Modernized Air Force As Part of Joint Team Paramount to National Defense

  • Published
  • By Larry Vogel
  • Chairperson, Pacific Air Force Civilian Advisory Council
In a recent Op/Ed in The Christian Science Monitor, Representative Neil Abercrombie co-authored a piece titled 'How to fuel up the out-of-gas U. S. military machine.' In that piece, Rep. Abercrombie said "make no mistake: The US is not at war, the US military is. The burden of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is being carried by our soldiers and their families. The rest of us merely observe their sacrifice on TV. Members of Congress can do their part by giving the US military the support and equipment it needs to win."

I could not agree more. As Chairperson of the Air Force Civilian Advisory Council here in the Pacific, I'm in a position closely to observe the performance--both challenges and successes-- of our United States Air Force, as it carries out its very important role in our nation's defense. Our Air Force has carried out its mission in an exemplary fashion in the first 60 years of its existence--Sept 18, 2007 marks the Air Force's anniversary of being a separate service.

As we celebrate the Air Force's Diamond Anniversary in these turbulent, uncertain, and complex times, I firmly believe that, more than ever, we need to make sure that we are investing adequately and smartly in our future defense preparedness.

As Congress debates the defense budget, its focus, as it must be, is on current needs as defined by our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the lessons of history, and an uncertain global environment, suggest that we also need to keep a long-term focus on our nation's security
and defense. While the current fight is critically important, I submit that our long-term focus should be centered in areas and countries far away from Afghanistan and Iraq. One needs only to look in our own Pacific region to see why we need to maintain a focus for our future defense preparedness - terrorist activities in Thailand, Republic of the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia; a hot war in Sri Lanka, military coups that have overthrown democratically elected governments, to name a few. And a look at what is currently going on in other countries makes a compelling case for this position:

- India plans to spend billions to modernize their Air Force to 5th generation fighters;

- The Christian Science Monitor recently reported that Russia has intensified her efforts to rebuild its military machine. It is turning out cutting-edge weaponry, and selling it on the open market. They've offered to partner with India to build the aforementioned 5th generation fighter. They already supply India with the SU-30, an advanced 4th generation fighter that is as, or more, capable than current US Air Force front line F-15 and F-16 fighters. They've recently delivered sophisticated mobile anti-aircraft batteries to Iran. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently promoted his hawkish Defense Minister, Sergei Ivanov, to First Deputy
Prime Minister, a move that perhaps strengthens his position to succeed Putin;

- India, China and Russia's foreign ministers recently met to form a
partnership to challenge our country's world leadership;

- Venezuela has stated it is beefing up its military capabilities in
preparation for any 'asymmetrical conflict' with us. Part of that
beefing up includes the purchase of 24 Su-30 fighter jets from Russia;

- Last year, China's defense budget rose 14.7 percent, and this year by 17.8 percent. In fact, they have the world's largest military. Their traditional land-centered military development is shifting to Navy and Air Force enhancement -- they've announced that they will have an aircraft carrier sailing by 2009. Recently, China built its J-10 fighter in large numbers; many analysts believe that they plan to build 300. This is the first Chinese indigenous air-superiority fighter aircraft that can match modern Western fighters in performance and capability. China has offered the aircraft for export to Pakistan and is looking at other possible markets.

While we have the world's most capable Air Force, its aircraft get older everyday. The Air Force currently flies 2.3 million hours, and that's the same level as in 1993; however, they're doing it with 1,280 fewer aircraft. The average age of those planes is 24 years, some much older. Many of the venerable B-52 bombers and KC-135 aerial refueling tankers are 50-plus years old. And they'll get older. The mother of the last KC-135 pilot isn't even born yet! Our F-15 and F-16 frontline fighters came on line in the 70s and 80s.

Our Air Force is fully engaged in the current fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are more than 24,000 Airmen there. As of February of this year, our Air Force has flown over 430,000 sorties providing Close Air Support, Surveillance missions, airlift missions, direct strike missions and has provided over 18,000 Aeromedical Evacuation missions for wounded Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines. The Air Force also has over 7,000 Airmen performing non-traditional missions, such as detainee operations, convoy operations and police training. This happens everyday.

In an uncertain world, the need for strategic airlift to get our Army and Marine units and their equipment anywhere in the world is paramount. We need to ensure that we have adequate, state-of-the-art fighter aircraft to maintain superiority in the skies. Do you know that the last time a U.S. ground force was attacked from the air was in April 1953? We need to keep that record going and a modernized Air Force will do that -- an Air Force that provides the joint war fighter the supremacy of the air to ensure unparalleled ground maneuver.

We are blessed here in Hawaii to have members of Congress without equal in the nation. The personal sacrifice of Senator Daniel Inoyue on the battlefield, and his distinguished legislative career, are legendary. When teamed with his much-admired colleague, Senator Dan Akaka, our small-in-population state has huge clout in the Senate. Our seasoned and hard-working Congressman Neal Abercrombie, and his accomplished colleague Mazie Hirono, represent us with distinction. We must support their efforts to ensure that we win today's fight, and that we are armed properly to deal with future challenges.

The cost to ensure that our military, including our Air Force, remain the world's best is indeed expensive. The cost of not being fully prepared to win is something too frightening for me to contemplate.