General Mark Welsh, Air Force Chief of Staff, was enthusiastic and unequivocal in his praise and support of the Air Force Reserve while speaking at “Defense One,” April 22. The discussion hit topics from budget woes, recapitalization, and terrorism, to Reserve Component readiness. He is “excited about the total force” and how the RC maintains readiness and executes its missions as well as anyone in the Active Component. The Reserves have the “same standard, same qualifications,” he said; and he plans to “grow the Guard and Reserve, put more mission capability” into the RC.
One capability that can be moved into the Reserves is the remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) mission. The high demand for operational support of Predator drones is creating a stress on the career field that can be relieved by increasing the number of pilots. The training pipeline must produce 300 new pilots each year to meet the needs of the Air Force, but currently only produces some 180 pilots a year. To make matters worse, the AC is losing around 240 RPA pilots each year due to retirements and separations.
Some officers and NCOs leave active duty and come into the RC. Former Air Force Reserve Chief Lt. Gen. Charles Stenner, Jr., said in testimony, "Sixty-four percent of Air Force Reserve Airmen have prior military experience – another demonstration of the economic benefit of the Reserve components."
Thus, adding the RPA mission to the Air Force Reserve is an example of where the stability, experience and longevity of RC members can help stem losses and begin to fill the hole. Such use of the USAFR would help the Air Force meet mission requirements and save training costs by retaining more service members.
General Welsh noted Air Force leadership in the cyber mission and how the RC is a perfect place to house much of that mission. He said the AF is a “service born of tech” and that cyber operations are a natural extension of our air and space mission areas.
He also believes that the F-35 fighter will not be the last manned platform in the Air Force. He explained the value of the human brain with its unique ability to process vast amounts of data and to make judgment calls in complex and risky situations that is difficult to do from a desk 3000 miles away.
When asked about the most under-reported aspect of our USAF, he enthusiastically said, “the USAF is a huge success story made up of great people doing a great job.” He wishes the work airmen do every day could get more attention.
“Buffalo Bill” Leake,
ROA Air Force director