TINKER AIR FORCE BASE --
Oklahoma continues to have an impact on modern aviation, the commander of the Air Force Sustainment Center told members of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber recently.
Lt. Gen. Lee K. Levy II was the guest speaker at the chamber's Tinker Leadership Community Luncheon July 22 at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel in downtown Oklahoma City.
The general spoke on the 83rd anniversary of Wiley Post's first solo flight around the world and noted the aviator's contributions.
"Right there, back in 1933, Oklahoma had an impact on modern aviation," General Levy said. "All the way back to the early days of the 20th century, back to the dawn of flight, Oklahoma has played an important role in the aerospace community and in the defense of our nation."
What happens at Tinker Air Force Base on a daily basis not only impacts local economies, but also has an effect across the country.
"While in this forum we worry about Tinker, we love Tinker and we love Oklahoma, it's important that you know Tinker is part of a big, vast enterprise," General Levy said. "The nation can't do what it does without Tinker, and the other main bases in the command such as Robins Air Force Base in Georgia and Hill Air Force Base in Utah can't do what they do without Tinker. But, Tinker can't do what it does without Robins and without Hill."
The general said when people worry about the risks and vulnerabilities at Tinker, they should also think about the risks and vulnerabilities at other parts of the Air Force Sustainment Center.
"Because if one of them sneezes, they all catch cold," he said. "When they're sick, the defense of the nation is sick and airpower readiness is in jeopardy. That's not a place that I think our nation can afford to be."
General Levy said it's not just about the economic impact and the number of people, it's about the capabilities that Tinker delivers. Citing the record number of KC-135s that passed through the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex last year receiving modifications and repairs, the general said the work done at Tinker gives the United States the capability to project power and fight the away game.
"Open the paper and see what's going on in Iraq and Syria, what's going on in Afghanistan and the risks in the South China Sea," he said. "You might say that's a long way away from here, but what I would suggest to you is your nation's ability -- your Air Force's ability -- to project airpower: global reach, global power and global vigilance helps us fight that away game and helps keep us safer at home by keeping the adversary somewhere else."
The work being done on B-1 bombers at Tinker is also making an impact, the general said. The bomber has been extensively used in Afghanistan for close air support.
"With the upgrades they're acquiring right here at Tinker Air Force Base, we've made that venerable 1980s workhorse even more modern and even more lethal," he said.
The general also mentioned the Combat Network Communications Technology, or CONECT, modification currently being done on the B-52 Stratofortess at Tinker.
"Why do you care about that?" he asked chamber members. "Because there are Oklahoma Airmen modifying airplanes that were all built before I was born."
The last B-52 was built in 1961 and Air Force leaders expect the aircraft to fly until 2040.
"Think about that," General Levy said. "The sustainment, the logistics, the supply chain, the program management and the engineering from our partners happens right here in Oklahoma City. We've got great mission partners here and we couldn't do what we do without them."
While the work Tinker does on legacy weapons systems is amazing, the general is looking forward to the future.
Talking about how the Air Force acquired the land for the new KC-46A Sustainment Complex, General Levy said that's just one example of "Oklahomans supporting Airmen who are supporting your United States Air Force across the nation."
The general said it's important that the Air Force maintains a military competitive advantage in having global reach, global vigilance and global power and the KC-46A Pegasus offers those capabilities.
"For you here, it means more economic opportunities, more jobs and advanced technologies," he said, citing the partnership between the city of Oklahoma City, Midwest City and Del City. The chambers, the local governments, the state government, the federal government all pulling together to do things like acquire the General Motors plant and the BNSF railyard land all help keep Tinker thriving.
"Not just because we want to keep jobs and money here in Oklahoma, but because we want to be the world's most credible, most respected Air Force of the future just like we are today," the general said.
General Levy said it's important to look to the future and see what should be done, what's not being done or what can be done better. The general said in tomorrow's warfare, software will be the weapon of choice and it will be important for Tinker to hire software engineers.
"I will tell you we have a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math problem in the nation, in Oklahoma and at Tinker Air Force Base," the general said. "I can't hire those men and women fast enough to meet the needs for software sustainment for the future. And that worries me. It worries me from a Tinker perspective and it worries me from a defense perspective."
In addition to ongoing security concerns, the general said he also worries about the lack of a stable budget and its impact on companies that do business with the Air Force.
"When we have unstable budgets, or we don't know if a budget is going to pass, as your global supply chain manager for the United States Air Force, it is very difficult for me to talk to you as vendors and tell you I'm going to come buy from you next week because I don't know if I'm telling you the truth. I don't know when I'm going to get my money," he said. "And if you're a small or medium sized business, that's a risk for you."
The general said if a company is the only vendor making parts for 40-, 50- or 60-year-old airplanes and he can't tell them when he's going to buy from them, they may decide to go into another line of work.
"We see that happen over and over again when we advertise for contracts and people don't bid on them because they're not sure we're going to get our money," he said.
All in all, General Levy told the chamber members that he's very optimistic about Tinker's future with the KC-46 and other platforms and capabilities coming along.
"Tinker's doing great," he said. "But there's work to do and we all have to pull together and stay connected to make sure we do that."