“Make no mistake, international events and internal pressures will reshape the military services. The Air Force must adapt or go the way of the dinosaurs.”
Gen. Merrill A. McPeak spoke those words on becoming Air Force Chief of Staff and promised that the Air Force, under his leadership, will indeed adapt.
He delivered his message in addressing the Air Force Association symposium titled “The US Air Force–Today and Tomorrow” late last year in Los Angeles, Calif.
General McPeak disclosed plans for a major reorganization–reshaping combat units and cutting management staffs in major commands and at the Pentagon.
He acknowledged that the Air Force has an image problem, that it has managed to give the impression that it tells lies. He said he will seek to correct that impression by calling for candor and honesty on every count.
For the Air Force, “the three themes for the years just ahead of us will be integrity, openness, and restructuring,” he declared.
The new Chief of Staff saluted his predecessor and longtime friend and fellow fighter pilot, Gen. Michael Dugan, who had set the stage for restructuring and had made a point of being frank and open–too much so, as some saw it.
General Dugan’s on-the-record candor about US operations and prospects in Operation Desert Shield led to his dismissal as Chief of Staff. This led in turn to speculation that the next Chief of Staff would see silence as the better part of valor for himself and for the Air Force at large.
General McPeak quickly quashed such speculation. “Mike Dugan was on the right track,” he told his AFA audience.
He noted that General Dugan had made himself available to the media, had written as-I-see-it messages about important issues for weekly distribution throughout the Air Force, and had “sent an open letter to all Air Force generals describing his belief in openness and the need for increased internal and external dialogue.”
General McPeak declared, “His approach was correct, and we should continue what he began.”
Like “Real Enemies”
He was asked at the symposium whether openness will be a guiding principle in the Air Force’s dealings with industry as well.
“I sure hope so,” he replied. “I have the impression that a lot of progress can be made in this area, that we need to work in a much more congenial, convivial manner with industry. We need to hire more engineers and fewer lawyers.
“Sometimes we treat each other like we were real enemies. That’s not so. We’re in this thing together. Our common objective is to produce the best, most cost-effective defense for this nation, and we ought to act that way.”
Under Secretary of the Air Force Anne N. Foreman struck the same chord at the AFA symposium in discussing the interrelated topics of ethics, Air Force relations with industry, and industry’s performance on Air Force contracts.
Claiming that a strong defense “will require ever more sophisticated systems” and that “a robust industrial base will be required to support it,” she expressed concern that funding for production and research is on the wane.
“There is serious doubt as to our ability to deliver on schedule what we promised,” Under Secretary Foreman declared. “Something has to change. We must recover the public’s trust in our ethics and our products, and we must strike the right balance to retain the technological edge that has underwritten our enormous success.
“But we must do so at affordable, economically viable levels. We need to develop acquisition and development strategies that are flexible enough to withstand the changes in the world and the political realities that go with them. . . . We must communicate our problems, recommendations, conclusions, and solutions clearly and candidly, however difficult or even painful that may be.”
Under Secretary Foreman claimed that “the Air Force and our industrial partners have a natural advantage” in striving to gain and sustain technological superiority. “From the beginning, the essence of airpower has been the ability to respond to changing needs by championing innovation,” she declared.
General McPeak discussed his ideas for just such a response in the context of force cuts that lie ahead. The Air Force will have to be reorganized substantially if it is to remain combat-ready while slimming down, he claimed. He predicted that USAF will have shrunk by twenty percent from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s and said remolding of the force will be required to keep it fit to fight in all foreseeable contingencies.
“We must review the way we do business at every level, from the squadron to the Air Staff,” he declared. “Our goal is to ensure that we are adapting, evolving, . . . [and] well-organized, with the measure of merit being combat capability.”
The Top Priority
A few days prior to the AFA symposium, General McPeak testified at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on his nomination by the President to be Chief of Staff. He told the committee that “reorganization is my number one priority.”
Staying combat-ready while downsizing poses a “significant management problem” for the Air Force, he said. It involves “the way we’re organized from the flight line all the way up to the Air Staff.”
He elaborated on this when questioned at the AFA symposium, raising the likelihood of a new look for forward-deployed units with a heavy share of the responsibility for exercising USAF’s global reach and. applying its global power.
So-called “composite forces” are in the offing. Central to their existence will be composite wings made up of different kinds of aircraft for all sorts of missions, such as air superiority, long-range and short-range land attack, reconnaissance, and suppression of enemy air defenses.
“The composite wing makes a lot of sense to me, especially in forward-deployed locations,” General McPeak declared. “Wings ought to be organized around their missions. Some can continue to be monolithic.”
Monolithic wings are homogeneous with regard to aircraft. Each such wing consists of only one kind of plane optimized to do one main mission, such as air superiority or ground attack. As an example, General McPeak referred to the wing of F-15 air-superiority fighters at Kadena AB, Okinawa, a unit for which he was responsible in his prior role as commander in chief of Pacific Air Forces.
“It’s a standard wing,” he said. “It’s really not there to do anything in Okinawa. If we have to defend Okinawa, we can provide air defense with a lot less than seventy-two F-15s.
“That wing’s mission is to go somewhere else in the theater, and, in combination with other assets already there or flying in from CONUS, to put together a force package of [varied] capabilities.”
General McPeak noted that the Air Force had deployed such a multifaceted composite force in piecemeal fashion to Saudi Arabia and the surrounding region in Operation Desert Shield.
“We know,” he continued, “that if we have to do something in Saudi Arabia today, it will not be a wing of seventy-two PAA [Primary Aircraft Authorized]
F-16s that does it. It will be a force [of aircraft] made up of some attackers, some defenders, some standoff jammers, some [Wild] Weasels, some tankers, and so forth.
“So we’re now in the process of practicing in Saudi Arabia the kinds of composite-force tactics that we may need to use if it ever comes to hot shooting in that part of the world.”
He went on to declare that “forward based forces, at least, should be organized the way we intend to use them in wartime, so they can train together and work together in peacetime.”
Composite wings could take various forms. Those styled primarily for the application of firepower might mix counterair fighters, long-range bombers, shorter-range interdiction aircraft, and close air support planes, along with, for example, surveillance and command-and-control aircraft. Composite wings tailored more to logistics and combat support would be heavier on transports and tankers. Each wing might embody a general-purpose squadron or two of dual-role fighters, such as the latest variants of USAF’s F-15 and F-16.
Logistics considerations are crucial. Engines and other components have become increasingly interchangeable among different kinds of aircraft. Moreover, improved reliability and maintainability of hardware makes it easier to mix and fix the varied hardware that would be found in composite wings.
General McPeak underlined that point at the AFA symposium. “The reason we haven’t done such a thing [formed composite wings] over the years is that we have been afraid of costs,” he said. “It’s expensive, especially if you have to create intermediate- level maintenance organizations on each base where you have a composite wing so organized.
“But recently, our R&M [reliability and maintainability] efforts are beginning to payoff in much better in-commission rates, much lower break rates, much-reduced requirements for eye-level maintenance on each base. Accordingly, in concept at least, we can begin to see the possibility of two-level maintenance.
“When we get to that, the composite wing becomes a lot more possible because the economics of it become a lot more credible.”
The Chief of Staff made it clear that the Air Force will not run wild with composite wings. “We might still want to have some wings–especially CONUS wings with the principal mission of overseas reinforcement–to be organized in a monolithic form, because of the economies of scale that are possible in that kind of organization.
“So in the end, I think, we will need a balance, a mixed [force] structure of monolithic and composite wings–some composite wings, mostly forward deployed, and some monolithic wings that might be stationed more to the rear.”
He said the reorganization of the Air Force will involve sharp numerical reductions in blue-suit management circles all the way to the top.
“The Air Staff won’t be exempt from a relook,” said General McPeak. “We are reducing our management structure in the major commands by over thirty percent, so it only seems logical that the Air Staff should undergo a similar reduction. In my view, we should aim to cut the Air Staff by up to thirty percent.”
He enumerated “operating principles for us as we restructure,” as follows:
• “Eliminate layers to streamline and flatten our organization.
• “Use a total-quality approach, aiming to eliminate low-value-added activities.
• “Combine authority and responsibility so that we have true accountability for performance at every level.”
Above All, Integrity
General McPeak told the AFA audience that he will insist on integrity in all things. “No matter how bad the problem, no matter how difficult the circumstances, the Air Force as an institution does not, will not, and cannot accept anything less than absolute, rock-solid, uncompromising integrity,” he asserted.
He claimed that the Air Force does not lack integrity and that it has nothing to be ashamed of, but he conceded that it has given an impression to the contrary.
“Our image has been hurt,” he said. “We must correct this misperception. The public, Congress, industry, and the press must believe in our integrity. Integrity is so important that we can’t stand even the appearance of its absence.”
Among instances “where appearances hurt the Air Force,” General McPeak cited “the use of the F-117 in Panama” and “the procurement of the B-1B.”
The Air Force was accused of having made false claims about the accuracy and effectiveness of bombing by two USAF F-117s over Panama one night in December 1989 and of subsequently trying to cover up its alleged prevarication.
General McPeak explained at the AFA symposium that the mission of the
F-117s had been to put bombs close enough to two barracks to stun and disorient–but not kill–the Panamanian troops within. The aimpoints for the bombs were in open fields about fifty meters from the barracks, he said.
He also noted that wind conditions caused the pilots to switch targets prior to takeoff and that “the F-117s ran into unexpected weather conditions in the target area.”
“So the pilots ended up dropping on aimpoints that were just slightly different than planned. Call it the fog of war or Murphy’s Law. Anyway, one pilot hit less than 100 meters from the intended target. The other was over 100 meters.”
The Chief of Staff claimed that the bombing accuracy of the F-117s had been good enough, implied that it could have been a little better, and declared that it was not, in any case, the issue.
“I’ve dropped a few bombs, and I’ve had days where I’d have been proud of such scores,” he said. “Today, though, we’ve come to expect better results.”
He continued, “The real problem was that the initial reporting to the general public mentioned only that the bombs went precisely where they were aimed, which was true, and that the purpose–to stun and disorient the Panamanian troops–was achieved, which was also true.
“But there was more to the story, and it trickled out over time, with the result that it looked to some like the Air Force had slanted the initial reports for its own purposes. A subsequent investigation cleared the Air Force of wrongdoing, but the damage had been done.”
Shadow Over the B-1B
As to the B-1B, “the electronic countermeasures issue cast a shadow over our good work” on the bomber program, General McPeak said.
He continued, “We made a bad mistake in assuming that the ALQ-161 [electronic countermeasures, or ECM, suite] was far enough along to keep pace with the highly concurrent development and production of the aircraft. We knew that ECM was mission-essential, and we thought -and said-that we had it in hand. But we did not grasp the magnitude of the problem until we were fielding the aircraft without a robust, adaptable ECM system.”
The Chief of Staff conceded that the Air Force “should have recognized the ECM problem sooner” and that “we could have done better” in dealing with it and in divulging it. He insisted, though, that “the ECM story was taken out of context and used to create the perception that the Air Force had lied about the B-1B.”
For all that, he said, what mattered in the end was that the Air Force had “the appearance of a lack of integrity.” Such an appearance “just will not do,” he asserted. General McPeak said the Air Force is fortunate to have Dr. Donald B. Rice as its civilian leader ”as we seek to burnish our image.” He described Air Force Secretary Rice as “a man of complete and unquestioned integrity” who “gives us the best possible leadership.”
The Chief of Staff promised that the Air Force’s uniformed leadership will do its part to set things right. “We will make mistakes–not many, because we know our business, but some. They will be honest mistakes. We will never cut corners.”
To avoid mistakes, Air Force leaders, starting with himself, need to hear the truth as well as speak it, the Chief of Staff contended. He hopes to set the tone for “a healthy dialogue” throughout the service that will “involve listening to opposing views.”
“I want to be told when I’m wrong,” he said. “I’ve noticed that the only people who will tell me I’m wrong are the ones who actually respect me. I’m more interested in the substance than the appearance of respect. We must instill this kind of respect–this kind of openness–at all levels of command.”
Despite all that needs to be done, “the Air Force is doing a lot right today,” General McPeak claimed. “We have a lot going for us.”
As pluses, he cited personnel, readiness, equipment, sustainability, operating tempo, training, tactics and doctrine, “great leadership at the sharp end” of operations, and smooth teamwork with sister services and allies, all of which he fully intends to sustain.
“I believe Operation Desert Shield is proving just how capable and ready our forces are–active, Reserve. and Guard.” he said.
Support for Joint STARS
The Chief of Staff expressed satisfaction with the progress that the Air Force is making in modernizing the force amid international uncertainties and budget cuts, and he gave credit to its practice of “focusing our efforts on one large weapon system per major program area–the B-2 for strategic bomber modernization, the C-17 for airlift, and the Advanced Tactical Fighter for air superiority.” He also mentioned “other important modernization programs–the Advanced Cruise Missile, AMRAAM, ICBMs, Titan IV, Joint STARS, and KC-135 reengining.”
General McPeak denied a published report that he had questioned USAF’s need for Joint STARS (the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System) in view of the diminished threat of war in Europe. On the contrary, he said, Joint STARS will continue to be necessary because it enables the Air Force and Army to do a much better job of interdiction.
He explained that Joint STARS will enable the Air Force to go beyond the “classic type of interdiction”–for example, bombing roads and bridges to create chokepoints behind enemy lines. He continued, “What we’ve been trying to do all along is to back up traffic so we can attack enemy forces. But the real target is not the road. It’s the truck. What Joint STARS gives us is a much better possibility of going after the truck directly. We can certainly do interdiction without Joint STARS, but we waste a lot of effort.”
General McPeak used Joint STARS to make a broader point about USAF as a team player.
“I think one of the great virtues of Joint STARS is that both the ground commander and the air commander will have the same picture,” he said. “The Air Force wants to be part of the combined-arms team. That means we have to work well with commanders on the ground. It’s a lot easier to do that when we share a common understanding of what’s going on out on the battlefield.”