases are small. That is one of the cost benefits of the Air National Guard. They don't have the infrastructure that comes with a normal base and hence are cheaper to maintain. But those smaller bases cannot host the medium and large tankers being proposed. During the last round of tanker bids, only one bid by Boeing would fit at Guard bases. This size concern could also affect forward basing in theater. (*Note: ROA Does not endorse any particular tanker, however advocates the necessity to consider Reserve Component Equities during source selection).
Today, Gen. Wyatt stated the reserve components still do not have representation on the tanker's source selection board, a disturbing realization that threatens the mission of those Guard units currently flying the KC-135.
Gen. Wyatt said there is a missing link from the very beginning of the acquisition process, a process they've never been a part of in the past. Now is the time to get a Guard rep into that process to consider Guard equities.
Without a change in the cultural mindset to consider the equities of the reserve components in the Air Force's greater acquisition strategy, the Reserve and Guard are forced to rely on the paltry, although growing, resources Congress provides directly through the National Guard and Reserve Equipment Appropriation.
Gen. Wyatt highlighted his ability to use NGREA to upgrade the targeting pods on his fighters, but also voiced concerns over Congress' desire for greater oversight of this account.
Gen. Wyatt also discussed the considerable cost savings of the Reserve components, providing a higher level of capabilities with a small percentage of the budget. In that discussion, he referenced the significant challenges of maintaining a top tier operational force while still being able to provide a strategic surge capability if needed.