The director of the U.S. Air Force 60th Anniversary Task Force told Gainesville Rotarians on Monday that the Air Force is facing a fiscal challenge in the effort to modernize and capitalize its operational systems and equipment.
Top Air Force officials say they are facing a mismatch between national strategy and defense resources, Col. Ben Hulsey III, a Gainesville native, told the civic club gathered at the Gainesville Civic Center.
"The average age of our aircraft fleet is 24 years," said Hulsey, who is stationed at the Pentagon. "The newest KC-135 refueler, the plane I have a little over 2,300 hours on, came off the assembly line in Everett, Wash., in 1965, and we have 500 of them still flying."
Hulsey said finding a new tanker is a top priority for the Air Force, which will select between Boeing and Northrop-Grumman early next year.
He said the new F-22 Raptor, the replacement for the aging fleet of F-15 and F-16 fighter jets, is most impressive. The new plane is being manufactured by Lockheed-Martin in Marietta.
Hulsey also talked about the importance of upgrading the Air Force’s cyber network of communications.
"The Air Force’s new cyber command is part of our core mission," he said. "Preserving Internet conductivity and securing cyberspace allows us to conduct our required operations and keep our forces around the globe informed and connected."
Hulsey, 46, has served two tours of combat duty, including a tour that took him to Iraq in 2004.
He said in the current conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Air Force has found itself in some nontraditional roles.
"Today, airmen are doing a lot of tasks to support the Army and Marines in the desert, including convoy duty and guarding detainees," Hulsey said. "It’s not the typical core missions we do, but we’re doing that to support the joint fight."
But the traditional Air Force mission has also taken place in the war zones.
"We had more than 45,000 sailors, Marines, soldiers and airmen who have been evacuated by air since October 2001," he said.
Most are returned to the military hospital in Germany, and then on to the United States.
While much of the attention has been focused on the ground war, he said the Air Force has continued to be involved in single air missions.
"On a daily basis, we’ll fly 250 operational sorties. That logs out to about 80,000 sorties over the past year," Hulsey said.
The flights have ranged from bombing to reconnaissance to airlift missions.
A graduate of Gainesville High, Hulsey is the son of B.J. and Dorothy Hulsey of Gainesville. He was nominated to the Air Force Academy, where he graduated in 1983. He holds master of science degrees from Troy University and the Naval War College.
He was named director of the U.S. Air Force 60th Anniversary Task Force, and has been involved in a number of related events, including the dedication of the U.S. Air Force Memorial in Washington in October 2006, and a gathering this year of global air chiefs from air forces throughout the world. The U.S. Air Force became a separate branch of service in 1947.
Prior to his current appointment at the Pentagon, Hulsey served as director of operations management in the Tanker Airlift Control Center of the Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.
He is married to the former Connie Poole of Gainesville, and they have a grown daughter.