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Air Force Weighs ISR, Tanker Consortiums

The Air Force is considering several new consortium arrangements with European partners as a way to pool resources for a collective advantage, lower operating costs and decrease travel time for U.S. platforms, service officials said.

An intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance (ISR) consortium and a tanker consortium are among the arrangements being considered, said Heidi Grant, Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force, International Affairs.

“We’re looking at more consortium operations,” she said.

An ISR or tanker consortium would involve a handful of countries teaming up to collectively use and benefit from strategically positioned tanker or ISR aircraft. These arrangements would allow countries the benefit of tanker and ISR technologies without having the same expense, maintenance or travel burdens were they to position and use the asset themselves.

One example of a consortium is the joint maintenance and operation of three C-17s in Hungary which began in 2009, Grant said. Called a strategic airlift capability, the consortium involves 12 countries: Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Lithuania, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Sweden and the U.S.

Citing this example, Grant said consortiums, foreign military sales and strategic partnerships with allies are likely to figure more prominently in coming years as the Air Force gets smaller and budgets decrease.

“As we become the smallest [U.S.] Air Force in history, we will still be the most capable Air Force in the world. My concern is will we have the capacity to respond to all of these contingency and humanitarian relief operations? If not, who is going to be there do to aerial refueling or ISR?” Grant said.

“When we are seeing challenges they are global security challenges. Global security challenges require global partnerships,” she added.

A European-based ISR consortium would involve making arrangements above and beyond what NATO already stipulates, Grant explained.

At the same time the Air Force continues to emphasize Foreign Military Sales as a way to strengthen partner capacity and, in some cases, support the U.S. industrial base by bringing in production dollars.

For example, 26 countries currently operate F-16s and 70 countries operate C-130s, Grant said. Also, the U.S. is now working on finalizing the sale of 84 F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia – a deal that constitutes the largest single FMS case in the history of the U.S.

-- Kris Osborn can be reached at Kris.Osborn@monster.com

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