May Commander's Column Published April 23, 2014 By Col. Russell Rushe Joint Forces Headquarters - South Carolina MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. -- I appreciate the opportunity to tell you about a few things going on in the Joint Forces Headquarters and want to thank you for the tremendous hard work you do for the state and nation. Strategic initiatives - F 16 Modernization and F 35 While we continue to plan and prepare for the fielding of F-35s at McEntire, the reality is it may be 8-10 years at the earliest before the aircraft will arrive. Recently, the USAF announced the decision not to modernize F-16s in favor of preserving their number one priority, the F-35. So what does this mean? The F-16 is the most numerous fighter aircraft in the inventory and performs all fighter missions including Suppression/Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses in which the Block50/52 is the most lethal platform in the inventory. There will be a growing gap in the capabilities and survivability of the aircraft against modern air and ground threats until the F-35 comes on board in sufficient numbers to cover all missions. Additionally, most F-16s will migrate to the Air National Guard in the future. The decision not to modernize them will severely degrade Air National Guard relevance and capability over time. In order for the F-16 to remain relevant in the future, the only solution is to modernize the combat avionics and radar. This technology has been developed and is near off-the-shelf and could be fielded in the next two to four years. We are engaging with the ANG leadership, NGAUS and our congressional delegation to ensure they understand the risks involved in not modernizing the F-16 and are working to restore the modernization of the F-16. Domestic Operations/State Civil Support We continue to increase emphasis on the state mission and to develop our capabilities to assist the state in the event of a domestic crisis. As members of the South Carolina National Guard, all SCANG forces are available for state use and we need to be prepared if called upon. Along with developing force packages for state use, we have become the lead agency for the Air Branch within the South Carolina Emergency Management Division. The Air Branch is responsible for the coordination of air activity in support of disaster relief and can be comprised of as many as 14 or more state and federal agencies. We have been developing the planning documents and procedures for the management of Air Space Use, along with the ability to provide an Air Picture for the state. Ultimately, we advise the Emergency Management Division on available air assets and their capabilities and limitations. We also advise on the availability of state resources to support the use of air assets. A big step in validating our abilities in the domestic arena will be the State Full-Scale Exercise in early June. During that exercise SCANG forces will deploy to Georgetown airport to help in recovery efforts after a simulated hurricane. In addition to rolling out Air Branch operations, force packages to include air traffic control, force support and services, medical, communications, security, public affairs and the chaplain's office will deploy and participate. This exercise is intended to be a "dress rehearsal" for our participation in the national-level exercise, Vigilant Guard 15 in March 2015. So what is Vigilant Guard? It is a large-scale exercise program sponsored by USNORTHCOM in conjunction with NGB that provides National Guard States the opportunity to improve cooperation and relationships with their regional civilian, military and federal partners in preparation for emergencies and catastrophic events. South Carolina will be the lead state in the Vigilant Guard 15 exercise, which will include both federal and National Guard personnel from around the region as they respond to a catastrophic hurricane that strikes both South and North Carolina. Finally, I want to remind everyone to look into the services provided by the Service Member and Family Care Directorate (J1.1) of the SC National Guard. This is a great resource to our Airmen and families who face resiliency issues. They have many programs to assist. As an example, their program for finding meaningful employment for unemployed and underemployed individuals has gained national attention. If you or someone you know needs help, please look into what they can provide to help. The website is http://www.scguard.com/j11-service-member-and-family-care.php. Thanks for all you do!