Q&A: In Reserve

May 27, 2019

Lt. Gen. Richard Scobee, head of AFRC, spoke to Air Force Magazine in late April. Photo: Mike Tsukamoto/staff

Lt. Gen. Richard W. Scobee has been head of Air Force Reserve Command since September 2018. In late April, Editorial Director John A. Tirpak sat down with him to discuss the effects on the command from the 2020 proposed budget, challenges facing the Reserve, and where it’s headed in the coming years

Q. We didn’t see a lot of growth in the Reserve in the budget request, … only 100 people. Is more growth coming in the future

A. Everything goes back to the National Defense Strategy. …If the Air Force grows substantially—as the Secretary has said she would like it to—to 386 operational squadrons … we will also grow … commensurate with that. Barring that, I’m not interested in growing. … What I’m interested in doing is fixing what we have. Sequestration … did significant damage to the Air Force Reserve. There’s probably no component that is more susceptible to funding stream hiccups … because of the way we do business with a part-time force. We pay people when they work. So when the budgets are uncertain, we can’t pay people to work, and that’s what damages us. So what I want to do, because of all that uncertainty, … is fix the things we have, … put in the right amount of maintainers, … get end strength where it needs to be, … recruit fantastic airmen, …and retain that investment that we’ve made. …

If we go back to sequestration levels of spending, the gains that I’ve made in the last three years will be wiped out. We will not survive it. We will go back to readiness the way it was after 2013, 2014. We have got to have stable budgets going forward.

The growth that you see is really me just fixing what we have … because we’re at the right size … for what we need to do. We’re in every mission set that the Air Force has. There used to be two places where we didn’t have Reservists. Now there’s none.

So how do I make sure we have the right force structure? My predecessors focused on growing in three areas: space, ISR [intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance], and … cyber. A while back we stood up our space wing; now we have an ISR and a cyber wing, which are doing fantastic. What I want to make sure of is, now that we’ve got all our structure in place, let’s make sure that it’s doing the job the Air Force needs done.

Q. Can you tell us more about the new wings?

A. In cyber and ISR, we bring unique capabilities that do two things. One, we capture talent when it leaves the component, and we want to make sure we retain that investment. And the other thing is, we can give people an ability to serve that they wouldn’t get anywhere else. … We can bring in some high-end cyber and intelligence specialists into the organization that may have other jobs that they don’t necessarily want to leave. And that’s the real value.I thought when people got credentialed in cyber, that we would have an exodus of people, but actually, it’s my highest retention area. … We give people an ability to do things in the military that they can’t do in the civilian sector.

So it dovetails nicely. …

In their civilian jobs [our people] … focus on robust cyber networks. In the military they’re able to do more than that.

A lot of people don’t realize how robust and entrenched the Air Force Reserve is in everything the Air Force does. A perfect example is in space. The GPS constellation for the entire world, 48 percent of that is flown by Reservists on a day-to-day basis, but it’s done with the Active component.

Q. How does the Reserve fit into the National Defense Strategy? How will things look different

A. So, two things are going to change. One, our Air Force is actually going to start to get younger. We start bringing on the F-35 and we start retiring some of our old aircraft. We start incorporating the KC-46 and the B-21, some of these older airplanes will start to go away, so we’ll start seeing a younger, more robust fleet. And two, we’re going to be training folks to get ready for that high-end fight. But what is really going to change … is going to be the focus on multi-domain operations. And it’s going to be space effects, along with cyber effects, along with air effects, and then how we support our sister services … regardless of whether Space Command ends up being a separate service.

We are postured to do that. We have between 1,600 and 1,800 people for agile combat support, we’re well postured to support whatever Gen. [Jay] Raymond [commander of Air Force Space Command and nominee to lead US Space Command] needs as he goes forward with the space effort. So you’re going to see a robust capability in space that is in the ARC, both the Guard and Reserve. And we’ve never seen that before. We used to look at the air domain in isolation. We can no longer do that.

Q. For many years now the Guard and Reserve have been very operational; a big part of the rotation force, part of everything the Air Force does day to day. Are you still a Strategic Reserve

A. We are absolutely still that strategic depth. In my three main lines of effort in the Reserve Command to support the Chief, the Secretary, and the National Defense Strategy, the first one is readiness and strategic depth. …

Surge capacity … is sacred to us, because … this is a best-value approach. We need surge capability because our budgets will no longer sustain the Air Force we need in order to protect America. The only way we can do it is having a … robust Reserve that can surge to the need. …

And that saves us money. For example, it costs … $10.9 million to train one F-22 pilot to be combat ready. … If I can keep her for 10 years in the Active component, great, but if I can keep her 28 years in the Reserve, that’s even better. There are 850,000 people in the Air Force Reserve right now. … We have the Individual Ready Reserve; that is, folks who are not participating on a regular basis, but we keep track of them, and we can recall them when necessary.

For everybody else, different than the rest of the Department of Defense, our Reserve is always ready. On 72-hour notice in most cases—some are less than that—we can mobilize and get people out the door for that first tranche that has to go out.

We have 70,000 of those people, about to be 70,100.

Q. Are you affected by former Secretary Jim Mattis’ directive to get systems to 80 percent mission capable rates

A. Yes. We are over 80 percent MC rate with our F-16s. And that is great. What we struggle with, in MC rates, is making sure we have trained and ready maintenance personnel to take care of our equipment. The supply train and logistics are in place to take care of some of these aging platforms. …

The two things that have made me successful: Congress has given me a lot of ability to directly hire maintainers, which is alleviating a lot of my stress, … and they’ve actually required me to bring in additional full-time support.

Q. How are you doing with other platforms

A. We’re doing pretty well. Tankers—the KC-135s—are my most-stressed asset. … Gen. [Maryanne] Miller, the [Air Mobility Command] commander, is really focused on us taking care of that fleet.

The tanker fleet readiness has increased dramatically, and we’ll make General Mattis’ goal of MC 80 percent … in our tanker fleet as well. This month was our highest month, at 74 percent, and what I’m trying to do is keep that going in the right direction. …

Last year I was able to reprogram $90 million and put that directly on readiness.

The C-17 … is doing great. We have a few dozen B-52s, and [their mission capable rates] are coming up. We’re in associations across the board with Global Strike, we also have a B-1 unit, but it is a pure association, I don’t own any [B-1s], … although we fly them, … and A-10s. We also have a lot of C-130s, and we have a plan to upgrade the C-130s that we have. We also have a plan with the Air Force on how we’re going to replace some of those older C-130H with J models.

Q. When are you getting F-35s

A. My first ones will be in Op 7, which will be in Fort Worth, Texas; Carswell [Field] … in the 2022-2023 time frame.

Q. Will you have missions that only belong to the Reserve?

A. Yes. … One is aerial spray, which we do out at Youngstown [Ohio]. Which is a unique capability for combat, as well as domestic, operations.

It’s a little unusual to have something that is only in the Reserve command because that doesn’t play to all of our strengths, but in this one mission it does because of the amount of training it takes to fly low and spray. … You need continuity in that mission. … If you look at the aftermath of the hurricanes we had, like in Houston, being able to spray for mosquitoes and keep those infestations at bay is such a great capability for the American people. We have to maintain that. And the other is our hurricane hunters. … It is so important to have that capability to help predict what is going to happen with hurricanes. Over the last 20 years … the modeling has become so much better, and it’s tied to what our hurricane hunters do.

Q. What do you struggle with

A. My struggle is in the retention piece. We’re really good at accessing people into the Air Force Reserve, and I’m accessing at the levels that I want, and I don’t want to be any better at bringing new people off the street because of the best-value approach. We’re at the right balance.What I’ve got to do is focus on retention.

Q. Why is retention a problem? Do you know why people are not staying

A. I know why. The reason is, our economy is so robust, … [it’s] giving people so many alternatives.

These are high-skill folks; both our noncommissioned and our commissioned officers. They’re very high-end, well-trained, and disciplined people, which every company is looking for. …

Service to your country is hard. And nobody will be compensated in the military better than they can get compensated in the civilian world. Our budgets won’t support it. So what we have to do is create an organization such that people are willing to serve their country in some capacity.

… What we haven’t been able to do is have all our policies and procedures in place that make it easy for our airmen to serve. So that’s why we’re going to focus on support to our airmen and their families. If I give them a place where they’re valued for the contributions they bring, they’ll keep showing up.

Q. What’s making it hard? Long deployments? Unpredictability

A. It is all of the above. Because of the operational Reserve, our reliance on the Reserve has been greater. People need a deployment rotation that is workable within the scope of their civilian job, … and they need stability. So we have to give them a long look at what that deployment outlook is going to be for them so they can prepare for it. If we spring deployments on a Reservist, … that makes it difficult to serve. So, compensation is part of the problem, and continuity is the other part of the problem.

We’re trying to create deployments that do that, and the Air Force has been helping us out with that. Those are the reasons I’m struggling with end strength.

Q. Do you have any parting thoughts?

A. We have been successful on the backs of our airmen, They have shouldered the burden too long. What I need to do is give them the ability to get their job done with the least amount of friction as possible, so they can do their priorities. And their priority has to be taking care of their families. I’ve got to be a part of that solution. So even though I can’t pay everybody as well as they could be [paid] in the outside world, they still want to show up because they want to serve their country. Service to your country is hard, and we need good people to do it. J