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This article was Originally Published on Sep 15, 2003 in Volume: 2  Issue: 4

Air Warrior

Interview with General Hal M. Hornburg

Commander Air Combat Command

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General Hal M. Hornburg is commander, Air Combat Command, headquartered at Langley Air Force Base, VA, and air component commander for U.S. Joint Forces Command and U.S. Northern Command. He is responsible for organizing, training, equipping and maintaining combat-ready forces for rapid deployment and employment while ensuring strategic air defense forces are ready to meet the challenges of peacetime air sovereignty and wartime defense.

As the Combat Air Forces lead agent, ACC develops strategy, doctrine, concepts, tactics and procedures for air and space power employment. The command provides conventional, nuclear and information warfare forces to all unified commands to ensure air, space and information superiority for warfighters and national decision-makers. ACC can also be called upon to assist national agencies with intelligence, surveillance and crisis response capabilities.

He entered the Air Force in 1968 as a graduate of Texas A&M University’s ROTC program. He has commanded at all levels—flight, squadron, wing, numbered air force and major command. He also commanded a composite fighter wing during Operation Desert Storm and the first Air Force composite wing during the services reorganization in 1991 to1992. He directed air operations over Bosnia, commanded the Joint Warfighting Center, served on the Joint Staff, and directed operations at Headquarters U.S. Air Force. He also has served as Tactical Air Command’s F-15 demonstration pilot for the East Coast, as Air Force Liaison Officer to the U.S. Senate, and as Chief of the Air Force Colonels’ Group. Prior to assuming his current position, he commanded Air Education and Training Command. He is a command pilot with more than 4,400 flight hours.

Q: Good morning, General Hornburg. Just to warm up our readers, can you give us an overview of Air Combat Command (ACC)?

A: Air Combat Command is the main provider of combat air forces to America’s warfighting commands. We have more than 98,000 active-duty airmen, 10,000 civilians, 10,600 reservists, 57,700 Air National Guardsmen, and more than 1,700 combat aircraft to provide these critical warfighting capabilities to our nation. ACC flies fighter, bomber, reconnaissance, battle management, electronic combat and rescue aircraft, as well as command, control, communications, and intelligence systems. As a force provider, ACC organizes, trains, equips and maintains combat-ready forces for rapid deployment and use. The command also ensures strategic air defense forces are ready to protect America in peace or war 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

Q: Can you elaborate on the six focus areas and what they mean to ACC?

A: During my first six months as the commander of Air Combat Command, I assessed our strengths and areas we needed to improve on as a command. I identified six topics called “ACC Focus Areas” that take priority on my agenda because of their importance to the command and to our Air Force.

The ACC Focus Areas are people, air and space expeditionary forces, infrastructure, transformation, command and control, and information operations.

The first area is the most important to me because people are the cornerstone of everything we do. Without our people, we simply could not accomplish the mission.

We need to show our people they are important through leadership, mentoring and coaching.We must create an environment that encourages our people to reach their full potential and remain a part of our force. Our focus will be to grow and retain airmen through visible leadership, regular mentoring, and active engagement in their lives. Those we lead, mentor and coach define our warfighting and readiness capabilities. We must continuously demonstrate our concern for our people, their families and their futures. In short, we must recognize them for all they do for the Air Force and our country.

Second, we must continue to develop fully capable air and space expeditionary forces including robust expeditionary combat support. The Air Force is expeditionary by nature, and every airman is critical to the Air Expeditionary Forces’ (AEF) success. AEFs allow the Air Force to provide tailored force packages to meet the needs of our combatant commanders while offering some predictability to our people. The structure of our AEFs enables the Air Force to meet the wide range of military operations using forces from active duty to the Guard and Reserve.

We need to expand the AEF concept to present full-spectrum, capable forces that are ready to meet the nation’s need for steady-state operations, crisis response and warfighting. We must size our AEFs with equal, measurable, and tailorable combat capability based on the demands of national security strategy and with the number of forces that allows an operations tempo that sustains and retains our people.

My third focus area is infrastructure. Unfortunately, every ACC installation has infrastructure concerns. While the age of our facilities continues to increase, investments have decreased since 1985. Our buildings, roads, and runways show it. Commanders receive 70 percent less facility money than 17 years ago. I’ve made infrastructure one of ACC’s Focus Areas because we cannot accomplish our mission if our facilities are crumbling around us. We must sustain and modernize our infrastructure with innovative approaches to support our combat operations and to give our people the quality of life they deserve.

The fourth area that is hot on my scope is transformation. Transformation consists of three related elements: new technologies that enable us to achieve the desired effects against our adversaries, new operational concepts and improved organizational structures.Continuing our transformational journey will allow us to fight future wars smarter and reduce the threat to our people and assets. Transformation is clearly not going to happen overnight, but we are making progress in programs such as the F/A-22, Global Hawk, Joint Strike Fighter, modernization of our bomber fleet, and our continued emphasis on smart munitions.

Operational concepts such as Global Strike and Global Response, Air Expeditionary Forces, and new wing and numbered Air Force organizational structures help sharpen our evolution and guide us on our path towards transforming ACC to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

The fifth ACC Focus Area is command and control. We must aggressively develop full command and control of air and space power. This means achieving the right mix and capability of command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets to execute campaign plans at all levels of war and in all operational environments.

We must also complete the development of the air operations center as a weapons system through formal training, integration and standardization to support joint and combined operations. To achieve the full potential of command and control, we must rapidly and efficiently get the correct information to the warfighter.

Finally, to fully exploit Air Force technological advances and operational capabilities, we must merge air, space, intelligence and information operations into a seamless capability. We plan to accomplish this by focusing on information operations. To achieve this goal, ACC will focus on eliminating “stovepipes” within its operational, intelligence, and information functions, achieving better integration among these areas. ACC must lead the way, linking the intelligence and information operations functions from the air and space domains to better support the decision maker.

By focusing on these six areas, ACC will be better prepared to meet future challenges as a command and an Air Force for our nation. We’ll be able to improve the quality of life for our people, improve our installations, kick down the door of any adversary anytime, anywhere and uphold our reputation as the provider of the best combat air forces in the world.

As this command collectively targets these key areas, good things will happen. It will drive what we do as a team in the next few years. ACC is building for and looking toward the future.

Q: Do you foresee any changes to the command structure and organization of ACC in the near term?

A: We are taking a hard look at many of our organizational structures. While our current organizations have served us well, we must recognize many of our current structures were designed for a different era and for a different purpose. We are presently looking very hard at what we will need to do to adapt our organizational structures to better enable truly expeditionary operations on a global scale. I anticipate we will see some fairly significant changes in the years ahead. In every case, we are committed to providing the most capable air forces in the world to the nation, and we recognize that organizational changes will be necessary to do that.

Q: The F/A-22 is on the way, but will it arrive on time or will you need to keep some aircraft in the air longer than anticipated to bridge the time gap?

A: There are many excellent aircraft platforms in the Air Force inventory that are capable of defending the United States and protecting its interests through air and space power—as evidenced by the results of Operation Iraqi Freedom—but our fleet is aging. The F/A-22 is expected to achieve initial operational capability by December 2005, as scheduled. When the F/A-22 becomes completely operational, it will improve and enhance the power and capabilities of the United States Air Force by enabling new operational concepts not possible with legacy airframes. However, we will face continuing challenges in the years ahead as our current fleet of fighters, bombers and surveillance aircraft age. Some of our bombers are more than 40 years old and many of our fighters are more than 20 years old. We will face challenges over the next several decades as we continue to sustain legacy aircraft such as the F-16 and A-10 and simultaneously bring on their replacements. These challenges are particularly acute in the fighter force structure because of the very limited fighter purchases we have made over the past decade and the limited choices we face in the years ahead.

Q: Do you think there will ever be a newly designed, manned fighter-type aircraft after the F/A-22?

A: Absolutely. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is already projected to replace our aging F-16 and A-10 fleets. The F-35 will use some of the same technological advances of the F/A-22, helping to minimize costs of this aircraft by keeping 80 percent of its design common among the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, as well as the British Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. As far as a specific follow-on for the F/A-22, it is still too early to tell. The United States Air Force is working toward a capabilities-based planning and budgeting system. This means we look at what capabilities we need and then look for systems that best fit that bill. Thus, how we define our future capabilities is the basis for our future systems. Whether this is met by manned fighters, remotely piloted vehicles, from space, some future technology, or a combination of these, remains to be seen.

Q: Do you think that the defense industry is positioned to react directly to the needs of the warfighter quickly when changes are needed, or is the process of going from an idea to operational deployment too long?

A: We need a close partnership between the military and defense industry to ensure we maintain a healthy, vibrant aerospace production capability and to ensure national security. Defense industries cannot be invented on the eve of a national emergency. They must be maintained, especially with research and development work. We must negotiate to support mature acquisition strategies to ensure our defense industry is able to evolve to meet the needs of the warfighter. This may mean that we take a different look at how we buy major programs. In the past, we bought aircraft in surge buys, buying hundreds of aircraft over a period of a few years. With much larger aircraft inventories and several aircraft in development and production at one time, we could afford to do this. We are moving to an era in which aircraft development can take decades, and we have very few production and development programs at any one time. Within this frame of reference, we may need to look toward what might be called sustainment production. By that I mean buying more efficiently at lower annual rates but sustaining production for longer periods of time with block upgrades, spiral development and technology insertion. These types of changes should not only improve our ability to get warfighting capability to our airmen in the field sooner but will also enable us to better sustain the nation’s industrial base.

Q: What were ACC’s most important contributions to the efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq? Were there any “firsts” for the command in theater?

A: How long a list would you like? We could generate a significant list but the pattern and the message in both operations are the same. We are a very successful and effective expeditionary combat air force. We are a total force. We operate as a precision-oriented, global, long-range strike air force. Again and again, ACC continues to deliver decisive firepower anywhere, anytime and we continue to get better at it! And not just by using new systems but by adapting “the old” with new concepts or upgrades. For example, just a few years ago it would have been unthinkable to consider the B-2, our newest and most sophisticated bomber, dropping conventional Mk-82 bombs—but it does so very effectively. To get a flavor of what we did, let’s look at just some of the numbers and events … Our aircraft flew more than 9,000 strike sorties in 20 days. One hundred percent of our strike aircraft now deliver precision-guided munitions, and 30 percent of these same aircraft are operated by Air National Guard or Air Force Reserve units. That’s total force. Approximately 68 percent of the weapons used were “guided” for greater overall precision and effectiveness. We are almost to the point of one weapon per aim point per target. Put simply we used one eighth as many weapons as in Desert Storm, did the job in half the time while operating 45 percent fewer aircraft, and still conducted operations in other regions. For the first time, bombers provided surveillance cover, dropped laser-guided munitions, provided rapid response to time-sensitive targets, and went to downtown Baghdad alone and in broad daylight. Our fully integrated ACC intelligence operators and their capabilities ensured our fighters were routinely and dynamically re-tasked en route to target areas in order to exploit real-time intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance updates or maximize use of our newer advanced munitions.

The Sensor-Fuzed Weapon, for example, was used for the first time during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Every call for close-air support from our troops on the ground, regardless of location, time, weather, and so forth, had a weapon impact response time of under five minutes. The bottom line is when on-call, precise, and devastating firepower was needed, the men and women of ACC were quite literally unstoppable and unmatched.

Q: What emerging or under-development technologies do your warfighters need most?

A: We’d like to improve our capability to quickly react to emerging global threats. We are actually doing very well in this area. Over the last several years, we have dramatically improved the number and types of long-endurance, remotely piloted vehicles such as Global Hawk and Predator. These investments showed their tremendous value in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, we are dramatically improving many of our command and control technologies. We are putting data links into our platforms just about as fast as we can. We have fielded entirely new families of modern precision and near pre-precision munitions such as Joint Direct Attack Munition, Sensor-Fuzed Weapon, and the Wind Corrected Munitions Sensor. As we look across the horizon, we see entirely new arrays of active and passive sensors on our new aircraft, the F/A-22, F-35, Global Hawk, Predator and UCAV. We also have new weapons in development such as the Small Diameter Bomb (SDB), the Joint Air-to-Surface Stand-off Munition (JASSM), and even data links for our munitions. Finally, we are fielding an incredible array of new technologies to enable our commanders and airmen in the field to command and control our forces better. This runs the full spectrum from new technologies and systems in our Air Operations Centers to new suites of systems for our terminal attack controllers who work with ground forces to provide close air support. There is a lot of great news here, and I think we are doing a significantly better job at getting improved capability to our airmen in the field much quicker. 

Q: Has the dramatic increase in OPTEMPO during the past 20 months significantly impacted aircraft maintenance and aircraft service life?

A: The health of our aircraft fleet is good thanks to the dedication and commitment of our highly skilled maintainers. Although our FY02 cumulative rates show ACC aircraft mission performance indicators improved or held steady across the board, our increasing operations tempo has put additional wear and tear on our aircraft and our people. These strains will be reflected in increased resource demands to maintain the required level of readiness. Soon the cost to sustain this fleet of aging aircraft will exceed the cost to replace our weapon systems with new and more capable technologies.

Q: “Train as you fight” has been a baseline for a long time. Because of costs, flight simulation plays a major role in keeping pilots current. Besides the times when you actually put a pilot in the air for recurrent training, are there any additional training aids (or technologies) that would keep skills honed and still fit the train-as-you-fight philosophy?

A: Nothing replaces putting a pilot in the air under actual flight conditions. However, the Air Force is developing and fielding a new training concept called Distributed Mission Operations (DMO). DMO is a networked “family” of training simulators providing simulator-link capability between bases and systems. It includes aircraft, command and control systems, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems. This family of high-fidelity simulators allows the creation of realistic combat environments that provide training opportunities not readily available on a daily basis during live flying operations. It allows us to link multiple systems throughout the command to fly large-scale combat scenarios without ever leaving home station. Eventually, this capability could be expanded into the joint world of war fighting, enabling the Air Force to have the capability to fly simulated missions along with other components in a live, virtual, and constructive environment.  The ultimate goal is the ability to conduct full mission rehearsal of actual combat missions, enabling our aviators to have a first-hand simulated look at the actual battlefield with realistic threats, weather, terrain and targets.

Q: There has been strong consideration over the years about decommissioning the A-10. What is ACC’s view of the A-10 and whether it should be decommissioned and what, if anything, can step into the role of a down-and-dirty, close-air, ground-support aircraft?

A: The Air Force has increased its capabilities to conduct close-air support over the years, not decreased them. The A-10 did a superb job in Iraq providing support to our ground forces—as did the B-1, F-16, B-52 and F-15E. We will always have the capability to provide close-air support. It is our promise to the soldiers on the ground that we will always be there for them. This is a promise and commitment we take seriously. New technologies, weapons and operating concepts will ensure we retain and improve this capability. This is one of my top priorities! In fact, we are building a concept of operations that will ensure every one of our Air Force weapons-delivering aircraft will possess the capability to conduct close-air support in the most demanding threat environments. Although the average age of the A-10 is more than 23 years, it still remains a highly capable fighter. Until we can fill the “capability gap” provided by the       A-10, we will continue to employ it into the future.

Q: People are the strength of any organization. What is ACC doing to keep its competitive advantage in highly skilled personnel both in new recruiting and in retainment?

A: The Air Force looks for America’s best and brightest men and women to fill its ranks. ACC certainly benefits from the high standards the Air Force sets when recruiting our next generation of airmen. The Air Force offers exciting careers to young people, many of whom are in ACC. The Air Force provides technical training on state-of-the-art equipment that is second to none; we offer attractive options to young people looking for a challenging and rewarding workplace. I’d wager our airmen are better trained than their civilian counterparts, which makes keeping these quality people so important. In ACC, our motto is “People First, Mission Always.” We cannot fulfill our mission without trained and motivated airmen. They are the backbone of this organization, and it’s our job as leaders to make them want to stay.

Retaining our quality airmen is a challenge because their training makes them so attractive to civilian employers. If you really peel it back, what makes them stay with us is that we’re making them feel part of a great team, doing great things in challenging environments. When they leave work, we want them to feel good about who they are and about the positive contributions they have made to our mission. They need to know they are valued members of the organization.

Our surveys have shown an airman’s decision to stay in the Air Force is directly influenced by his or her leaders. This is just one reason I continue to emphasize the importance of mentoring. Retaining our people is critical to our future. It is everyone’s responsibility to grow our future leaders by sharing experiences and advice instead of simply telling their people what to do. We must create an environment that encourages our people to reach their full potential through visible leadership, regular mentoring and active engagement in their lives.

But we don’t just retain airmen; we retain families. So it is important that we constantly strive to improve their quality of life. From housing and facility upgrades to family-oriented programs and events, ACC focuses on taking care of our people and their families. When airmen know their families are safe and happy, they can focus their attention on the mission. We must continuously live our concern for our people, their futures and their families.



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