Maintaining its mission will be DAFB’s key job, colonel says

DOVER — It is the job of the “maintainer” at Dover Air Force Base to keep the mammoth C-5 Super Galaxy and C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft operational and in the air to successfully complete their global transport mission.

“Maintain” was also the operative word used by Col. Joel Safranek, outgoing commander of the 436th Airlift Wing, in speaking about DAFB at the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce’s annual State of the Base Briefing (MilCon) breakfast in front of a crowd of about 225 base and community members at The Landings on base Monday morning.

The MilCon breakfast serves as a chance for the public to learn about the base’s activities and construction projects that have been recently completed to prepare the facility for long-term viability, as well as discuss future projects that are in the works.

Dignitaries such as U.S. Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons, U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, among others, were in attendance.
Col. Safranek said he doesn’t expect the base to lose, or gain for that matter, significant numbers of aircraft over the next decade. He said the base’s primary job will be to maintain its mission.

Dover currently has a fleet of 18 C-5s and 13 C-17s. One of those C-17s is not funded with manpower for maintenance and air crew and four of the C-5s are in a similar situation. It’s all about maintaining the aircraft.

“What you will see over the next decade isn’t new airplanes, but you’ll see the guts of them get replaced at various times with modifications and upgrades and how they communicate with other aircraft,” he said.

Col. Safranek added that the U.S. Air Force leadership has a magic number of 386, which means it needs to maintain 386 operational squadrons.
That, in turn, means an expectation of stability in DAFB’s role in the country’s armed forces.

“As the Air Force has done a lot of analysis and studies over the last year, they’ve looked at what does that number (386) still need to be,” Col. Safranek said. “What they’ve found is 386 is still the number.
“The Air Force currently has 52 C-5s and 222 C-17s. Over the next 10 years the Air Force is projected to have 52 C-5s and 222 C-17s. They’ve done some further studies and those studies show similar numbers.”

The colonel added, “What that tells us here globally, in my opinion — and I don’t have a crystal ball — but everyone looking at this problem basically sees stability. The number of C-17s and C-5s that we have at Dover will most likely stay for the next 10 years. You’re not going to see large mission growth, or the mission go away. We (should) remain very constant.”

That is good news for businesses in Delaware, considering that out of $30 million awarded in business contracts last year alone, two-thirds of that money went to small businesses and more than half went to businesses headquartered in Delaware.

The base is in the process of building a new school expected to open in 2021 in the Caesar Rodney School District, making numerous upgrades to facilities, fixing seven miles of perimeter road around the airfield, replacing and refurbishing HVAC systems, utility lines, renovating the air traffic control tower’s elevator and roof.
Col. Safranek said DAFB is also hoping to complete a $23 million Type 3 fire hydrant refueling system for aircraft off the base’s hot cargo pad, which will be located on the far end of the runway and is expected to decrease service time by 75 percent, over the next couple of months.

“When you bring this all together it will be almost $30 million spent within the next year making repairs to various parts of the base,” Col. Safranek said.

Focused on the future
Col. Safranek said that the U.S. military is in the midst of a changing global power struggle where China and Russia are becoming the primary threats to the United States.

“We need to shift from working on counterterrorism insurgencies to more high-end flight,” he said.
Sen. Coons said he was appreciative of the way the base succeeds in its mission while also preparing for the future.

Col. Safranek

“The reality is that this is just an amazing base,” Sen. Coons said. “We are blessed to be able to meet the engagement and support for this base. The base provides a huge amount for our communities in terms of construction opportunities, business-engagement opportunities, and in turn, we in Delaware have to do our very best to welcome you and support you.

“What I am excited about is the predictability of the need for Dover. As Colonel Safranek pointed out, there is no change coming in the next decade at least for the need for the platforms, the mission tests, the training and the resources delivered by Dover Air Force Base.”
Sen. Coons added that it’s important to recognize the changing threats around the globe.

“It is a big deal that our national defense strategy now recognizes the nation-state threats of China and Russia as the single-highest priorities for which we need to train and prepare,” he said. “The good news, bad news is that for the military and for our government as a whole (are) we need to begin preparing different types of weapons systems that deal with a very different type of threat.”

Dover Air Force Base itself will experience a leadership change itself on Jan. 7, 2020, when Vice Wing Commander Col. Matthew Jones will be replacing Col. Safranek as commander of the 436th Airlift Wing when he and his family move to Scott Air Force Base in Illinois.

While change constantly swirls around the airfield at the base, things such as responses to global conflicts, natural disasters, airlift mobility and having combat ready airmen remain a constant.

“Our port (at Dover) is the largest aerial port in the Department of Defense,” Col. Safranek said. “We had close to 500 missions coming in and out of here in the past year, about two every day.”
He added the base is already preparing itself against more advanced threats in the future, including cyber, digital and drones.
Larger plans that have been in the works for the construction of a hangar that will be large enough to perform maintenance work on a C-5 or C-17 in a weatherproof, fully enclosed area remains at No. 9 on the Air Force’s priority list and isn’t expected to get funded until around Fiscal Year ’22 or ’23.

The colonel said getting the hangar built will be a big deal for the base.
“One of the reasons we have this as a priority is you can’t work on some of these larger airplanes when there is lightning, or when the wind is blowing at a certain level and, quite frankly, based on the amount of hangar space that we have, we lose about one month of (aircraft) maintenance time a year due to bad weather,” Col. Safranek said.

Another project that might be coming down the line in ’23 is the construction of a Defense Health Agency Blood Processing Center, which is currently located at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.

“They ship that blood through our aerial port,” said Col. Safranek. “So, as they’re looking to build a new facility, they decided instead of building a new facility at McGuire and then coming down to Dover to ship it, they’re going to build the facility here at Dover and just walk across the street and ship it out at the aerial port.
“We’re expecting that in FY23. It will probably be between at $10 and $15 million facility.”

Strong support system
The amount of people squeezed into the room at The Landings on Monday morning showed the amount of appreciation and support there is from the community to members of the military in Dover.

After all, the 436th Airlift Wing was just recently awarded the 2019 Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for delivering more than 5,300 sorties, to providing humanitarian relief, to hosting the Thunder Over Dover Air Show in September.

DAFB is a tremendous asset to the state of Delaware with an estimated economic impact of $564 million in FY16 and a total force strength (active duty, guard, AFRC, civilians and dependents) nearly 10,000 strong.

“To come to this briefing and to hear the state of our base gives me hope,” Rep. Rochester said. “What you have accomplished and the vision that you have in front of you gives me hope. I think we are a strong country, we have endured, and we will continue to endure and we will continue to thrive.
“Partnership and trust are two words that really stuck with me.”

Col. Safranek said he and others at DAFB are appreciative of the support.
“We absolutely appreciate events like this, we appreciate the community involvement,” he said. “One (of the base’s priorities), in particular, fits into this sort of thing perfectly — which is to enhance partnerships through trust.

“That’s not just inside the gate amongst all the organizations that work together on Dover, but it’s also outside the gate. An event like this is absolutely perfect to fit into that particular priority for this wing.
“This room shows the level of support this base gets and like (Dover) Mayor (Robin) Christiansen likes to say, ‘Dover is Dover Air Force Base and Dover Air Force Base is Dover.’”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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