Merced County Times Newspaper
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Distinguished Air Force standout speaks at Castle

Ret. USAF Major General Clay Garrison
Ret. USAF Major General Clay Garrison

Retired U. S. Air Force Major General Clay Garrison, who was recently the Commander of the California Air National Guard, spoke about his illustrious career during a featured event last week at the Castle Air Museum.

During his talk, Garrison described his military career, detailed changes over time in the F-16 fighter aircraft, and commented on the future of warfare and defending this nation.

“I graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1988 and went to pilot training for a year, graduating in August 1989,” he said. “I started training in the F-16 in January 1990 and by August 1990, I was stationed in Japan at an air base and I stayed there for six years doing suppression of enemy air defense.

“I flew the F-16 the whole time.

“In 1996, I moved to Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina and flew the F-16, doing suppression of enemy air defense, as in Japan.

“I went to weapons school, a graduate program for the F-16, in 1997.

“In 1999, I did a one-year remote in South Korea, which means I lived on the base but didn’t take my family.  The bases are austere and don’t have schools and other things that support the family.  I left my family in Madera — my wife, daughter and son — while I was over there for a year, but they got to go see me by taking a 747.

“I think my wife would say it was a good life. There was honor and value in what I did in the military, and there’s honor and value in being a military family.

“Then I went to Nelles Air Force Base in Las Vegas to instruct, and I did that for two years. That was my last assignment in active duty.

“In 2002, I left active duty and became a full-time Guardsman in the Air National Guard. I did that in Fresno until 2016 and then went up to State headquarters and was the Commander of the California Air National Guard.  That was my last assignment.”

Members of the Air National Guard patrol State airspace and stand ready to respond to natural disasters and large-scale terrorist attacks.

Garrison explained, “There are five air wings in the State of California, and as Commander, I supervised 5,000 airmen throughout the State, and we helped out in State emergencies providing logistical support, like for the fires in Paradise.  We built a base and maintained it for emergency workers.”

Changes in weaponry

Garrison said, “Over the course of my career, the F-16 changed, and the equipment inside the plane was better which made it a better weapons system.”

“Back when I started flying the airplane in January 1990, there were actual gyros that spun in the airplane inside the navigation unit. Just a couple of years later, they replaced them with laser gyros which used light as a gyro. It was more accurate and efficient and they didn’t break as often.

“When you change something on the inside of the plane, it changes your ability to use it as a weapon. When you add GPS to that, there is not a place on earth that you can’t find reliably.

“In 1990 in Japan, we were flying 500 miles and looking for our target visually, and we hoped we would be able to visually identify the target and deliver our weapon. The weapon was essentially a gravity bomb from WWII, and with the F-16, at least the computer showed you on the ground where the bomb was going to go, but it wasn’t perfect.

“Flying over Iraq in 2009 to 2010, we had a ring of laser gyros, shooting laser beams in opposite directions around a trapezoid. We were running light around there. There is no friction in light.

“I had the coordinates of the target and when I input them, I could see it in infrared, on a camera, in the dark, in weather, at 20,000 feet. We also incorporated a laser beam so you could guide a weapon to it within 10 feet.

“Laser beams were pretty close to perfect, and GPS was perfect. It’s the same airplane, but we were already developing the technology when I started flying the plane brand new in 1990. It had the room to put technology in it that would totally transform it into a weapons system that is still extremely useful today.

‘If your adversary doesn’t know you’re there and you can shoot him without him knowing it, that’s the kind of advantage I want to have in combat. It’s unfair, and I want it to be unfair.’

Clay Garrison Ret. USAF Major General

“Diplomatic, military, economic, and intelligence are the components of national power. Our economic and military power are the things we’re really good at. We have to come up with the means in our economic capability to offset what mass, or things, our enemies are producing. The Department of Defense decided to make it so costly to do warfare with the United States, that no one would want to. We came up with the ability to fight at night, and have one airplane with one bomb destroy one target, and these strategies when put into effect just overwhelmed our adversaries’ capability to compete.

“As we look at Russia and China as competitors currently, we are looking at a technological offset, which is artificial intelligence, machine processing of large data, building a connected battle space where we share information, and building weapons we can leverage to drive down the cost of taking a shot, on our side, and drive up the cost of a shot for the adversary. What if we shoot down $10,000 to $100,000 missiles with a $100 per pop shot?

“Stealth is the technology we embedded in the F-16. Stealth is invisible on radar. I’ve flown with it.  You can’t see the aircraft, track it or shoot it. That’s a huge advantage in combat. If your adversary doesn’t know you’re there and you can shoot him without him knowing it, that’s the kind of advantage I want to have in combat. It’s unfair, and I want it to be unfair.”

Garrison concluded, “Stealth, precision targeting, precision weapons, Artificial Intelligence, human machine integration, and hypersonic and laser weapons systems are the things that overwhelm our adversaries.”

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