US Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein has moved to reassure the US public and allies that the US Air Force is constantly assessing and adjusting practices to protect Airmen and families from the coronavirus pandemic while also ensuring that all operations continue worldwide.
Amid growing concern about the capacity of militaries to maintain their role and responsibilities amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, US Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein has moved to reassure both the US public and allies, particularly following the impact of the pandemic on key US Navy assets, namely the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier.
"We're not doing business as usual. We are doing business as required," Gen Goldfein said during an hour-long virtual appearance with Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.
At the same time, Gen Goldfein acknowledged that the pandemic is “having an impact on readiness” but that adjustments at all levels have compensated for the unexpected demands needed to keep personnel safe from a virus for which there is no vaccine or immunity.
Gen Goldfein said the Air Force has "significantly changed our operations in the missile fields to keep those up and operating".
Beyond that, exercises have been cancelled, all travel has stopped and commanders are aggressively following federal guidelines for disinfecting facilities, maintaining social distance and in some cases, requiring temperature checks of Airmen before they begin each shift.
But because of the variety of missions and locations where the Air Force operates, Gen Goldfein said he has set "right and left bookends" while giving local commanders discretion to shape the guidance so it can protect personnel and maintain missions.
The result, he said, is that, “we've changed operations significantly all through this. What I asked the MAJCOM commanders to do so that we were doing this from a senior leadership perspective the right way is, OK, in this environment, let's identify the mission essential tasks that we have got to put resources. … (But) you all are closer to this than I am”.
The prime example for how the Air Force has adjusted operations while maintaining capability, Gen Goldfein said, is the nuclear deterrent. The Air Force is responsible for two of the three legs of the nuclear force – the ground-based missile system and the fleet of long-range bombers.
"The nation still requires a safe and effective nuclear deterrent. That is ‘job one’ for the Air Force. That mission has not slowed down though we have adjusted how we go about it," Gen Goldfein explained.
Gen Goldfein added that “it’s too early” to predict the coronavirus’ impact on the pilot shortage. Though he noted that many commercial pilots are members of the National Guard and that could affect the numbers given that commercial airlines are severely curtailing service.
He also said that he has been in contact with major Defence contractors and to date the virus has not had a heavy impact on the supply chain or the Air Force’s ability to get necessary material, parts and munitions.
Gen Goldfein also said that there has been some evidence that adversaries “are trying to take advantage of this situation”, though he offered no detail beyond saying the use of the 'information space' is especially prominent.
At the same time, Gen Goldfein said he and other Air Force chiefs from around the world have been in frequent contact to discuss the pandemic, the response and how best to maximise cooperation. The sessions were started by the Italian air chief and have been “a bright spot in terms of international co-operation”.