BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. – Air Force Global Strike Command’s readiness levels are currently the highest in the command’s history despite the global pandemic and aging aircraft across bomber and intercontinental ballistic missile fleets.
Despite challenge after challenge, command maintainers and depots have met challenges with planning and innovation. Although coronavirus has burdened the globe, it has also functioned as a force multiplier with Strikers.
“On the ICBM side, readiness is up because of coronavirus; on the aircraft side, readiness is up in spite of coronavirus,” said Michael Morgan, AFGSC Operations and Communications executive director.
From the beginning of the pandemic, AFGSC was at the forefront of response and innovation—being proactive in establishing processes, instituting training and holding exercises as early as January 2020.
“AFGSC was out in front initially,” Morgan said. “Back in February, it was our command that sent out the direction to our wing commanders to go through pandemic exercises.”
Gen. Tim Ray, AFGSC commander, has continuously praised the team’s performance throughout the pandemic.
“Despite COVID-19, our forces are more ready than they’ve been in the history of the command,” Ray said. “Because we understood the importance of executing our mission within any context, we took an anticipatory approach in the pandemic which allowed us not to just muddle through but build readiness in 2020. On the Nation’s worst days, we are expected to operate and thrive. We are ready under all conditions. All conditions.”
In early 2020, maintenance forces were sent out to launch facilities to maximize intercontinental ballistic missile alert readiness. Because of this initiative, AFGSC ensured the capability of 400 ICBMs generating to alert at moment’s notice even if confronted with COVID-19 induced manpower shortfalls.
“The ICBM force’s alert rates are the highest they have ever been in the command’s history,” Morgan said, without releasing the exact numbers due to operation security.
In 2020, AFGSC oversaw a readiness reset for the majority of the B-1B fleet following a stand-down to allow time for in-depth maintenance. In 2021, the Air Force has directed the retirement of a portion of the B-1 fleet to create a smaller more capable force and make way for the B-21.
When AFGSC first inherited the B-2 from Air Combat Command, there were many logistical and sustainment challenges to overcome. But over time, AFGSC improved sustainment.
“Even with coronavirus, you’ll see the B-2 rolling in and out of 2020 with virtually no changes in readiness,” Morgan said. “It has been, and continues to be, at a very high level of readiness.”
Placing continuous bomber presence missions in the rearview mirror, the B-52 has played a significant role, alongside the B-1B and the B-2, in supporting dynamic force employment—fostering an era of strategic predictability with operational unpredictability and increasing manning availability as personnel can now carry out missions anytime, anywhere from their home stations
“Because you’re not taking groups of Airmen and deploying them for six months in Guam or Al Udeid, they are ready at the homefront all over the country,” Morgan said.
Whether it is from an ICBM, airframe, or aircrew perspective, operational readiness continues to significantly increase across the command due to the ability to accelerate change and innovate in the middle of a pandemic.
COVID-19 created barriers and forced Airmen to socially distance, or work from home. Although distance presented obstacles, it also provided opportunities to increase productivity.
“We’ve learned a lot this year with teleworking,” Morgan said. “We’re able to do a ton of things that we probably would have put on the back burner. Leveraging those tools have really opened our eyes to some of the things we can do virtually rather than physically.”
Teleworking presented opportunities for the command to focus, without distraction, on updating policies, instructions, supplements and mission directives.
“We’re relatively caught up,” Morgan said. “I’ve been with the command since it was stood up and for the first time in my experience, all of our ops AFIs are current. There is not one single one that is behind the power curve.”
A fundamentally important piece to AFGSC’s success in communication is the fact the command minimizes bureaucracy.
“I’ve worked in MAJCOMs where it’s taken me three or four months to get on the four-star’s calendar, we don’t have that issue or challenge here,” Morgan said. “If it’s important, we can get to the commander within a handful of days or even a handful of minutes, depending on what it is by leveraging a collaborative group and board construct implemented by Gen. Ray.”
Bomber crews, missileers, and all supporting functions have maintained a mission-ready posture throughout the pandemic.
“AFGSC has been extremely successful at managing and mitigating the impact of COVID-19,” said Col. Karyn McKinney, AFGSC deputy command surgeon.
From anticipatory approaches to increased communication, AFGSC’s successes in establishing and maintaining readiness have been the product of a willingness to plan, adapt and innovate.
“COVID got us to communicate more,” Morgan said. “There are some things we are doing now that will never go back.”
However, looking forward to 2021 and beyond, there are many challenges AFGSC must still face, such as force modernization.
“When you go from old to new, there is a bow wave of workload, manpower and resources,” Morgan said. “Looking forward I would call it a target rich environment to overcome challenges and it’s going to require our best talent and abilities to ensure uninterrupted strategic deterrence for our nation.”