Air Force Deciding What Missions It Can Drop or Delay During Pandemic

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Military medical personnel transfer twin newborns Parker and Laine McFall.
Military medical personnel transfer twin newborns Parker and Laine McFall to a medical transport vehicle at Joint Base Andrews, Md., March 30, 2020. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Jason Huddleston)

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein has asked commanders to review the list of mission-critical tasks that units must achieve in the coming months as the service battles to respond to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

As of April 1, the service will operate under a "reset" to determine which operations are absolutely necessary and which it can forgo until a later date, Goldfein said. This will not only protect airmen, but also allow the best use of limited resources, he added.

"Those things that don't fall into the mission-essential tasks list? We either have to stop doing or significantly curtail so we can fly resources against mission-essential tasks," Goldfein told reporters during a Mitchell Institute "Aerospace Nation" chat Wednesday.

"We're going to be going through that review today, because I wanted to make sure that we did a thoughtful reset of the Air Force, and we're going to continue to look at this every day," he said in a Zoom videoconference, hosted by retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Dave Deptula, dean of the Mitchell Institute.

Related: Air Force Cancels Red Flag Alaska, But Moves Forward with Other Training

"That's not just something you do with a flip of a switch," Goldfein added. "There are all kinds of individual decisions that are associated with that bigger decision. So the reset I'm talking about is a broader reset across the Air Force to make sure that we keep our mission up and operating."

Goldfein said the service has already been operating on "a rolling schedule" for the last few weeks to either adjust or cancel exercises in an effort to decrease the spread of COVID-19.

Last month, the Air Force canceled one of its cornerstone aviation exercises, Red Flag Alaska 20-1, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, but had said it planned to continue other training, albeit with reductions and protective measures, including social distancing, in place.

"[But] we have to keep aircraft flying, which means we've got to keep crews safe," Goldfein said Wednesday, referencing airmen operating in high-risk countries such as Italy, which is considered a "Level 3 location" by the Centers for Disease Control.

While the task of responding to global operations hasn't changed, the service's response -- possibly modifying the number of airmen who answer the call or adjusting a mission timeline -- is what officials are weighing at this time, the chief said.

Goldfein said service leaders are keeping optimistic but, given medical experts' projection of the virus's spread, reality has set in that it might not "get much better for the next couple of months."

"This is now the new normal, but that new normal is not stagnant," he said. "That new normal is dynamic, and we will continue to adjust ... every day."

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

Read more: The Naval War College Ran a Pandemic War Game in 2019. The Conclusions Were Eerie

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