This was the broad but basic message conveyed by Air Force uniformed and civilian leaders at the Air Force Association National Symposium last October in Los Angeles. They expressed satisfaction with what has been done to make the Air Force much stronger in recent years and concern about what may be done, beyond their control, to sap that strength in the near future.
The strategic modernization program is prominent among their apprehensions. It may be in jeopardy just as it has begun to prove itself in the deployment of new bombers and ICBMs and, thereby, in its obvious influence on the Soviet Union to come to the nuclear-arms negotiating table. More sweepingly, the research, development, and acquisition programs from which USAF’s weapons emerge are also worrisome amid the wintering of the defense budget. So is pilot retention, slipping sharply now. The readiness gains and reliability and maintainability advances of recent years are at risk. And these are far from all.
Even as Air Force leaders warned, “Watch out,” however, they left no doubt of their resolve to do what needs to be done, one way or another, to keep the service from being fatally impoverished in the hard times ahead.
The theme of the AFA symposium, which attracted an ample audience of defense industry executives, was “The US Air Force: Today and Tomorrow.” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Larry D. Welch put it into the perspective of USAF’s place in the US defense posture.
“It is useful,” said General Welch, “to remind ourselves that there is a coherent national military strategy that focuses on the goals that we are trying to accomplish. We move from that strategy to the kinds of military tasks that we have to perform to underwrite it, to the kinds of capabilities that it takes to perform those tasks, and to the weapon systems that it takes to provide those capabilities—and it’s no more complex than that.”
In this, and throughout his sometimes sternly delivered speech, General Welch seemed intent on cutting through political obfuscations of what the Air Force and the national defense are all about. Equally emphatic in their presentations were Secretary of the Air Force Edward C. Aldridge, Jr., Commander in Chief of Strategic Air Command Gen. John T. Chain, Jr., and Gen. Bernard P. Randolph, Commander of Air Force Systems Command, whose topic, in keeping with USAF’s need to make do in the budget downturn, was “Capitalizing on a Changing Environment.”
This article sets forth the views of those speakers as expressed at the AFA symposium. Others who addressed it will be heard from in subsequent articles. They include Gen. John L. Piotrowski, Commander in Chief of US Space Command; Lt. Gen. John A. Shaud, Commander of Air Training Command; Lt. Gen. James R. Brown, Vice Commander of Tactical Air Command; Lt. Gen. Robert D. Springer, Vice Commander in Chief of Military Airlift Command; Donald N. Fredericksen, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Tactical Warfare Programs; and A. Denis Clift, the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Deputy Director for External Relations.
Systems That Must Be Funded
“For the last seven years,” declared Secretary Aldridge, “our Air Force has been on a roll, and our priorities have been right on the mark. By every measure, we are better off today than we were in 1980. But we can’t stop here.
Unless we turn this decline in defense spending around, we may lose the military capabilities that it has taken us seven years to build. What we need to maintain and modernize our Air Force and our sister services is a real [inflation-discounted] increase in the defense budget of at least three percent annually.”
General Chain did not dwell on budget problems or numbers per se. But he made it clear that the systems SAC must have in order to remain convincing as the nation’s main deterrent force and as the nuclear-war executor of the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP) will not come cheap and must be funded and fulfilled.
Vital among such systems, as General Chain enumerated them, are the full complement of 100 B-1B bombers and of 100 Peacekeeper ICBMs, both of which he praised in countering their critics; follow-on strategic tanker aircraft in the not-too-distant future; new airborne command posts with more room for expanded SAC battle staffs and for new computers to help with “adaptive planning” during a nuclear war; the Small ICBM (SICBM); the B-2 Advanced Technology Bomber (ATB); earth-penetrating warheads for getting at the strategic facilities that the Soviets are increasingly “digging deep” underground; and standoff weapons for bombers in both the strategic mode and in the conventional role that the CINCSAC is now proposing for B-52Gs that otherwise would be destined for “the boneyard.”
Summing up SAC’s accomplishments, General Chain declared that “the bottom line here is that we have significantly improved our existing systems with upgrades.” He added, however, that “we have squeezed about all we can out of our current weapon systems” and that this is why the strategic modernization program, which “is already giving us a more secure and stable deterrent,” must not falter under fiscal constraints.
The increasingly urgent need to sustain the momentum of all indispensable Air Force development and acquisition programs puts Systems Command squarely on the spot. General Randolph acknowledged this and said that he has reorganized AFSC’s command structure because of it.
The reorganization, General Randolph explained, has two main purposes—”keeping close to the combat commands,” such as SAC, “to ensure value” for them by tailoring their technologies and systems stringently to their needs and “sharpening the way we do business” with contractors in “continuing to be demanding” that they keep quality up and costs down.
“This is a very, very difficult situation we’re all in,” General Randolph told the symposium audience of industry executives and Air Force officers. “We’re up against some very tough times, and they’re here now.” He asserted that “Air Force and DoD leaders face tradeoff decisions involving the spectrum of combat capability.” There will be wrenching trade-offs “within programs” too, he said, and resolving these will require “strong developer-user relationships.” Finally, the General said, “once we agree on what to buy, we must use effective business tools to keep costs down.”
General Welch made it clear that the Air Force is dealing from strength in its insistence that its modernization programs not be made to languish. The reason: It has shown its knack for “getting the most out of what we already have on the ramp and out of those systems that are already in production” and, thusly, cannot be accused of having wasted resources.
Moreover, said the Chief of Staff, USAF’s longstanding emphasis on improving the reliability and maintainability of its systems and on “realistic training” has resulted in “the highest state of equipment readiness in our history and. . . the most combat-ready crews of all kinds that we’ve ever had.”
Addressing the salutary results of systems-upgrade programs, General Welch declared that, in using that approach, “we’ve doubled the capability of the B-52. We’ve increased the capability of each tanker by fifty percent. We’ve transformed the F-16 from a day fighter into a highly effective multimission aircraft. We have continued to grow the air-superiority capability of the F-15, which is eleven years old. The approach works. It’s cost-effective.
“But when our capability to meet the threat can’t be satisfied [by] using that approach, we have no choice but to step up to the kinds of investments that it takes to exploit technology and produce new systems.”
Making the Air Force Proud
And in this, too, the Air Force has shown its stuff, General Welch de- dared. He cited the strategic modernization program as a prime example, noting that the Peacekeeper missile and the B-1B bomber, despite the claims of critics to the contrary, are making the Air Force proud.
“Peacekeeper is here and now, and it works,” General Welch declared, “and there is no obstacle that I can see to the first fifty [of the ICBMs] meeting their initial operational capability by December 1988, which was our long-term plan. There are great political obstacles to the second fifty, but we will persist, because we think it’s the most foolish kind of shortsightedness to stop producing a system that is here, that works, that does what we need it to do, and at the lowest possible price.
“The B-1B is performing today the mission that we designed it to perform. It has some development to complete, but it is here, and it is doing its job. The ATB [Advanced Technology Bomber, or B-2 as it is now designated] and the Small ICBM are proceeding, in some cases with some political problems in development, and I see no particular cause for alarm on those programs at this point in time.
“So I think that the message is that we are embarked on carefully designed programs—conventional and nuclear—to provide the capabilities to do those tasks that underwrite the national military strategy. And so long as we continue to pay attention to that, I have high confidence that we’ll continue to succeed in our deterrent mission. And that’s what we’re about every day.”
General Welch made a major point of the strategic modernization program’s positive impact on the arms-control process. The capabilities of the program’s new systems make it possible for the US to “contemplate major reductions in ballistic-missile warheads and still feel confident that we have an adequate deterrent” and, by the same token, have induced the Soviets to negotiate such reductions, the General said.
He continued: “The Soviets didn’t become interested in negotiating away the SS-20 [mobile intermediate-range missile] until NATO made the decision to field the US Pershing II and the GLCM [ground-launched cruise missile]. The lesson is clear to everyone. The only possibility of getting a serious agreement is in negotiating from a position of strength.” And what has occurred in the INF arena “will almost certainly” carry over into the strategic arena as well, he said.
The Chief of Staff emphasized that reductions of nuclear arms do not translate into a diminution of the cost of defense as a whole. “Quite the contrary,” he said. “The lowest-cost weapons are the nuclear weapons, and as we do away with some numbers of nuclear warheads, there are no cost dividends to be used elsewhere outside of defense. In fact, it increases the pressure for conventional forces.”
The B-1B and the B-2
General Welch was asked whether “the veil of secrecy around the ATB” will be lifted and, if so, when. His response:
“I am in favor of whatever degree of security it takes to . . . hamper the Soviets’ efforts to steal [the] technology. I am not in favor of any . . . level of security that unnecessarily raises the cost or makes it unnecessarily difficult to execute the program. . . . It won’t be too much longer until the ATB will be in the ‘visible’ status and, when that occurs, it won’t make sense to classify its appearance. So the current Air Force plan, which I’m confident will be approved by our bosses, is to declassify the ATB progressively as the classification becomes an obstacle to efficient progress. We certainly don’t intend to declassify the basic technology—the stealth technology—that makes the ATB the unique airplane that it is.”
As SAC Commander in Chief, General Chain said he has no doubt that the B-2—the ATB—”will be able to penetrate enemy airspace well into the future and hold at risk all types of targets, fixed and re-locatable.” Meanwhile, he said, the B-1B “has already added to this nation’s deterrent capability” and has generated full confidence at SAC that it can indeed penetrate Soviet airspace.
“I’m very pleased with the B-1,” he declared. “We’ve got some growing pains, the biggest being in the ECM system. It’s not what we contracted for. Fortunately, the B-1 flies low and fast. It can penetrate at 620 to 650 [mph] at 200 feet. Its radar cross section is smaller than the F-16’s.” Possessing such characteristics, the B-1B. he said, “is going to be able to evade the areas it needs to evade in getting to the target. Also, you have to realize that there will have been an ICBM and SLBM [submarine-launched ballistic missile] laydown before it gets there in the first place. So I’m quite confident that the B-1, as it is today, can do the job. But we do need to get that ECM equipment working.”
In underscoring the success, so far, of the US strategic modernization program and the need to keep it on track, General Chain cast it in the context of the growing Soviet strategic threat, one that says everything about the Kremlin’s continued dedication to its own strategic modernization even as it makes overtures on the arms-control front.
“The Soviet buildup during the years since we deployed Minuteman and the B-52 has been massive,” General Chain declared. “Today, the Soviet arsenal contains more than 6,000 strategic ballistic missile warheads. They will soon deploy a rail-mobile ICBM, the SS-X-24. Their SS-25 is mobile. They are modernizing their nuclear submarine force and their intercontinental bomber force with the Blackjack and the Bear-H.”
In addition, he said, the Soviets are intent on improving their air defenses everywhere and their ABM system around Moscow and are making mobile as many offensive and defensive missile systems as they can. “They have the ability to refire from many of their ICBM silos,” he said, and “are burying those things that they can’t make mobile, such as they have with more than 1,500 command bunkers for the Party and military leadership.”
Firm on Peacekeeper
SAC does not have the nuclear weapons needed to threaten Soviet underground facilities. Consequently, said General Chain, “I have requested earth-penetrating nuclear weapons, to be missile-delivered and air-delivered.”
Peacekeeper would no doubt carry some of them. And Peacekeeper was very much on General Chain’s mind at the symposium. He is firm, he said, in “working toward deployment of the second fifty Peacekeepers in the rail-garrison mode—twenty-five trains, each with two missiles” to enhance their survivability.
“In crisis,” he said, “the force could be dispersed on the existing rail system—more than 170,000 miles of track—and would be ‘lost’ among the 1,500,000 rail cars and 3,000 train movements that occur daily on this nation’s rail network.”
The survivability-via-mobility method will also be applied to SICBM, which “should be deployed in the early 1990s,” General Chain said.
He reaffirmed his proposal to assign B-52G bombers to the conventional mission under theater commanders in chief, not under SAC, rather than relegating them to retirement as previously planned. With their “lethal firepower” of fifty-one bombs apiece, the B-52Gs have “enormous conventional capability,” he declared. From bases in the US, they can “attack terrorist-type targets anywhere in the world” and would be, in the broader sense, “tremendous weapons” for interdicting enemy targets behind the lines in Europe, in keeping with NATO’s doctrine of Follow-On Forces Attack (FOFA), the General said.
Accordingly, SAC has developed a new concept dubbed SAR, for Strategic Area of Responsibility. Under it, theater commanders would be given operational control of B-52Gs “with no SIOP strings attached,” General Chain said.
“Since the first of the year,” he added, “all SAC bombers have been dually assigned conventional as well as nuclear responsibilities.” To train crews to handle both, SAC created its strategic training center at Ellsworth AFB, S. D., and is devoting more of its crew training to short-notice deployments around the world, to flying at night using night-vision goggles, and to using a variety of tactics over all kinds of terrain.
The beefing up of the US bomber force and the expansion and diversification of its missions mean that SAC will surely have to have new tankers in the next few years, General Chain said. He expressed satisfaction with the additional tanker capabilities that the KC-135 reengining program and the KC-10 procurement program have made available to SAC, but said it won’t be enough.
“It would be kind of dumb for our nation to have bought the warplanes and the missiles and the gravity-dropped bombs and then not have enough gas for the aircraft to get to the targets,” he asserted.
AFSC Under the Gun
If there is to be a follow-on tanker, or a follow-on anything else, for that matter, Air Force Systems Command would have the job of justifying the technology and the cost if not the mission. AFSC is under the gun already. Last year, Congress directed it to cut ten percent of its headquarters staff at Andrews AFB, Md. General Randolph, on subsequently taking command, went even further. He cut the staff by an additional seven percent and transferred those slots to AFSC activities in the field to provide, as he said at the AFA symposium, “better hands-on support for the warfighting commands.”
He has also realigned his Deputy Chiefs of Staff, combining the plans
and technology shops in order to make the planning process “more responsive to technology change.” And he has merged all AFSC support elements—testing, logistics, civil engineering, and manpower—under one DCS for the sake of “quicker response.”
General Randolph has put a premium, he explained, on obtaining program managers with operational experience (such managers now constitute less than a third of the whole, compared to half fifteen years ago) and on attracting highly talented college graduates and “molding them into professionals” in basic acquisition courses and at acquisition specialty schools.
“The procurement process is as critical as the technology it buys,” General Randolph said. “Inefficiencies cost all of us time and money. Contractors can’t afford to be tutoring our program managers, and we can’t afford their lessons. Meeting tomorrow’s challenges requires professionals on both sides of the table.”
Acquisition Strategy Improvements
It also requires “a responsive corporate structure,” he said, and “source-selection strategies that separate good performers [among contractors] from bad.” To this end, AFSC is working up “a scientific method of using past performance as a key element in the source-selection process. The idea is to reward good performance. History has shown that the majority of the time, past performance has been a factor in source-selection decisions. It’s had a positive influence in favor of the winner, and our improvements in this area will capitalize on this fact.”
Over the past year, AFSC has cut in half the time it takes to select winning contractors and intends to do even better. In this, said General Randolph, it is putting stringent page limits on its requests for proposals and expects contractors to be as sparing as they can in making such proposals.
The AFSC Commander made it clear that he will foster competition whenever possible, because “we need the leverage that competition affords.” Some examples: savings of $350 million over three years on combined-effects munitions production and, by having developed a second source, a situation in which “we can now buy sixty percent more IR Maverick missiles for the same total obligational authority” originally approved for the lesser number.
“Of course, competition isn’t always the answer,” General Randolph said, “as was proved in the search for a potential second source for the F-16.”
Among the business tools that AFSC intends to employ, General Randolph mentioned multiyear procurement (“I’m a wild-eyed advocate”), which he said has saved $4 billion in thirteen AFSC programs; renegotiating contracts when changing conditions, such as inflation, call for it; tearing down and inspecting hardware to make sure it is being built as advertised; withholding progress payments “when necessary”; and “negotiating solid warranties.”
“Our emphasis is not on low cost, it’s on cost realism, particularly in the development business,” General Randolph said. “Watch out for ridiculously low price tags,” he admonished the contractors. “They can get you into trouble in a big hurry.” He reassured them that AFSC will continue to negotiate cost-plus contracts when their risk is high, but will stick to fixed-price contracts when their risk is low. Moreover, he said, AFSC will do all it can to encourage contractors to allocate resources to independent research and development (IR&D) projects of potentially high payoff for Air Force systems, as has been the case in the development of AFSC’s Project Forecast II technologies.
Trade-offs among technologies and requirements in Air Force systems will become tougher and more numerous, but are already fairly commonplace, General Randolph said. As examples, he cited the Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) program, in which, early on, performance characteristics were somewhat compromised in order to keep weight and costs down, and the C-17 program, wherein the airlifter’s initially required sink rate was reduced by one foot per second—to fifteen feet per second—to save on aircraft weight and thus on cost.
Maintaining Technological Superiority
Fundamental to everything that AFSC does is its responsibility for “maintaining technological superiority” for USAF, General Randolph said, and “no other command has that charge.” He described his command’s science and technology program as “robust” and reminded the audience that the program “has been elevated to the status of an executive program with DoD.” It now represents 1.5 percent of the Air Force’s total obligational authority, and AFSC is shooting for two percent by 1993—a target that “reflects a corporate [Air Force] commitment to the future needs of combat commands.”
“A major energizer will be research to support the National Aerospace Plane [NASP], with all its spinoffs throughout the industry,” General Randolph said. “We have to continue to work the technology very hard.”
Taking note of the climate of criticism in which contractors and military acquisition agencies must now operate, General Randolph told his audience that “we have to react to criticism—much of it unwarranted—in a positive way.” And he said that “there are no pat solutions” to the problems being fomented by the budget downturn.
A major worry: “Right now, retention of engineers in my command is only forty-one percent, and that’s a disaster. We’ve got to turn that around.”
The need to continue making the Air Force attractive to the best and the brightest, with major emphasis on pilots and engineers, was much on the minds of the symposium speakers. General Welch, for example, described the US airline industry, a voracious recruiter, as “the golden parachute” for Air Force pilots who, for one reason or another, feel that their skills and dedication are not being adequately recognized and recompensed.
But it was Secretary Aldridge who dwelled at greatest length on the growing problem of retention. Calling the Air Force’s people “the foundation of combat capability,” he said: “We have enjoyed real successes during these past seven years in attracting and retaining some of the best young people that America has to offer. The support of Congress for improved family housing, morale, welfare, and recreation programs, medical care, educational benefits, and adequate pay has been essential. But keeping that quality force is becoming tougher and tougher.”
Noting that the Air Force must compete for “high-tech people in a high-tech society,” the Secretary declared that “we can’t win the competition without continuing improvements in people programs. We must reverse the trend that has led to five consecutive years of three to four percent pay caps and no increase in flight pay since 1982. In the midst of our efforts, Congress has directed a two percent reduction in the number of active-duty officers in 1988 and another three percent reduction in 1989. How can we continue to attract high-quality people with such career uncertainty
“And because of these problems, we’re losing more pilots than we’re training. We’ve gone through a severe downturn. Before this Administration came in, we were losing three out of every four pilots, so our retention rate was twenty-five percent. In 1983, after we went through a series of pay raises and a big jump in support of military requirements and programs, we were keeping three out of every four, or seventy-five percent. Now we’re back down to forty-eight percent. The airlines are hiring. There are some irritants in the pilot career field, some uncertainties, and a lot of concern out there.”
Secretary Aldridge said the Air Force leadership is “looking across the board at the problems” and holding “a series of conferences” on them. “We’ve got to remove a lot of irritants the pilots feel they have to go through—nonflying jobs, things like that. There’s not going to be one magic solution. It will take a whole series of solutions before we get this turned around, and it’s going to go down some more before we get it turned around. General Welch and I regard it as our number-one priority.”
Secretary Aldridge also addressed the Air Force’s need to overcome force-structure shortfalls and to sustain the pace of force modernization. “We must continue
to pursue our plans for modernization and growth because they are the only recourse we have to guarantee our national security in the twenty-first century,” he asserted.
Straight Up in Space
In considering the Air Force of tomorrow, the one that will operate in that century, “I think it is vital,” said Secretary Aldridge, “to consider the newest arena for our national defense, which begins just a short distance away . . . straight up in space.”
Where the US space program is concerned, things were looking up a bit as the AFA symposium took place. A few days earlier, the Air Force had launched a Titan 34D with a classified satellite payload aboard from nearby Vandenberg AFB, Calif. Titan 34D boosters had been grounded in 1986 in the aftermath of two straight failures, and now they were back in business. Other types of boosters, ordered up by the Air Force following the January 1986 disaster of the Shuttle Challenger, were also coming along. The Shuttles themselves were expected to be back in business by mid-1988.
Secretary Aldridge remarked on the Air Force’s success in modifying the Titan II ICBM as a small space booster, in initiating development of the much larger Titan IV, and in expanding the Titan family of rockets in general. He also noted that Delta II rockets are now being built to launch the vital Navstar Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation satellites to be used by all the services.
“To complete our space recovery program,” the Secretary said, “we are recommending additional steps to Congress. We must again increase the production rate of Titan IVs to provide a launch capacity of at least eight to ten per year in the early 1990s. We must augment the production base and the launch facilities to meet this launch-rate demand. We must slightly increase the number of Delta II boosters we plan to procure to launch the smaller payloads. And we will need to competitively procure an additional expendable launch vehicle—which we will call the MLV II—for launching the Defense Satellite Communications System [DSCS III].”
Making sure that the US has unconstrained access to space is highly expensive, and so is everything else that the Air Force needs to execute its multitudinous missions, Secretary Aldridge stressed. As to budget cuts, in this context, he said: “We don’t mind tightening the cinch one more notch. We just want to make sure that we’re tightening our belts—and not the noose around our necks.”
Secretary Aldridge said that a three percent real growth of the defense budget, which he recommended, “would continue to allow us to modernize at a rate sufficient to bring adequate modern weapon systems into the inventory, keep their age down, and do the jobs we need to do to keep our reliability and sustainability up.” He made it plain, however, that he would prefer an accelerated growth rate and that the US cannot safely decelerate defense spending so long as the Soviets keep stepping on the gas. “When they stop spending to modernize, then we can slow down, but, unfortunately, the choice is theirs,” he declared.