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The Future of the 102nd Air Operations Group

Col. Richard Sweeten
102nd Air Operations Group Commander

Col. Richard Sweeten 102nd Air Operations Group Commander

OTIS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mass. -- Everyone in the 102nd Intelligence Wing was shocked when news came in the spring of 2012 that the 102nd Air Operations Group was being cut as part of the President's 2013 Budget (PB13). The National Guard Bureau (NGB) had agreed with the Air Force's decision to cut 5,100 Air National Guardsmen and retire 139 Air National Guard (ANG) aircraft. I must say, no one was more surprised than I, as our relationship with the 608th Air Operations Center (AOC) at Barksdale AFB, La., had grown substantially over the years. We had proven our value to US Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) by providing trained command and control (C2) airmen to multiple combatant command (COCOM) level exercises and even participated directly in Operation Odyssey Dawn. As the shock turned to disbelief, we began to take a look at how the decision was made. In a nutshell, we were a natural casualty of a complicated process to eliminate manpower across the Guard. Final decisions were made behind closed doors and those involved signed letters of non-disclosure. It soon became clear however that the preliminary information gathering process was not as transparent as it could have been, and many decision makers weren't aware of what the 102nd AOG had accomplished. We were informed by our MAJCOM, Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC), that even they were not briefed on the decision to cut the AOG! In hindsight, the decision proved to be a mobilizing force. The announcement started a flurry of activity by Massachusetts Joint Force Headquarters, AFGSC, STRATCOM, and the Massachusetts congressional delegation to reverse the decision. The Council of Governors also quickly became involved on a national level, as there were many other states unhappy with the cuts. The political pushback was strong and in November of 2012, the Air Force agreed to reverse a large portion of the ANG manpower cuts. As a result, the 102nd AOG mission was restored.

While this is good news, the Department of Defense fiscal landscape is still evolving. The Air Force is looking for ways to save money, and the AOC weapons system is in the crosshairs. The importance of the AOC and a commander's ability to execute an air war is not in dispute. But there are currently 12 geographic and functional AOC's, and in peacetime, most aren't tasked with significant real world operations. Yet all require valuable active duty manpower, constant upkeep, and run on an outdated system called the Theater Battle Management Core System (TBMCS). In order to save money, the Air Force is considering significant changes to the weapon system. Consolidating AOCs, streamlining C2 systems, and reducing associated active duty manpower are all on the table. The problem is--when a conflict kicks off somewhere in the world, the Air Force must have the capability to quickly stand up an AOC. The most important part of that capability is trained and experienced people. The solution may be the Guard and Reserve.

In order to figure this out, the Air Force is currently conducting a comprehensive Force Composition Analysis (FCA) across the entire spectrum of operations. In the AOC world, they are trying to determine the correct Force Mix Options using the Guard and Reserve that would allow an AOC to operate quickly and efficiently in a time of war. Should this analysis determine that the Air Reserve Component (ARC) is an effective and inexpensive solution, we may see a good portion of C2 capability transition to the Guard and Reserve. Results of the FCA are due sometime this summer and should give a good indication of the future role for the mission. In the meantime, the 102nd AOG continues to work closely with the 608th AOC to develop innovative ways to integrate and conduct operations in support of STRATCOM's global strike mission.