Pa. Guard's RPA unit capable, willing to answer the call for TFI

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Andria Allmond
  • 111th Attack Wing
 During a conference held by Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, the chief of staff of the Air Force, and attended by 111th Attack Wing Commander Col. Howard Eissler, Jan. 6 -7 in National Harbor, Maryland, a hot topic was total force integration (TFI) - and the 111th Attack Wing here could serve as a prime arena.

TFIs, a topic Eissler brought up during January commander's call, are not a new theme in military budget talks, but the arrangement of associations could begin to look different as reserve components are called for increased presence in total force capabilities. 

In a report to Congress last year responding to the National Commission of the Structure of the Air Force, Lt. Gen. Stanley E. Clarke III, the director of the Air National Guard, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., said, "We are committed to ensuring we evolve in our total-force integration with a synchronized team always ready to deliver unparalleled airpower anywhere in the world."

Given the chance, that evolution has the potential to start here.

"There is a classic association TFI, where a Guard unit is associated to an active-duty unit," said Eissler. "Or there can be an active-duty unit that comes onto a Guard base."

Eissler stated during the conference that the 111th ATKW could serve as the ideal host for an active-duty component, in both force and fiscal responsibility, within its remotely-piloted aircraft (RPA) mission.

In a scenario proposed by Eissler, a regular Air Force squadron could function as an associate of the 111th Operations Group here. The 111th OG currently operates the MQ-9 Reaper, an armed, multi-mission, medium-altitude, long-endurance RPA that is employed as an intelligence collection asset and serves against active targets.

"RPAs can be flown from anywhere," said Eissler. "For that mission to be part of a TFI, there would be very little additional expense for us. Our facilities are built to handle multiple combat air patrols (CAP). We could easily fly [more than we are now] for a very minimal cost."

A regular Air Force component may also find it cost friendly to fly from Horsham Air Guard Station.

Eissler continued by saying that implementing an active-duty TFI would only require the regular Air Force to bring the people and the equipment.

"They could come in and use our facilities to operate the CAP at nearly no expense," said Eissler.

Regular Air Force Airmen might come for the mission, but stay for the prime location.

"I feel confident it would also solve some retention issues by having our Airmen stationed here in Bucks County [Pennsylvania]," Eissler said regarding the historically favored locale. "If you keep people in the Air Force longer, this also saves cost."

Regardless of all the positives, the 111th ATKW does acknowledge some items that would cause hesitation for a regular Air Force unit to participate in TFI with a Reserve or Guard component.

"From an active-duty perspective, if I was an active-duty commander and I had to chop loose a squadron, it would be a loss to whoever owns that squadron," said Col. Michael Shenk, 111th OG commander. "There also might be the concern that those folks are going to serve out their active-duty term and then join the Guard."

Another concern could be the lack of facilities that active-duty bases supply their members.

"We don't have housing on base, we don't have an active clinic on base, we don't have an (Army & Air Force Exchange) and other things that are benefits available to Airmen," said Shenk.

Despite some hurdles, Shenk stated that he believes these issues could be overcome easily and that the benefit to all those involved outweighs any minor inconveniences.

Either way, a TFI for the Wing has yet to become an option.

While the Wing is not actively seeking the addition of an Air Force TFI program, Eissler stated that if presented with the opportunity, his Guardsmen would easily be able to support and implement the new structure.

"If somebody brought this to me and said, 'Would you be interested?,' I'd tell them that we'd absolutely be interested," said Eissler. "I think we could work hard and get this thing going pretty quickly. It would be a good thing for the base, a good thing for our people."