Headwinds for the Air Force

April 1, 2005

The daunting array of challenges that confront today’s Air Force was the focal point of discussion for leaders who gathered in Orlando, Fla., for the Air Force Association’s annual Air Warfare Symposium.

At the Feb. 17-18 event, titled “Expeditionary Air and Space Power—Forging the Interdependent Joint Force,” uniformed officers and civilians discussed the effects of continuing operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other world hot spots.

Another prominent topic was the Pentagon’s new Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), which is now under way, and the impact of major modernization cuts on an aging and overextended force.

Addressing a packed assembly hall of 1,100 attendees were Gen. John P. Jumper, USAF Chief of Staff; Peter B. Teets, acting Secretary of the Air Force; Gen. John W. Handy, US Transportation Command and Air Mobility Command; Gen. Lance W. Lord, Air Force Space Command; Gen. Paul V. Hester, Pacific Air Forces; Lt. Gen. Ronald E. Keys, deputy chief of staff for air and space operations; and US Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, US Strategic Command.

The audience heard a mostly somber assessment of the state of Air Force affairs, though officials expressed determination to successfully meet the challenges of a difficult period.

Gen. John P. Jumper

Even when the solutions to problems are identified, it is not easy to implement fixes, said Jumper, the Air Force Chief of Staff. One of several strategic goals he laid out for the Air Force was to “focus technology directly” on the task of finding solutions to the toughest problems.

For example, he noted, “We have for a long time said that our most difficult problem is hitting moving targets in and under the weather.” It is a problem Jumper has been highlighting for years.

Pacific Air Forces recently demonstrated the ability to hit moving targets at sea with satellite-guided weapons. Moving ships were successfully attacked, through clouds, in Exercise Resultant Fury, a demonstration organized by Maj. Gen. David A. Deptula, the PACAF operations director.

In Resultant Fury, Air Force and Navy strike aircraft sank moving vessels off Hawaii, using all-weather Joint Direct Attack Munitions and a developmental target engagement system. (See “Aerospace World: Bombers Prove Their Maritime Capability,” January, p. 13.)

Jumper cautioned that the “fact that we do this rapidly, in a demonstration,” does not mean the problem has been solved. In fact, he said, it marks just the beginning of the effort. USAF now wants to quickly acquire this capability and put it in the field.

That, unfortunately, “is not the way we normally do things, so the system resists it,” said Jumper.

The Chief recalled that he encountered the same problem when he pushed to equip the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle with a laser designator and Hellfire missile. The innovative combination of these technologies solved a critical combat need by making a long-duration sensor platform also a “shooter.” Even so, the acquisition system resisted the change. “The system will not want to do anything that’s not in the [official] program,” Jumper said.

Other entrenched ways of thinking also need to be shaken loose, said the Chief.

Jumper cited the problem of exploiting “near space” as a perfect recent example of “bad effects-based thinking.”

By “near space,” he refers to the physical realm above 65,000 feet altitude (the highest point for powered aircraft flight) but below 984,000 feet (the lowest point for orbital spaceflight).

As Jumper sees it, the thinking of most pilots reaches a limit at 65,000 feet, while space operators care little about what happens below 984,000 feet. This kind of thinking leaves a vast “no man’s land,” between air and space, which remains un­exploited, even though it could be used to great advantage for potentially little c

ost.The kind of vehicle needed for near-space operations is not pretty. “It looks like a big dirigible,” said Jumper. “It’s full of gas or something, and it’s hard to get off the ground.” Still, he went on, near-space vehicles can stay aloft for months and can carry high-demand communications and surveillance capabilities.

Jumper has instructed Air Force Space Command to take the lead on developing near space as an operational realm.

The Air Force is also struggling to defend long-standing priorities. When F/A-22 funding was recently truncated in a “budget drill,” Jumper said, there was no opportunity to defend the program. He expects the QDR to do that—to give the Raptor a chance to survive on its own merits.

The Chief says the F/A-22’s value is undeniable.

“There are those who think that because Saddam Hussein buried his airplanes in the sand, … the need for air superiority is over,” Jumper said. “That is wrong.” Other nations, he pointed out, continue to field advanced aircraft and air defense systems, and air superiority is the foundation of successful operations.

Jumper recently qualified as an F/A-22 pilot and shared the experience of his final training flight. Up against a “bunch” of F-15 Eagles and advanced surface-to-air missiles, the Raptor excelled.

“The Eagles are still trying to find you,” but can’t because of the F/A-22’s stealthiness, Jumper recounted. “You build your shoot list, shoot all the Eagles, light a Lucky, and go home.” He noted that some call this “strategic overmatch.” By that they mean, “It’s too much—you don’t need that much.” Jumper clearly disagreed.

The question is how many F/A-22s are needed, Jumper said. The Air Force insists that the minimum number is 381—enough to equip and support one squadron for each of 10 Air and Space Expeditionary Forces. In the QDR, the Air Force will work with the other services to determine how much air dominance capability is necessary.

The armed forces branches are taking steps to maximize coordination in the future, said Jumper.

“The service Chiefs today are discussing a series of ‘centers of excellence,’” he said, for further development of joint command and control, unmanned systems, and close air support (CAS) efforts that are currently spread across the individual services.

Centers of excellence could “develop those concepts and procedures together, instead of developing [them] separately and then meeting once a year to fight about which one’s the best,” he said.

The Air Force can foster “jointness from within,” said Jumper. It does not have to have it imposed from outside.

Peter B. Teets

While long-term needs are attracting much attention, Acting Secretary Peter B. Teets reminded the audience that the Air Force is still capably responding to a broad range of current demands.

“We ended 2004 with nearly 31,000 airmen in Southwest Asia, including 5,000 Air National Guardsmen and 2,500 Air Force Reservists flying over 200 combat sorties a day over Iraq and Afghanistan,” Teets noted.

Since 9/11, more than a quarter-million sorties have been flown in the US Central Command area of responsibility. These comprise the full range, from intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance (ISR) sorties to close air support, aerial refueling, aeromedical evacuation, and airlift.

There is no shortage of threats with which USAF must deal. Teets said the service is on guard against ballistic and cruise missiles, weapons of mass destruction, advanced surface-to-air missiles, and sophisticated combat aircraft.

In addition to these customary missions, the Air Force is now heavily engaged in what traditionally have been Army jobs. “When people talk about boots on the ground, many of those boots are worn by airmen,” Teets said. At the end of 2004, USAF was filling more than 1,900 positions, in 16 different combat support jobs, for the Army.

The Air Force is, of course, busy worldwide, but Teets said the service’s relationship with its airmen remains strong. “Our airmen take great care of their Air Force, and they trust the Air Force to take great care of them,” Teets said.

The best evidence is that, generally, airmen “don’t want to leave the service.” In 2004, USAF lowered its accession goal by 3,000 airmen and still ended the year over its Congressionally authorized end strength.

But Teets noted that all is not well. Infrastructure needs are becoming a problem even at permanent operating locations. “The runway at Offutt AFB, Neb., was declared a safety hazard during an inspection three years ago,” he said. “The main runway at Edwards AFB, Calif., … is rapidly deteriorating. In five years, we don’t expect it to be functional anymore.”

The Air Force’s long list of modernization requirements demands careful analysis. Teets cautioned against indiscriminate cuts. In the budgeting exercise last December, $10.5 billion was removed from outyear F/A-22 accounts, a move that would eliminate approximately 100 Raptors. That, he said, means the unit cost of Raptors in those years is a relatively modest $105 million.

“Resources are bounded,” Teets said. “That’s why it’s important to know what the next incremental F/A-22 is going to cost.” Rather than kill the program at a time when the fighters are costing $105 million per F/A-22, the Defense Department needs to examine the cost and the benefit that would come from restoring those 100 Raptors.

To that end, Teets said he is “extremely pleased” that the QDR’s terms of reference have been modified to give the military services a “very active role in the review. It’s appropriate that we participate meaningfully in shaping the future of our Air Force.”

Evidently, the original setup laid out by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld did not include adequate service participation.

Gen. John W. Handy

US Transportation Command is trying to adapt to the future, but is hampered by inadequate resources, according to Gen. John W. Handy of USTRANSCOM and Air Mobility Command.

Case in point: the growing airlift requirement in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. The Air Force currently has enough money in its budget to complete a purchase of 180 C-17 airlifters. There is a stated requirement for 222, based on the Mobility Requirements Study (MRS-05) released in 2001, before the attacks.

Moreover, pre-QDR cuts proposed an immediate end to Air Force C-130J procurement.

Ending the C-130J program “was a decision made in the dark of the night in a budget drill, … supported by darn little analysis,” the TRANSCOM chief said. Handy added that he was “pleased” when Rumsfeld told him that the cancellation would be reviewed in the QDR.

“We need the C-130J,” Handy said. In February, he grounded 30 older C-130s because they had center wing boxes “cracked beyond repair.” Another 60 Hercules aircraft were placed under flight restrictions. These restricted transports are now so limited that “all they can carry are passengers,” and pilots are ordered to “avoid turbulence.”

At the same time, TRANSCOM is flying an “almost inconceivable” number of missions.

“In a typical week, we have 1,900 air missions flying all around the world,” Handy said. Cumulatively, that comes to more than 38,000 missions since October 2001, and those are “missions, not sorties,” he emphasized.

Obviously, lift requirements today are far beyond what was anticipated when MRS-05 was put together, yet that study is the only analysis available “until we get MCS,” Handy said.

MCS is the ongoing Mobility Capability Study being run by the Pentagon’s Program Analysis and Evaluation office, in conjunction with the Joint Staff’s J-4 logistics directorate.

Handy noted that TRANSCOM and Air Mobility Command are actually “very distant” outside observers of the process that will likely determine their future makeup.

Handy said he is “hopeful” MCS will better clarify the requirements for new and upgraded C-17s and C-5s. Further, the study “ought to identify for us the intratheater requirement for C-130s, how many Js we might need,” and how many niche airlifters are needed.

Not only have numbers of missions changed since 9/11, but the way they are flown has changed as well. Airlift is now more tactical.

The Air Force has increased its use of C-130s, to take Army trucks off the roads in the deadly “Sunni Triangle” section of Iraq. Although 85 percent of the materiel (fuel and water) driven around Iraq does not travel by air, TRANSCOM is picking up and delivering as much of the remaining 15 percent as possible. “We have dramatically minimized the convoy operations within the Sunni Triangle,” Handy said.

Missions in Iraq and Afghanistan also have put a high demand on short flights of perhaps 1,000 miles, delivering a few pallets or “25 to 30 people—small stuff,” Handy said. And they need to operate from very short airfields, too short for even C-17s or C-130s.

Therefore, the Air Force has identified a new requirement for a small, tactical airlifter. Air Mobility Command is “working with our partners in the Army because they have the same requirement—to replace their aged-out [C-23] Sherpas,” Handy said.

What is needed is “something smaller than a C-130” for the short-haul combat missions. The Army already has a requirement for approximately 53 C-23 replacements, and TRANSCOM will define exactly what is needed for this mission area “fairly quickly.” The Air Force knows this is “our obligation,” Handy said.

Gen. Lance W. Lord

Air Force Space Command is looking at near space to “really enhance the effects we can generate,” said Gen. Lance W. Lord, AFSPC commander.

The near-space realm is so promising, Lord said, that Space Command recently transferred $3 million in operations funds to the Space Warfare Center at Schriever AFB, Colo., to “help us develop what might be a residual theater capability with balloons,” to be used for communications.

The funds will be used partly to develop a glider that will attach to a near-space balloon. “Once the balloon does its mission,” Lord said, it will eject the glider, which will fly back to the launch site with the mission payload, allowing the payload to be reused. This concept will be tested in the spring.

A weather balloon-type vehicle, operating in the area between 65,000 and 80,000 feet, successfully demonstrated use of radio transmissions to various aircraft in January, Lord noted. Notionally, a series of balloons with communications equipment could be launched over Iraq, one every eight hours. “Because of the prevailing winds,” Lord said they would stream over the territory, providing unbroken connectivity. “And you’re not spending millions of dollars for a satellite. … It’s thousands of dollars to do a simple payload.”

Near space may also improve time-sensitive missions, such as close air support.

If an air controller on the ground needs to get targeting information to an A-10, the message today may have to go from the controller, to a battle management aircraft, to the combined air operations center (CAOC), and back through the system again to the A-10.

Targeting information could be relayed much faster with near-space systems overhead to provide a line-of-sight communications link. A faster link from the ground forces to the CAS pilot “could really help that A-10 driver out,” Lord said.

The New and Improved Style of US Strategic Command

US Strategic Command is abandoning the top-down, hierarchical organizational structure that worked during the Cold War face-off with the Soviet Union. Today’s enemies, said Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, STRATCOM commander, can only be fought with forces that are fast and flexible.

“In a world that has distributed operations, a collaborative environment, … if every decision moves from one organization to the bottom of the next one, all the way to the top” again, decisions may take so long they are no longer relevant. Today’s technology is probably being forced into “yesterday’s decision processes,” Cartwright said.

Consequently, he is breaking down the old, slow, vertical decision-making process and investing functional commanders with much of the authority for STRATCOM’s diverse missions.

For a variety of reasons, STRATCOM’s functional component commanders “have significantly more authority than I do,” Cartwright noted.

Using ISR as an example, the general said Vice Adm. Lowell E. Jacoby, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, has legal and constitutional authority in the intelligence world, and in relations with the Justice and State Departments, that Cartwright cannot have. Therefore, “the decision authorities have been pushed down to a lower level.”

Similarly, Cartwright relies on Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, National Security Agency director, to lead STRATCOM’s net warfare efforts. “That goes across the rest of our mission areas,” as well, he said.

Some of STRATCOM’s mission areas, such as nuclear weapons targeting and security, “need absolute, positive sure control,” Cartwright said. But for the most part, STRATCOM’s capabilities exist to provide global power to the regional combatant commanders.

STRATCOM’s staff at Offutt AFB, Neb., is spreading out to the functional commands. “My headquarters was the largest combatant command when we started,” Cartwright said. “Within the next six months, we’ll be the smallest. The components are going to do the work.”

These moves will put stress on STRATCOM’s culture, but the changes are needed to optimize US military effects.

“We’ve got to find a way to get … decision cycles flatter, quicker, more responsive, able to take advantage of all the elements of national power,” the general said. “We’re all type As. If I keep these people in my headquarters, they’ll do the component’s job for them. We’re going to make sure that that doesn’t happen.”

Gen. Paul V. Hester

The United States owns a valuable hedge against uncertainty in the vast Pacific region, said Gen. Paul V. Hester, commander of Pacific Air Forces.

“From Alaska through Hawaii out to Guam, at Andersen Air Force Base, we have a sovereign, strategic triangle that allows us to be in a defensive posture for our country and yet [have] deep penetration into the western Pacific for engagement, … any kind of action, all under an American flag,” he said.

The three points on this “strategic triangle” will likely be growth areas for the Air Force, Hester said. Guam has enormous unrealized potential. “We have taken Andersen into a kind of caretaker status” over the years, he noted, but PACAF has “great plans for Andersen out in the future.”

Hester showed a slide with a picture of 175 B-52 bombers sitting on the ramps at Andersen in 1973. Bombers have recently begun to return to the island, in small numbers, as part of the Air Force’s expeditionary rotations, and a new shelter allows even B-2 stealth bombers to deploy to the island.

“We look forward to Global Hawk being stationed permanently out there,” Hester said, along with fighters, bombers, and tankers on a rotational basis. “We expect to see the full breadth of inventory of the US Air Force” flowing through Guam on AEF rotations in the future, he said.

In the central Pacific, Hawaii hosts one of the Air Force’s combined air operations centers and is home to the headquarters of both US Pacific Command and PACAF.

In 2006, Hickam Air Force Base will receive eight C-17 Globemasters, the first to be permanently based outside the continental United States. And like Andersen, Hickam has much unused capacity and room for on-site expansion.

To the north, Hester said, “Alaska is a growth industry for us.” The massive Cope Thunder exercises provide “great joint and combined training.” The Alaskan ranges are benefitting from long-term investment and have threat emitters on the ground and enough airspace to “enable us to use all of our weapon systems when we go up there,” Hester said.

Other nations also like what Alaska has to offer. Many allies from Europe want to come to Cooperative Cope Thunder exercises. For those incapable of traversing the North Pole, Alaska is “a long way” for them to travel, he noted.

The Indian Air Force has come to Cope Thunder as well. PACAF is planning a return trip to the subcontinent, in a follow-on to last year’s surprising Cope India exercises. This November, USAF will take ground-attack F-16CJs from Misawa AB, Japan, to India for a large-force exercise. “We’re looking forward to that very much,” Hester said, as the events show “growing respect between our two nations.”

One final growth area will come via a new warfighting headquarters.

The headquarters will give PACAF “the ability to have a standing construct” with an air operations center that can watch daily operations and smoothly transition to wartime operations. It will also have a standing joint task force staff, including a trained air commander.

There are two CAOCs in the Pacific region—one at Hickam and one at Osan AB, South Korea. Hester said PACAF was not yet ready to announce where the warfighting headquarters will be located.

Lt. Gen. Ronald E. Keys

Tight budgets and a broad set of challenges are forcing the Air Force to “make some hard decisions,” said Lt. Gen. Ronald E. Keys, deputy chief of staff for air and space operations. This is a familiar quandary for the service—and one that has left the Air Force with no more “low-hanging fruit” to discard.

“People always ask me, ‘Well, what do you have too much of, and what do you need more of,’?” Keys said. “Let me give you a news flash. I’ve got too much of not enough. That’s my problem.”

It will not be easy for USAF to achieve the balanced, adaptable portfolio of capabilities it needs. “The choices are not between good and evil. The choices are between bad and worse,” he said. The Air Force is “going to have to start shooting thoroughbreds in order to save the rest of the herd. That is a very tough decision that has to be made.”

New capabilities cannot be incremental improvements. Keys said four percent better at something is not good enough—capabilities need to be 24 percent better. “That will frustrate some of you, as you come to me with something that’s good, and it works, but it doesn’t give me the leverage that I need.”

Keys said more thought must go into future capabilities. They must address modern warfighting needs and integrate smoothly into the systems used by the other services.

Air base defense, for example, is not the same as it was in the Cold War.

At Balad AB, Iraq, US troops are “taking between 30 and 50 rockets and [mortar] attacks per month. So I’m going to need some capability that’s not resident in the Air Force to protect the base while I generate airpower.”

Integration is also key. With the Air Force and Army working closely together, USAF communications gear must be able to talk to Army systems. Tactical air control parties are “out there in the forward edge of the battle,” Keys noted, “so don’t bring me stuff that’s not compatible, because I’m not going to be happy.”