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Diplomacy in Action

The Current and Future Face of U.S. Air Force Special Operations

Lt. General. Brad Webb, Commander, U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command
New York, New York
October 17, 2018

Date: 10/17/2018 Location: NYFPC Description:  Lt. Gen Webb briefing at the New York FPC - State Dept ImageFOREIGN PRESS CENTER BRIEFING WITH LIEUTENANT GENERAL BRAD WEBB


WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2018, 3:30 P.M. EDT


MODERATOR: Hi, everybody. Welcome back. We’re happy to see everybody here. Just a very brief introduction to our briefer today, Lieutenant General Brad Webb, Commander of Air Force Special Operations Command. He will give opening remarks, and then we’ll open it up for Q&A. For our friends in Washington, we will see you on screen; so if you have a question, please come up to the podium, and we will throw it over to you.

But for right now, sir, I give you the floor.

LT GEN WEBB: Thank you very much. Well, good afternoon. It’s great to be with you and great to be back in New York. By way of introduction, my name is Lieutenant General Brad Webb. I’m the Commander of Air Force Special Operations Command. That’s one of the major commands in the United States Air Force, and it’s also – our command is the air component for U.S. Special Operations Command. And so I thought I would spend just a couple minutes on kind of that background, assuming that you may or may not know too much about that command, and then a little bit about what our kind of priorities are, and then glad to do some Q&A with you.

Air Force Special Operations Command is a command that’s about just short of 20,000 people. We have active duty, Air National Guard and Reserve forces, as well as civilians. That’s what that number includes. And we have a presence – we have two main bases in the United States and a couple of overseas locations as well, five active duty wings. And the command flies several varieties of C-130s, we call AC-130s and MC-130s, the CV-22, which is the tilt-rotor Osprey, if you’re familiar with that, and some other types of airplanes as well. We have, in addition to the – of course, the aircraft that we fly, we have a ground element that we call Battlefield Airmen that really are the combat controllers and Pararescuemen that provide the connective tissue between the ground Special Operations Forces and the air component.

I’ve been in this command really all my career. I joined – I started in the Air Force in 1984, but I was in the precursor to what we call today Air Force Special Operations Command in 1987. And so I’m a helicopter pilot by background, a long background that’s – my flying days are – long since have passed me by.

And really, what I wanted to talk to you a little bit about was the priorities within our command and what we’ve kind of focused on here in light of world events, and of course, as you would expect, in light of the National Security Strategy and then the National Defense Strategy and the National Military Strategy that’s come from that.

Air Force Special – well, Special Operations in general and certainly Air Force Special Operations have been involved in every contingency that the U.S. has been ongoing, and certainly that’s true in the post-9/11 realm. The operations tempo, or the deployment pace for our command, is pretty hefty. We are gone not quite as much as we’re home but almost. And so while we have had that focus and we continue to have that focus on what we call the violent extremist organizations type of fight, true to what the strategic guidance that we’ve gotten from the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy, we are also focused on – if you consider that kind of low end of a conflict spectrum type of piece, we also have – Special Operations has a role to play in the high end as well. And so our kind of focus as a command is to keep a balance as we train and prepare ourselves for all the eventualities that you would expect the military to be prepared for and to do so on kind of a high-end, low-end piece.

One particular area that I do want to emphasize, and then I’ll kind of go where you want to go with respect to questions and answers, is in the area of partnership capacity building. Within my portfolio we have several units that are dedicated to what we call combat aviation advising. Now, this is specific partnership focus with Special Operating Forces. So we as airmen, coupled with our ground component team, with a number of partners and allies across the world, specifically with their special operations forces, and in my portfolio to enhance aviation type of activities, be it from a personnel recovery or combat search-and-rescue through what we call specialized air mobility, the ability to move men and equipment around the battlefield from a SOF perspective. And we do so in a number of those areas.

This couples very nicely with United States Air Force’s push towards what you may be familiar with as the Light Attack Program. General Goldfein, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, and Secretary Wilson, our Secretary of the Air Force, very interested in the light attack aspect not only for U.S. forces in this kind of counter-VEO fight but also with partners. And so we are going through – we the Air Force are going through a number of experiments, and we’ll at some point here in the not-too-distant future make a conclusion on what type of aircraft we want to buy. General Goldfein is very keen to partner so that this would be kind of a foreign military sales connective tissue between the U.S. and other nations. I’m very interested in it from certainly that perspective, but also because there’s a number of special operating forces from a number of partners and allies across the world that we team with routinely, and to have that kind of common equipment and kind of common language that we work on routinely is pretty important from our standpoint. So AFSOC very interested in this Light A1ttack Program as it continues to evolve, and we’ll see where that goes in the future.

So that’s kind of my opening dialogue, and glad to take it where we want to take it.

MODERATOR: Sure, sure. So I’ll moderate the questions. If you have one, raise your hand. And when you do, please state your name and organization. So --

QUESTION: Thank you, Lieutenant General. I think me and my colleagues, we1 really appreciate you coming and talking to foreign correspondent. My name is Majeed Gly. 1I’m from Rudaw Media Network. I was wondering about the impact of the new tensions and the focus of foreign policy of this administration on your work, especially in the Middle East. Now it’s not just fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq, it’s also countering Iranian influence. You have major threats and challenge, to say the least, to U.S. and the allies in the region. Is the Air Force ready for these challenges? And have these new changes impacted your work in general?

LT GEN WEBB: Which nation is your --

QUESTION: I am from Kurdistan region, north of Iraq.

LT GEN WEBB: Okay. And the question is how do the --

QUESTION: How does these new policies and new challenges, especially when it’s come to Iran, has impacted your work and the Air Force’s capabilities and readiness for any threat in the region (inaudible)?

LT GEN WEBB: Well, of course, we’ve been involved in that region for many years at this point, and if you look at the kind of prioritization of the key strategic priorities, from the national – from the U.S. National Security Strategy to the National Defense Strategy, for Special Operations it’s not inverse, but you could kind of see it as inverse. In other words, as the National Security Strategy lays out, hey, that we’re kind of in an era of return to great powers competition, that’s kind of the strategic environment. While that’s all true, and I acknowledge that, for Special Operations forces we kind of have a – if not a lead role, then a major role with a focus on the counter-VEO. Hence the region that you’re talking about.

So the challenge is from an Air Force Special Operations perspective is how do you stay all-in with respect to what we’re doing now, both from a partner capacity-building to Special Operations in the field with U.S. and with partners, and focus on the National Security Strategy prioritization of great powers competition? That’s the challenge. But it doesn’t play out any differently, really, I think – if I get to the nexus of your question on – in the field in those regions. We’re still very focused. We’re still – I use the term “all-in,” but we are there 100 percent of the time with the assets that we have in place, setting the military objectives, accomplishing the military objectives that apply to that region.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up. Have you increased your presence in the region compared to, say, the last year or the beginning of Trump administration?


QUESTION: Since the beginning of this new administration, have you increased your presence in the region in general?

LT GEN WEBB: Not really. I think it’s roughly about the same. Now, of course, since there’s been a push to roll back ISIS – if we’re speaking about the Iraq, Syria specifically – I’m assuming that’s what you’re talking about – yeah, there has been a plus-up from the 2014, probably, I guess, in that period --

QUESTION: And the Persian Gulf. I’m talking about that too.

LT GEN WEBB: And the Persian Gulf.


LT GEN WEBB: Yeah. But the – that would have caused an – of course, that increased the U.S. presence in that region dramatically, teamed with partners, of course, there. But that’s really been the driver, as opposed to an administration shift.

QUESTION: Thank you.

LT GEN WEBB: You’re welcome.

QUESTION: I’m Lucentini of an Italian foreign affairs magazine. I have a silly question.


QUESTION: Double-headed, though. One is I read in The New York Times that your activity, besides infiltration, can be also exfiltration, I think it was. Could you explain to me what exfiltration is?


QUESTION: And the other one is: Have you got any connection with the drones unit, or is it completely separate?

LT GEN WEBB: Okay. To your first question on exfiltration, it’s probably a military made-up word. But what it refers to is if we take troops in to an objective or to an area, we also are charged with taking them out. And so infiltration is putting them in, exfiltration is taking them out, is all that means.

On the drone side of your question, my command has several squadrons’ worth of MQ-9, what we call RPAs, remotely piloted aircraft. “Drone” is kind of a – is – we don’t use the term in the military that way because it’s kind of imprecise, but we do fly the MQ-9s. My command flies them, and we have probably – let’s see – three active duty units and a reserve unit that fly them now.

QUESTION: Thank you.


MODERATOR: Okay, over to Washington. You can ask your question.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, General. Thank you for doing this. I’m Dmytro Anopchenko, Ukrainian reporter working here in Washington. Sir, I’m just interested in your expert opinion. You possibly heard about the tragedy in Ukraine where during the military exercises with the Su-27. I don’t want to speculate. My question is not about this, but speaking to Ukrainian pilots. It was heard that we’re in trouble with this kind of aircrafts and to (inaudible) about the American aircraft, for example, F-15. So can I ask you, firstly, do you think that F-15 is a good alternative, is a good option for the country like Ukraine – for an American ally like Ukraine? Secondly, can you remind the good experience when American allies got the F-15 from America and it’s a good experience? And thirdly, can you just – because you’re possibly using F-15, could you just make correlation between the Su-27 and F-15, why F-15 is better and why it might be better for Ukraine? Thank you.

MODERATOR: Do you want me to have him restate the question?

LT GEN WEBB: I will – I think I generally have the – the question was about F-15 versus a Su-27. The – and I would just say that I – my – I’m a helicopter pilot by trade, first off, and I will say definitively that the F-15 is an outstanding aircraft. We’ve had it in the United States Air Force inventory for a number of years. I am not the right expert to address the pros and cons of the specific airplanes.

MODERATOR: One more in Washington. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you, General for it. Rahim Rashidi, or ‘Mr. Kurd,’ from Kurdistan TV. How would you describe your policy, in fact, against ISIS and Peshmerga or on your forces’ situation in Iraq and in Syria? Thank you.

LT GEN WEBB: How would I describe the policy is we as military members are charged with carrying out the orders of our leadership and we’ve done so for a number of years, and I’m – I feel very good that we’re very aligned with the U.S. policy as it plays out with our military forces.

MODERATOR: Okay, Washington, go ahead. You have another question?

QUESTION: Yes, Jun Hwa (ph) with South China Morning Post. My question about China. You mentioned a great power competition, and there is – we see that rising number of U.S. aircraft conducting – overflying or flying close to China coastline. I don’t know what if these are related to your work. And if so, do you see that in facing this great power competition it will be a rising number of those activities towards China?

And a second question about North Korea. We know that last year we talked about a preemptive strike on North Korea, on Pyongyang. And is this also a work related to your job? Have you practiced those preemptive strike on Pyongyang, and what is role – your role in – now when there are a temporary suspense of military exercise on Korean Peninsula? Thanks.

LT GEN WEBB: Thank you. I am the, as I said, Commander of Air Force Special Operations Command. It is an organize, train, and equip command. And as you would expect, and especially given the guidance from all of our strategic documents – National Security Strategy, National Defense Strategy, National Military Strategy – it is to be prepared for the full spectrum of eventualities, and so yes, we are focused on the full range of being able to respond to whatever our nation calls us to do. There isn’t any specific thing that we do that is out of the ordinary that’s designed or directed at any one country, but it is to be ready for whatever our nation calls us to be.

MODERATOR: Okay, and --

QUESTION: Ahmed Maharem from the Egyptian news. Actually, myself and on behalf of Mohammed from Yemeni news. The situation in Yemen, of course, we know that there is a lot of logistic assistance from the – I mean, your Air Force to the Saudi and allies towards Houthi. But is that kind of assistance as logistical to continue as it is or do you think in the future some kind of a change can happen?

LT GEN WEBB: Is the question do I think it’s that the logistical support will continue in the future? You are probably familiar with what we are conducting now, and I see no – nothing on the horizon that would have our – a change of focus at this point.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, no speak English.


QUESTION: I’m Mohammed Alaw (inaudible) Yemen.

(Via interpreter) I think yesterday there was some kind of release about something happened in Yemen, some kind of positive news, one of those American sites, that Emirates is bombing some kind of places in Yemen, and they are using some people from different places. Some of them are from America. Is it true or just some kind of false news or fake news?

LT GEN WEBB: I’m not familiar with the – his reference, what he's trying to – I’m sorry.

LT COL HIGNITE: Yeah, and I can help you with maybe possibly directing you to the right folks afterwards.

QUESTION: Great, thank you. That’s great. So thank you so much.


MODERATOR: One to Washington.

QUESTION: Hi. General, thank you so much. I am Hideki Yui with NHK, Japan Broadcasting Corporation. My question is your presence in Japan – you have Air Force Special Operations Group in Kadena, Okinawa, which operates MC-130 and HC-130. And I think it’s the mission of the group is to transport, like, the Green Beret, I mean Army Special Operations. And – but recently you have additional air transport unit in Yokota, Tokyo, which operates CV-22. And I’m wondering that mission is the same, but why do you need additional air transport capability in Tokyo? And I’m also wondering that whether you have a plan to reduce the presence in Okinawa or not, or to the contrary, I mean, whether you have – you will increase your presence in Japan or in Asia or not. Thank you.

LT GEN WEBB: Okay, thank you for your question. Yes, the – we have a Special Operations Group in Okinawa at Kadena Air Base in Japan that flies two varieties now of MC-130, and that is accurate as well that we have a CV-22 presence at Yokota Air Base in – near Tokyo. The – this is part of the recapitalization of airframes that has been ongoing for a number of years in that region. We’ve had a presence in the Pacific for now several decades in Air Force Special Operations. We used to have helicopters that retired about 10 years ago now, and the replacement for those helicopters was the CV-22. We are now at a stage in our recapitalization efforts that we can get the CV-22s out away from continental United States. So we have a presence in Europe. We also have now this presence in Asia.

The reason for it is to have a mobility transport capability that has some vertical dimension. Of course, the C-130s need air fields and the places that we take Special Operations Forces not – don’t always have air fields associated. So it’s kind of a helicopter follow-on replacement, and that has been part of the programming for a long time.

Yokota is really a – selected based on the availability and the agreements that happen between nations as they interact with the global – the geographic combatant command out there. In other words, the commander at INDOPACOM. So that’s why they’re in that region.

MODERATOR: Go ahead, Alexey.

QUESTION: Lieutenant General, thank you. Alexey Osipov, Komsomolskaya Pravda, Russia. And may I ask you about the HR question. Twenty, 30 years ago, if you asked any Soviet Russian guy about his professional expectation and dreams: “I want to be a pilot or astronaut.” Today the preference is totally different: lawyer, IT specialist. So how difficult is – do you monitor the generation of youngsters? How difficult is it to hire the right (inaudible) guy? What is the main HR problem for you as chief pilot of AFSOC?

LT GEN WEBB: Yes. Interesting angle on that question. The thing with Air Force Special Operations operators is we – if you were to give any kind of questionnaire on what – how much they enjoy their job, their job satisfaction, the job satisfaction quotient is through the roof. Our men and women in this command love what they do, whether they are pilots or navigators or logisticians or Battlefield Airmen, but they’re very busy. And so the big challenge from an HR perspective on us is monitoring what we call – is a military term – we call it PERSTEMPO, but it’s personnel operations tempo. They’re gone a lot and we want to – me as a commander, want to make sure that we have a good family-life balance in that aspect as well.

Now, it’s true that this generation is obviously much more IT-proficient than my generation for sure, but you see even the – as we in the military talk about being proficient in what the Air Force calls, and frankly, the joint world calls multi-domain operations. That includes cyber, space, air, land, sea that I think this generation will be – will very easily adapt to those kind of ends, and so we’re very interested in connecting with that as well.

QUESTION: Hi, this is Carol with (ph). My question is regarding to the increasing tension between U.S., Taiwan, and the U.S. military – regard to the recent proposed purchase of $330 million of U.S. (inaudible) from Taiwanese Government. I was wondering if there is any future plan to increase presence of U.S. Air Force in Taiwan or what’s the current plans and what are some of the collaboration that’s ongoing right now?

LT GEN WEBB: Unfortunately, not my area of expertise and I would – it would be complete speculation on my – I’d rather just not even go there with that one. I’m sorry.

MODERATOR: Over to Washington.

QUESTION: Hi, Jennifer White with NHK Japan Broadcasting Corporation. Thank you, sir, for doing this. I have a follow-up to my colleague’s question. Do you have plans to increase your presence in the Asia Pacific region?

LT GEN WEBB: Well, the – thank you for the question. The plus-up, if you will, of the CV-22 on mainland Japan is – has – of course, has been part of the plans for a number of years and is coming into fruition, but that isn’t – that is the increase that my command is focused on, that has been through the diplomatic process and the military channels. And we have an initial presence there and we stand up basically two squadrons, a maintenance squadron and an operations squadron that already have a footprint there right now, sometime in the upcoming months.

MODERATOR: Another question? No, you’re good? We have a couple more minutes, Washington, if you had any questions. Okay, one more for Alexey? No, you’re good?

QUESTION: No, I’m good. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Okay. All right. One more.

QUESTION: Could you express an opinion about the status of the anti-proliferation – anti-proliferation atomic efforts, if any? What is the state, the situation there? It’s – everything seems to have stopped or --

LT GEN WEBB: The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, do you mean? Is it --

QUESTION: Of atomic weapons.

LT GEN WEBB: Yeah. I mean, it’s a – obviously any proliferation from --

QUESTION: It’s outside of --

LT GEN WEBB: Yeah, it’s – yeah, obviously a policy guidance, but from – that we would get from our policy channels. But any proliferation of that, there’s going to be a concern for the United States that we would be looking at or analyzing very seriously.

MODERATOR: One last question in Washington.

QUESTION: Good afternoon. My name is Dmitry Zlodorev. I am from Sputnik News Agency of Russia. I have a follow-up about S-27 (ph) crash in Ukraine. Does U.S. Air Force has preliminary assessment what was the cause of this incident? Thank you.

LT GEN WEBB: Okay. Thank you for the question. The – I know nothing other than what I’ve seen in – on news releases myself, so I unfortunately have no information on that.

LT COL HIGNITE: Greg Hignite, I’ll stick around. I have cards for everybody. Any follow-up questions, you can bring them to me, and we appreciate you taking the time to join us today.

MODERATOR: Thanks, everybody. We will let you know when the transcript comes out. Okay. Have a good afternoon.

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