The new Chief of Staff of the Air Force does not feel the service needs much “reinventing,” nor does he bring with him a new vision of what it should become under his leadership, primarily because he already feels a sense of ownership for the “Global Engagement” concepts formulated over the last couple of years.
“I didn’t inherit this,” Gen. Michael E. Ryan said of the Air Force’s long-range plan, unveiled just over a year ago. “I helped make it.”
In an interview with Air Force Magazine, Ryan explained that the Global Engagement vision–which touted an evolution from an “air and space force” to a “space and air force”–was “an Air Force project, a year and a half in the making, involving all the commands. This was a corporate view of the future. It was not based on individuals.”
Anyone who had acceded to the top uniformed job in USAF would have stayed the course of Global Engagement, said Ryan, because “we have good agreement within the Air Force … that this is where we want to go.”
“You’ve got to remember that we had a big debate going into this, and we came out with pretty good unanimity,” he asserted. “That doesn’t mean that it’s perfect. And we will redo our long-range plan on a basis that allows us to relook at it and re’duke it out’ on issues. But the basic framework for where we want to go is there.”
The concerns of the “naysayers” have been addressed, he maintained, and he believes there is acceptance of Global Engagement down the chain of command. Such harmony on the service’s direction in uncertain times is “very healthy,” Ryan added.
In Search of Comity
Ryan–who served as executive officer to a former Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Larry D. Welch, and as assistant to a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Colin Powell–also favors harmony and unanimity on the JCS and rejected the idea that his job encompasses slugging it out with the other service heads for resources.
Such competitive attitudes make poor policy, Ryan said, adding that the revisions to the national military strategy contained in last year’s Quadrennial Defense Review and the cuts it called for in the other services were, in his opinion, “appropriate.”
Despite a shrinking pool of defense dollars, Ryan has no plans to have the Air Force go after the funds of other services, despite a pattern of the other services laying claim to savings created by USAF’s reduction in size and programs.
The services have “become so dependent on each other … that we can’t afford to sit around and pick at each other in the public domain, fighting for the next buck,” Ryan said. “We have to sit down and decide what’s the best way to divide the national security chores for the good of the country, saving resources and precious lives that we are charged with.”
He continued, “I’m not going to argue that the Army’s requirements are different than what they’ve laid out. That’s not my function. My function is to argue the merits of the use of airpower across the spectrum, to the extent that it can forward the national security interest of this country.”
It serves the interests of no service “to get into some kind of squabble about marginal bucks,” he added.
The QDR has served a useful purpose, Ryan asserted. The strategy review “does what we wanted it to do, and that is to do the least damage to the capabilities of the forces to fight in the near term, while trying to preserve the capabilities and leverage the technologies for the future to save American lives and to do our duty.”
Global Engagement is “fundamentally sound” and fits well within the framework of the QDR, Ryan continued. The definition of Air Force “core values, core competencies” and the route to becoming a space and air force–“timing TBD” [to be determined]–is “conceptually … a good road map, a good glide path for us. It’s now up to us to go out and execute it.”
Because the services now will face a QDR every four years, Ryan noted, “Our planning cycle will get into the rhythm of that … which includes the long-range planning and the short-range planning. So we are prepared to articulate where we think the Air Force contributions are–going into the 21st century.”
Ryan thinks adequate resources are available to man and run the current Air Force, but he acknowledges there are doubts about whether it can properly modernize.
Can We Modernize
“If we can … be more efficient … in the outsourcing and privatization, and if we can continue to manage our operational tempo with the size of the force that we have”–which is less than two-thirds the size of the force in 1989 but which has four times the commitments–“and which I think we can do and have been doing for the last year and a half very well, then we’re OK from a force structure size,” Ryan stated. “The question is, can we do the modernization?”
Outsourcing and privatization are among the few means left to free up money needed for investment in systems to promote the Air Force’s future dominance, Ryan observed.
“Those are the ways that we can save money that we need for future … capabilities, [such as] the F-22, Joint Strike Fighter, Airborne Laser–things that we think will well-leverage our forces in the future,” Ryan said. It is in outsourcing and privatization that the Air Force must find the money to be its “seed corn,” or initial investment in future technologies and even basic science, he added.
The other means of obtaining the money for modernization–short of obtaining higher levels of funding from Congress–is to consolidate fighter and bomber forces to gain efficiencies and generate savings. However, “we don’t have a BRAC,” meaning another Base Realignment and Closure round that would allow USAF to nominate bases and facilities for closure.
“We have no way of closing the infrastructure” without another round or two of BRAC, Ryan noted. The Air Force since 1989 will have “come down 36 percent on our force structure, and we’ve only come down 21 percent on our infrastructure. [It’s] very difficult to work consolidations when you can’t close anything. That’s why I think the Secretary of Defense is very committed to getting a BRAC at the turn of the century.”
Defense Secretary Willian S. Cohen announced in November he would push hard for another two rounds of the BRAC process, despite warnings from Congress that further base closings are a dead issue.
The BRAC process, as well as privatization and outsourcing, are areas in which USAF must succeed, according to the Chief of Staff. In the QDR, “we assume some savings from that [the move to privatization and outsourcing] that are fairly substantial for the Air Force, to the tune of 27,000 active duty, 18,000 civilian, 700 or so reserve,” Ryan pointed out.
“Though no decisions have been made on … what will go [away], we have in the budget already taken account for that, for the savings that we think we will get from those outsourcing and privatization efforts.”
If the efforts don’t pan out, the rest of the USAF program will be short by the amount of dollars that were to be saved.
While the QDR cuts will be substantial–about 10 percent of the existing force-“for the most part, what I see so far is that we will not have massive RIFs [reductions in force],” Ryan said. “This will be an evolutionary change, probably by attrition and cross training. … I don’t see right now that we have to do any revolutionary kinds of reinventing how the Air Force is structured or how our career paths are structured.”
He will make an effort to see that the rank and file troops have “an anticipation of the turbulence” that will come from the QDR reductions, as well as educate them on the benefits associated with outsourcing and privatization.
Other QDR directives that will have to be addressed include consolidating many squadrons, which now have only 18 Primary Aircraft Authorized, to get back to 24 PAA, to eliminate problems that arose when fewer planes had to be spread out over fewer bases. Additionally, one fighter wing of the Air Force’s current 13 active duty wings will shift into a reserve status.
Ryan is, “on the whole,” optimistic about implementing both Global Engagement and the QDR, he said. At a Corona meeting of top Air Force leaders last fall, Ryan said the group looked at progress made since Global Engagement was developed.
Ryan explained, “We looked back and said, ‘How are we doing on our vision?’ How are our battlelabs doing as we set them out?’ ” On the latter issue, “That’s kind of a success story because we said we were going to do it a year ago and we’ve done it. And they are starting to pursue some interesting innovations. And that’s what we need, innovations that make us faster, better, cheaper,” Ryan asserted. “Looking back, I think we’ve come a long way, just in a … year and a half, structuring ourselves for how to approach this 21st century.”
The two-part problem of pilot training and poor pilot retention was one issue the Corona conference examined in detail, Ryan said. The issue is being worked from the demographics of who is entering the service right through the way pilots are recruited, trained, and given experience. With a large number of pilots leaving the service, the USAF leadership is hoping to find ways to make service life more attractive and to ensure that there is a proper mix of experienced and novice crews.
“We don’t want the inexperienced leading the inexperienced,” Ryan noted.
Ryan is convinced that the Air Force “has it right” in its approach to modern air combat, especially given its success in Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and Operation Deliberate Force in 1995, the latter a USAFled air operation in Bosnia which was personally commanded by Ryan.
As a young captain flying F-4s out of Thailand in the Vietnam War, Ryan had an object lesson in the wrong way of doing things.
The Mistakes of Vietnam
“One thing that I came away from that war with was that that was the stupidest way to use airpower that I’d ever seen,” Ryan said. He complained bitterly–though privately–to his father, Gen. John D. Ryan, who at the time was commander of Pacific Air Forces and later Chief of Staff in the period 1969-73.
“There’s a whole generation of us” in the senior Air Force leadership of today “that are veterans of Vietnam … that grew up having experienced that, having flown by targets that were shooting at us–lucrative targets that could’ve been, should’ve been, hit–and we left them there. And we flew on to a stupid target,” selected by authorities far above the level of the operational commander.
“Airfields were off-limits, yet we weren’t off-limits to the MiGs,” Ryan recalled. “Give me a break. SAMs could shoot at you, but unless they shot at you, you couldn’t go after them.”
That experience in Vietnam strongly influenced Ryan’s handling of Deliberate Force in Bosnia.
“I was the commander of the air campaign in Bosnia, and had lived with almostVietnam rules the first year that I was there, and it was the most frustrating thing that I have ever dealt with,” Ryan said.
“I may have been frustrated as an aircrewman by some of the stupidity in Vietnam, but I was doubly frustrated” in Bosnia “because … I guess I took it on myself to be frustrated for all our aircrews, when [the Bosnian Serbs] could shoot at us with SAMs and we had to go back and ask the UN’s permission to come back and take out the same site.”
When “finally, the United States of America stood up [and] … said … that we weren’t going to put up with this anymore, [it] led to being able to carry out the air campaign we did. And we were able to protect our forces while executing [the] campaign.” The effort brought the recalcitrant Bosnian Serbs to the bargaining table and eventually led to the cease-fire and the 1995 Dayton peace accords.
The lessons of the Bosnian campaign, and the “frustrating” buildup to it, Ryan said, is not to “lay out a mission and give it to a force without giving it the applicable rules of engagement to allow it to be able to execute the mission,” which includes the authority to “protect itself.”
Bosnia–and the frequent deployments of units to the Persian Gulf region–are demonstrating that the Air Force is indeed evolving into an “expeditionary” force, Ryan said, and during his tenure he will be concentrating on how to make it more capable of swiftly reacting to events, while doing so more efficiently.
Not only will Air Expeditionary Forces be routinely dispatched from the continental US, Ryan said, but “we have set up overseas Air Expeditionary Forces to rapidly respond within theaters. Conceptually, it’s the right way for us to go.”
Part of becoming a more efficient expeditionary force, he said, is to “reduce our footprint,” or the associated logistical effort that supports a deployment. He noted as an example that U-2s flying missions over Iraq send their data via satellite to Beale AFB, Calif., from which location it is disseminated to the organizations that need it. This method eliminates the need to send “400 folks and God knows how many vans, etc., forward,” Ryan said. “We do it by satellite link.”
Such “reach-back” capabilities will become more frequent as efforts are made to do more with satellites and get intelligence more rapidly into the hands of those who need it, Ryan said.
Just in Time
In a similar logistics vein, an AEF might take only two spare engines when normally it would take four. The additional engines could be sent for on a “just in time” basis if needed, and the AEF could be supported increasingly by an overnight-type package service, as eventually happened in the Gulf War.
“We can’t take the kitchen sink” on an AEF, Ryan asserted.
Becoming faster at such deployments–coming lean and mean–will make it easier for national commanders to depend on AEFs to deliver on their promise, he said.
“Though … all the services can contribute in some way to most of the problems that we are faced with today, normally, air is asked to respond the quickest” because it can arrive on the scene first. “And if we’re going to do that, we have to arrive with capabilities that are applicable to the problem,” Ryan observed. That means tailored forces that are configured for the mission at hand, whether it is a humanitarian relief effort or a “shooter” package.
In terms of doctrine, “we have it pretty well mapped out … how we do this,” Ryan added.
The concept is spilling over into all aspects of what USAF does, particularly space, Ryan said.
“We are looking into our Air Operations Centers … and putting in space capabilities within our staffs overseas, so that we have the capability to form up rapidly and use space assets as necessary,” he said. As soon as the call comes, such on-site personnel within a theater commander’s staff can quickly “form the connective tissue to reach back” to Space Operations Centers and offer their capabilities for immediate use.
“So this expeditionary business has to do not only with the forces you bring forward … but the reach-back concepts of how we keep that footprint smaller,” he said.
Ryan’s hope for his tenure as Chief of Staff is that there will be less “spectacular and speculative journalism” regarding the “good order and discipline in the force,” as in the Kelly Flinn case, which “sparked great heat but not a lot of light.” Flinn, an Air Force lieutenant and B-52 bomber copilot, left the service after being charged with adultery, disobeying a direct order, and lying under oath in connection with her affair with the husband of an enlisted Air Force member.
He worries that “in this age of … immediate information … that sometimes the facts get left behind, and sometimes we can’t be very blatant about putting those facts out in the public domain, because of our responsibilities to the individuals that are involved.”
The “first information that is out there, whether it is factual or not, normally sets the tone. … Not only does it have to be rebutted, but the real information then has to come forward, so you have double duty,” Ryan said.
“I’m hoping we’re over that. I’m hoping that the lessons learned out of some of these controversies that occurred is that those who want to speculate will do so a little more factually based than they did over the last couple of years. [In] those particular cases, some folks got out in front of their headlights.”
He maintained, however, that USAF still has a responsibility to those who have “sinned or erred.”
“Just like any family, we have to take care of them, we have to nurture them, sometimes we have to correct them, and sometimes we have to punish them. But like any family, we protect our folks who are under our scrutiny from undue digging into their sins and errors. And we should not be part of the debate that throws it out into the public domain when they are still part of our organization.”