ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE – For many people in foreign countries, Warner Robins is almost a second home.
It’s a place they visit at least once each year … conferring face-to-face with people they call daily, sharing problems and issues, seeking advice and assistance.
It’s part of a burgeoning – yet little known – business conducted at Robins Air Force Base. In fact, it’s more than a business because it leads to close friendships and strong alliances. It’s also a big-bucks relationship that currently accounts for the sale of $4.66 billion in U.S. goods and services.
Robins supports a host of foreign air forces that have purchased U.S.-made weapon systems. Five countries – Saudi Arabia, Japan, Israel, Korea and Singapore – fly the F-15 fighter aircraft. At least 24 nations operate the C-130 transport aircraft. Support for U.S.-made, air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles are also in the mix along with a variety of software inputs.
The local installation is the prime sustainer for the U.S. Air Force’s fleet of F-15s, C-130s, missiles and software. Foreign countries buy into that system to receive unclassified and releasable technical assistance and support. Stephen Kidd, director of the 561st Aircraft Sustainment Squadron at Robins said the partnership is a win-win for both.
“In some cases, the countries lack the infrastructure, personnel and skill sets,” Kidd said. “When they come to the U.S., they get a total package approach. When we partner with them, we’re committed to helping support their systems over the long haul. They’re buying into the depth and breadth of the U.S. Air Force.”
The U.S. benefits also. “For example, look at aircraft modifications,” he noted. “When we go in with our FMS partners, it saves us money and, of course, saves them money.”
There are many other positive factors – and U.S. benefits – that flow from the close relationship with foreign air forces, said Lt. Col. Jay Schatz, commander of the F-15-focused 569th Aircraft Sustainment Squadron.
“When we fly the same aircraft, we become interoperable,” Schatz said, “and our military relationships are often the foundation for political relationships. You can see that in Saudi Arabia, for example. As we are upgrading their airplanes and insuring interoperability, it becomes a key foundation for further cooperation.”
Kidd, who has spent a little more than five years in the foreign military sales field, agrees with Schatz.
“We have a lot of troops deployed overseas and so do our partner nations,” he noted. “In the case of the C-130, a lot of times they’re flying missions in and out, hauling cargo just like we are. As we increase the number of people flying aircraft that can integrate into our system, it brings capability to them and to us … and to the guys on the ground with the boots and the dirt.”
The major systems supported out of Robins offer technical coordinating group or TCG membership to foreign air forces, a relationship that allows countries to receive timely technical and safety information.
Up to 500 people attend the annual C-130 TCG worldwide review. The F-15 TCG crowd is 200 to 250. Another 300 attend the tactical missile meetings.
Matt Jagelewski, program manager in the missile TCG, said his group provides technical support to 24 countries.
“We also provide sustainment assistance for missiles the U.S. government no longer operates,” Jagelewski said. “We become the managing entity of those missiles for our member countries. We also do equipment – the bomb racks, aircraft gun systems, launchers for missiles.”
For U.S.-operated systems, the benefits are especially noteworthy. “We work in the same building with our U.S. counterparts,” he stressed. “So when a foreign country has a question on a missile, we can draw on that knowledge and provide it to them.”
About 400 Robins people work on – and are funded by – the various foreign cases: program managers, equipment specialists, item managers, engineers, contracting officers, financial and logistics managers. And for many of them, the work has become very personal and rewarding.
“There are no friendlier people in the world than our customers,” assured Jagelewski. “They are good to us and we are good to them. It’s exciting to travel to these countries. Some are a little more threatening than others. But we have a lot of friends in this world who are for the same causes we are.”