“When you think about what the future of the Air Force is, it looks a whole lot like Fort Smith.”
Dr. Heather Wilson, Secretary of the United States Air Force, made the comment Monday (March 26) during a visit to the Ebbing Air National Guard Base-188th Wing to view the unit’s work at its Remote Piloted Aircraft Operations Center, Distributed Communications Ground System, and Targeting Intelligence Production Squadron. She said the unit in Fort Smith is where more of the Air Force is moving.
Wilson visited the base as guest of U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., and U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, whom she thanked for their support on the recent passage of an omnibus spending bill President Donald Trump signed into law on Friday (March 24).
While the bill appropriated $654.6 billion for the Pentagon, it “doesn’t break down the funding based on military service,” Boozman communications director Sara Lasure told Talk Business & Politics. Still, Wilson said she knew, “as the Secretary of the Air Force, what I would have had to do if we had gone through sequester.”
“There is nothing that has done more damage to the United States Air Force than the sequester did almost five years ago, and if we had done that again, it would have meant frozen hiring; we would have laid people off; (and) had about a third of the United States Air Force sitting on the ramp, not flying, for the rest of the year,” Wilson said.
She continued: “It would have been devastating to meet our mission of protecting the country, and while there are some who sit and criticize, those who are in the arena did the right thing in their support of the United States military in getting that omnibus bill passed.”
To specifics of how it will help the Air Force, Wilson told Talk Business & Politics it has “several important things in it,” including a 2.4% pay increase for active Guard and Reserve personnel. Also, “it has an increase of 6,000 active Guard and Reserve personnel for the Air Force.”
“The Air Force lost about 30,000 people in the wake of the sequester. So now we’re trying to restore the readiness of the Force, and strengthen our units again. We’ve pulled a lot of people out of units and they’re running on fumes. We’ve got to restore the strength of those units.”
Wilson said the bill will allow the Air Force to sign contracts “to increase the passing of munitions that we’re buying up to industrial capacity.”
“During the height of the fight against ISIS, the United States Air Force was pumping about 150 munitions a day to destroy ISIS. It’s a combination of exquisite intelligence and precision strike, but we were using more munitions every day than we were buying, and we have to recover those. The budget that was passed last week will help us to do that,” Wilson said.
While Secretary Wilson approved of the $1.3 trillion spending bill, there were critics, including Republicans and conservative media outlets. The bill, which includes a 13% increase in non-military discretionary spending, also adds to the national deficit.
“It remains remarkable that, even with control over the branches of elected government, the GOP cannot secure funding for the military without dangling such unnecessary spending for domestic programs,” noted editors with the National Review in their “The Omnibus Disgrace” editorial.
While Wilson was not ready to discuss the possibility of any future launch-and-recovery missions from the base, she said “maybe down the road,” adding the “most important thing is, they (188th) have a very important mission here that they are conducting exceptionally well,” in reference to the the Guard’s work with remotely piloted aircraft.
“It’s a great example of a Guard unit that’s embracing the future, and it’s a great mission for the Guard. There are some Guard units that did not embrace that change, and they have no mission.”
Wilson said it was important not to “undermine or denigrate or downplay the importance of that mission because you don’t see something flying off its runway. That’s not what it’s about, and the Air Force more and more is going to distributed network operations, multi-piloted aircraft, and something we call multi-domain operations, and this Guard unit is leading the way.”
Boozman, who is co-chair of the Senate Air Force Caucus, thanked Wilson for the Arkansas visit.
“I am grateful that Secretary Wilson is spending a considerable amount of time in Arkansas to see how our state strengthens national security. As threats evolve and we ask more of our Air Force, the 188th Wing’s future-focused mission will continue to be a critical component to defend our nation and its interests. I was honored to participate in Secretary Wilson’s visit highlighting the capabilities of the men and women at Ebbing Air National Guard Base.”