Rebalancing ISR Cadre

The Air Force is looking to rebalance and reinvest in several mission areas over the next two decades, which will require making some tough calls on whether to extend certain assets, modernize others, or come up with new concepts entirely, said two of the Air Staff’s senior leaders during a McAleese Associates/Credit Suisse conference in Washington, D.C., March 17. One critical area that needs attention is medium-altitude intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, said Lt. Gen. Tod Wolters, the Air Staff’s director of operations. USAF’s MQ-1 and MQ-9 fleets have built up to 65 combat air patrols worth of coverage today, but has done so “on the backs of 55 CAPs worth of personnel” since around 2007, Wolters said. Many of these airmen are facing service commitment decisions and are under severe stress, he added. Lt. Gen. James Holmes, the Air Staff’s director of strategic plans, said ISR was “on the path to drawing down,” but now USAF must adjust to renewed demand from Iraq and Syria. Instructors were pulled from MQ-9 training units to meet needs, but now demand is growing again, and the Air Staff is working with the Joint Staff to try and recapitalize the training pipeline before the system breaks down. If long-range ISR retention can’t be solved, that “translates to risk” to the entire ISR enterprise, Wolters noted. “That’s an illustration of capacity affecting capability,” he noted.