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Building on Success (1975-1990)

By 1975 the Air Force Civil Engineering organization comprised more than 76,000 military and civilian personnel. This workforce managed 139,951 buildings on 135 major bases and 2,913 other installations occupying over 10.9 million acres valued at more than $17.2 billion.

Maj Gen William D Gilbert Maj Gen Robert C Thompson Maj Gen Clifton D Wright
Maj. Gen. William D.
Gilbert
Maj. Gen. Robert C.
Thompson
Maj. Gen. Clifton D.
Wright, Jr.
Civil engineers who entered the Air Force in the mid-1970s faced several challenges. The transition to the all-volunteer force brought changes to the base-level squadrons which comprised wartime trained civil engineers, civilians, and many non-engineers who were placed in the units until moved during the on-going downsizing and force reductions. Several squadron commanders had little or no experience in civil engineering. The engineers also worked under some outdated regulations and guidance and were just beginning to enter the computer age with the Base Engineer Automated Management System or BEAMS. With the support of leaders such as Maj. Gen. Robert C. Thompson, Maj. Gen. William D. Gilbert, and Maj. Gen. Clifton D. “Duke” Wright, Jr., Air Force Civil Engineering began to remake itself, emphasize professionalism, improve operations at the base level, transform bases into efficient and attractive “cities,” and hone in on its readiness mission.

Soyuz space vehicle launch
Soyuz Launch Soviet Soyuz space vehicle is launched on the morning of July 15, 1975 from a pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
The Air Force refocused its operations and priorities on the overall world-wide mission. Containment of the U.S.S.R, the major military adversary, was central to U.S. international policy during the late 1970s and the 1980s. It was speculated that the U.S.S.R. sought greater influence in Western Europe and possibly planned to restrict western interests. The United States increased U.S. troop strength, improved our European bases, and increased support for NATO operations.

In addition to concern over U.S.S.R. military expansion, the United States maintained longstanding commitments to the Republic of Korea, Japan, and other countries in the Far East, as well as pursued interests in Central and South America. During the late 1970s, U.S. interest and involvement in the Middle East also grew owing to our reliance on Middle East oil, participation in the 1978 negotiations between Israel and Egypt, and the regional events following the 1979 overthrow of the Shah of Iran.

Throughout the 1980s, the primary global issues were identified as “the Soviet threat, terrorism, alliances, nuclear proliferation, petroleum, space, mineral resources, foreign arms trade, and population.”  To counter the threat, General Gilbert, supported the Department of Defense (DoD) strategy to develop and to deploy the MX intercontinental ballistic missile system, to make air- and ground launched cruise missiles operational, and to develop capacity for worldwide mobility.

Space Launch Complex 6 at Vandenberg AFB
Space Launch Complex 6 at Vandenberg AFB, California.
For Air Force civil engineers, these priorities meant supporting air operations during conflicts by developing runways, support facilities, and utility systems “as basic and essential parts of our weapons system acquisition and follow-on operational capability. The most likely wartime scenario defined by the Joint Chiefs of Staff was a conventional war in Western Europe during which the Air Force would operate from main bases, such as Ramstein AB, Germany, with a system of collocated operating bases supported by bare bases established as needed.

Civil engineers worked to improve and to refine the concepts and procedures for air base survivability, rapid runway repair (RRR), base recovery after attack (BRAAT), bomb damage repair, and readiness—readiness both of installations, equipment, and of personnel.The realization of these concepts into procedures shaped manpower allocations, personnel training, and research and development efforts. Air Force Directors of Engineering and Services continually defended manpower authorizations to ensure adequate personnel numbers to meet military deployment requirements.

BEEF, RED HORSE, and Prime Readiness in Base Services (RIBS) was expanded to provide hands-on experiences in simulated wartime activities and conditions. During the time period, Air Force Civil Engineering was reorganized several times. In 1975, Air Force Civil Engineering and Services were merged to form the Directorate of Engineering and Services. In 1978, a second reorganization resulted in the formation of the Air Force Engineering and Services Center (AFESC). Air Force civil engineers managed increasingly larger budgets to fund construction projects, and to repair, maintain, and operate facilities on the bases.

10-ton roller compacting crushed limestone
A1C Susan Miller operates a 10-ton roller used to compact crushed limestone during a simulated runway attack.
Training for Prime Military appropriations slowly rose during the latter years of the Carter administration in the late 1970s. The proposed budget for the FY79 Military Construction Program included a request from the Air Force for $1.4 billion; $720 million was funded. After Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as President in 1981, military budgets grew exponentially. The Air Force Military Construction Program increased to $1 billion. Funding also increased in non-appropriated funding, Unspecified Minor Military Construction (P-341) P-341 funds, funds, and operations and maintenance funds that included repairs up to 300,000 dollars. Air Force civil engineers expended these funds to build facilities to support new weapons and to modernize older facilities to increase energy efficiency and to reduce maintenance and repair expenditures. Operations and maintenance funds were allocated to address the backlog of deferred facilities maintenance under a program known as BEMAR for “backlog of essential maintenance and repair.” By the mid-1980s, the Air Force budget reached levels of $100 billion.While military budgets expanded, the overall personnel numbers in the Air Force Civil Engineer organization did not increase substantially. After 1985, Air Force construction budgets declined. During this time period, Air Force civil engineers embarked on a variety of programs to respond to military missions and to new legal requirements. Air Force civil engineers sought to improve the
Groundbreaking for Building 1117 at Tyndall AFB, Florida
Groundbreaking for Building 1117, Engineering and Services Laboratory, Tyndall AFB, Florida.
quality of life for Air Force personnel through upgrades to dormitories, dining halls, personnel support facilities, and work places. Efforts were made to enhance the architectural appearance of bases through improving base comprehensive planning and architectural design for construction and renovation projects. Improvements to managing the bases were continually reevaluated and professional management procedures were incorporated. Protection and restoration of the environment was assigned to the Air Force civil engineers for implementation. Terms such as environmental impact statement, installation restoration, and pollution abatement entered into Air Force civil engineers’ everyday language. Air Force civil engineers also extended a helping hand when disasters struck. They were there when bases recovered from natural disasters and assisted other Air Force bases, local U.S. communities, and international communities in disaster recovery efforts.

During the late 1980s, geopolitical conditions began to shift dramatically as the relationship between the United States and the U.S.S.R. thawed and the promise of new freedoms were introduced into the Warsaw Pact counties. The world changed on November 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall dividing East and West Berlin was opened. These events presaged a new world order that required re-imaging, redefinition and realignment of U.S. military forces, including the Air Force. Definite changes foreseen for the 1990s were reorganization of the Directorate of Engineering and Services and major personnel reductions.

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