01/22/09 — General: SJAFB will be around for years

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General: SJAFB will be around for years

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on January 22, 2009 1:46 PM

LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. -- When Gen. John Corley talks about Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, he says the installation has a long future ahead of it.

But just what that future would look like still raises questions for Air Combat Command's top official.

"It's hard for me to predict what is going to be out there 15, 20 years from now, but I will tell you the need for the capability ... that's enduring. And Seymour's going to be there," he said. "I see the viability of Seymour Johnson as enduring; I see the Air Force as enduring -- because otherwise, in my mind ... a national security strategy, a national defense strategy, doesn't work."

The longevity of the Goldsboro base was among the topics discussed by Corley at Langley Air Force Base earlier this month.

So was the viability of the aircraft housed there.

"As you look around (Afghanistan), (commanders there are) trying to work inside a pretty pesky problem. Part of that is the tyranny of terrain and it's the tyranny of distance," the general said. "You get a magnificent platform like the F-15E. It has got attributes of being survivable and being lethal and having great long legs and carrying enormous payloads. ... All of that says, viable? You bet now. And for a pretty long time."

"How long? That's a really tough one to answer," he added. "My view of how long is for a minimum of a decade-and-a-half, two decades. Probably more."

Even so, Corley knows the Strike Eagle won't last forever -- making his case for continued development and production of F-22A Raptors more critical.

"If the nation says to us specifically that what you have to do is deliver on freedom of action, freedom from attack, freedom to attack, and you have to have air superiority and air dominance ... the capability I need is an F-22," he said. "But then, in my mind, I also have to have a capacity because one airplane can't be everywhere on the planet at the same time.

"I want both the (Raptor) ... and I need the right number of (Raptors)," Corley added. "I don't think there is much argument that is singularly the finest aircraft that we possess and there is no match for it."

But he knows a fleet of Raptors, alone, won't keep another country from emerging as an air power.

So his vision of the future also includes Unmanned Aerial Vehicles like the MQ-9 Reaper.

"Is it a growth industry? Yes it is. Think about the fact that it took us a decade to get to 100,000 hours worth of flying time in the Predator and it took 10 months to get the latest 100,000," Corley said of UAVs. "That kind of gives you some way to shape and to scope this. Think about the fact that the U.S. Air Force, in this last year of budget, half of the aerial vehicles we bought are unmanned. So that kind of does prescribe for you a vision of the future."

There is just one catch.

Corley and his colleagues must convince President Barack Obama's administration that air superiority is worth the price tag.

"It's hard to tell where a new administration will take us, but we have to accept the realities of a pretty difficult economic situation -- and often times in economic situations, we have to say, 'How best to still underpin the strategy that secures this nation and do it with the resources we are given?'" he said. "I'm not predisposed to a new administration walking in the door. What I am predisposed to is I need to make the case for what is required -- people and things -- to underpin the strategy."

And luckily for Seymour Johnson, at least in Corley's view, it plays a significant role in that strategy -- with or without the F-15E Strike Eagle.

"When does an airplane stop being viable? Is it the threat that forces you to no longer allow it to fly -- to do its job? Is it a structural problem like what we went through with the C model airplanes this past year? Is it corrosion? Is it flying hours?," he said. "And if not a viable platform, an F-15E, the mission demand is still there which demands the 4th Wing. ... The thing if you will, the tool, will change ... but if I'm worried about air superiority, I've got a way that I can map the 4th Wing toward an air superiority situation."