JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. –
Gen. Mike Holmes, the commander of Air Combat Command, recently visited ACC flying wings one last time to connect with Airmen and aircrews.
The visit was planned to provide commander’s intent regarding training priorities, share information about recent mishaps with instructors and leaders, and update Airmen on challenges facing ACC and the Air Force.
“There’s no substitute for direct communication, and I value the raw feedback that you can only get by visiting those who are flying the line everyday,” said Holmes.
Maj. Gen. Craig Wills, Air Education and Training Command’s 19th Air Force commander, accompanied Holmes to provide an update on the status of undergraduate flying training production and innovation efforts. The trip was inspired in part by a recent string of mishaps across the Air Force and concerns voiced by pilots and aircrew in various online forums.
“We trust our Airmen,” said Holmes, “and we wanted to make sure they know everything we know about our recent accidents. Our recent mishaps involved multiple aircraft types and pilot experience levels. While it’s too early to conclusively identify common causes or themes between events, Lt. Gen. Brad Webb (the AETC commander) and I thought it was important for AETC and ACC to engage our leaders and instructor force and hear their concerns.”
Holmes also noted that the Air Force faces distinct challenges that have intensified over time. The combination of declining experience levels, a growing number of flying upgrades and an elevated operational tempo combined to create a significant challenge at the squadron level. Institutionally, the Air Force’s pilot shortage and challenges with production have made it more difficult to replenish front line units and maintain a healthy flow of pilots between operational units, training units and important institutional test and staff programs.
Together, Holmes said, the squadron level and institutional challenges combine to create a ‘wicked’ problem, defined as a problem that can’t be broken into smaller pieces and solved.
“We’re going to need to tackle it across the spectrum of flying units in order to maintain the capabilities we need in a peer fight,” Holmes continued.
Wills provided updates on undergraduate production and various innovation efforts underway in AETC, echoing the need to better prepare graduates for the 21st century fight.
“We’re proud of innovative efforts such as Pilot Training Next and the just-launched UPT 2.5 program,” said Wills, “but there’s no question we still have a lot of work to do in order to fully transform our training programs. We have an imperative to continually improve the capability of our graduates in order to ensure our Air Force remains the world’s best.”
He also noted that AETC is working closely with ACC on project REFORGE, as well as a number of initiatives designed to modernize undergraduate flying and pipeline training. Holmes also stressed the importance of ensuring operational units send their best candidates to serve as instructors.
“We’re building our future,” said Holmes, “and we need to work hand in hand with AETC to make sure our training programs are synchronized from initial training through the mission qualification training and upgrade programs at our ops units that are the building block of the Combat Air Forces.”
When asked about feedback from his audiences, Holmes noted that ACC and AETC aircrew had done as he asked and provided direct and honest feedback.
“I appreciate working with people who aren’t afraid to call it like it is,” he said. “Our leadership team understands the challenges we face, but the leaders and instructors we met with also outlined pretty clearly areas where we have more work to do. Brad Webb and I are committed to doing the work together.”
When asked about his impending retirement, Holmes paused briefly and said, “I found a life of meaning and purpose in the Air Force, not because of the aircraft I’ve flown or the places I’ve lived, but because of the opportunity to serve with people like this...Airmen and families who have dedicated themselves to our nation and to each other. 39 years went too fast, and I miss them already.”