WASHINGTON—The Air Force is implementing a service-wide “reset” meant to insulate its most essential missions from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Air Force’s top general said Wednesday.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein ordered the leaders of each Air Force major command on April 1 to pivot toward essential tasks that may require additional manpower or other resources.

“I’ve got to re-purpose some people from mission areas that are not essential to mission areas that are essential, and that’s not just something you do with a flip of a switch,” Goldfein said. “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.”

The Air Force has already begun to make some shifts to its posture to help protect airmen from contracting the novel coronavirus, such as cancelling some training exercises, easing grooming standards and ordering the early graduation of the Air Force Academy’s 2020 class, Goldfein told reporters during a teleconference held by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.

But as medical experts project an increase in the number of COVID-19 positive cases throughout April and May, the Air Force has come to believe that it must make long-term preparations to sustain critical tasks like combat and intelligence gathering operations, even in “level 3” countries like Italy and Germany with widespread cases of coronavirus.

“We have to keep aircraft flying, which means we’ve got to keep crews safe. Aviano Air Force Base [in] Italy has not stopped flying airplanes. They have not been given relief,” he said. “They are going to fly airplanes they need parts, they need fuel, they need things to keep those airplanes going. It’s a level 3 country — how do you do that? We need to have a way to get those aircraft in and out of Italy.”

Goldfein characterized the changes brought by the reset as the “new normal,” but said that the Air Force would continue to adjust its operations as the threat of COVID-19 fluctuates.

As of March 30, 182 airmen have tested positive for COVID-19, an increase of 18 people compared to the previous day. Twelve airmen have been hospitalized for the illness and 11 have recovered, according to data released by the Air Force on Tuesday.

The number of Air Force dependents, contractors and civilians with coronavirus is also rising, with positive cases logged for 60 civilians, 51 dependents and 16 contractors.

Despite the rise in cases, Goldfein said he remains confident that wing commanders at Air Force installations are best equipped to make decisions on what social distancing parameters to implement, which training to cancel and which risks to endure.

“Tinker [Air Force Base, Okla.] doesn’t look like Goodfellow [AFB, Texas], which doesn’t look like Kunsan [Air Base in South Korea] which doesn’t look like Ramstein [Air Base in Germany],” he said, pointing to differences in geographic area, proximity to cities and number of COVID-19 cases. “Every base has got a unique dynamic. … A one size fits all approach for every installation is doomed to fail.”

Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.

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