Reinvesting in the Force

April 1, 1999
How does the Air Force plan to use its larger-than-planned Fiscal 2000 budget?

That was the key topic at the Air Force Association’s 1999 Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla. Titled “Global Engagement With Air Force Aerospace Power,” the event also shed light on the new Expeditionary Aerospace Force concept and ways USAF intends to structure and posture itself for the next decade and more.

Gen. Michael E. Ryan

After more than a decade of decline, Air Force funding may be in for a small increase-just enough to preserve critical modernization, deal with the erosion of readiness, and, maybe, stem the exodus of quality people, USAF Chief of Staff Gen. Michael E. Ryan told the symposium.

Since the Cold War ended a decade ago, he said, “We have downsized this Air Force of ours by 40 percent” in budget, personnel, and force structure. “That was the peace dividend, and we have paid it. And now it is time to reinvest in our Air Force.”

Ryan in recent months had told Congress and President Clinton that the Air Force needed a boost of $5 billion per year to meet its minimum program needs. For Fiscal 2000, USAF got half that amount.

However, that will at least slow the decline in readiness, Ryan said. He noted that, since 1996, “our readiness rates overall … [have] dropped 18 percent.” Since overseas units get priority, however, stateside units have been hit much harder. “If you look at Air Combat Command units in the top two categories of readiness, we have dropped over 50 percent” in the same period, he observed.

Because many airplanes have “much life [left] in them,” said Ryan, there will be an aggressive program of revitalization of some existing airframes, rather than replacement. This will improve the capability of the force, but its average age will still be high. Currently, it’s 20 years.

Ryan noted particularly a re-engining program for the C-5, the C-130X upgrade to standardize the Hercules fleet, and 14 more C-17s as previously unaffordable add-ons. The F-22 and Joint Strike Fighter will stay on track, and there will be 30 new Block 50 F-16s to improve defense-suppression capability.

With new weapons, avionics, and structural improvements, other types of aircraft such as bombers and tankers are “substantially good out to the year about 2040,” Ryan asserted.

The Expeditionary Aerospace Force concept is moving ahead, Ryan said. This new concept will spread the workload around more evenly and give the troops “some stability and predictability in their lives,” with more notice of deployments.

Ryan summed up the strategic goals of the remodeled Air Force as providing “freedom from attack, … freedom to maneuver, … and freedom to attack.” USAF must be able to protect the nation, the other services, and itself; it must be able to move forces and information rapidly “anywhere around the globe”; and it will bring force down on any enemy, Ryan explained.

The concept of Strategic Control is a “fairly good construct” for rationalizing the organization and funding of the armed forces, Ryan asserted. It notes how the US must not only win the three freedoms of warfare for itself but also “take them away from an adversary.”

Ryan believes “the days are gone” when the United States will “put great armies on great armies, [creating] a mashing machine that produces carnage.” Aerospace power can “prevent the need to have great clashes of armies that produce such casualties,” Ryan emphasized.

“You may not have to use every arm of the [military] … if you have the threat to use it,” he explained.

Improved readiness funding, a more manageable optempo situation, and top-level attention to personnel issues such as pay and retirement give Ryan cautious optimism that the premature departure of experienced people can now be stemmed. New figures show pilot “take rates” on re-enlistment bonuses at “about 45 percent, up from about 27 percent” the previous quarter.

Ryan said he is “not predicting anything” about retention. However, Ryan said he thinks “there is a realization out there in our Air Force that the leadership is trying very hard … to take care of the deficiencies we have with respect to readiness today.”

Ryan said he senses “a feeling of optimism out there … that there is a great ray of hope that we can put this Air Force on a vector into the future that makes it fully ready and fully capable.”

F. Whitten Peters

F. Whitten Peters, acting Secretary of the Air Force, echoed Ryan’s view. He asserted that the Air Force’s “glass is more than half full, not half empty.”

The budget now before Congress, he said, represents “real gains for our people, for readiness, and for modernization. We did not get all we wanted, and we did not get all we needed, but we got a fair share of what was available within the balanced budget caps.”

Indeed, if there is to be any more money for defense, “there will have to be an adjustment of the balanced budget agreement presently in place,” Peters noted.

Peters said that, in order of priority, the money will go to “people first, then readiness, then modernization.” Should any more money be available, it would go to infrastructure, he said.

“We had to take risks somewhere and we took that risk in infrastructure support,” Peters acknowledged. Base operating support got short-changed and will soon “become a very critical problem,” he said. “We will replace real property at the rate of once every 300 years, against an industry standard of … once every 50 years.”

Peters said that the refashioning of the Air Force in the EAF mold is necessary because, in his view, “the demands of peace are, in many ways, more stressing” than the requirements of fighting two Major Theater Wars.

The EAF is “an extraordinarily good plan,” he asserted, though he added it won’t solve all Air Force optempo problems because “it does not cover our critical low density, high demand assets like the AWACS and U-2 nor our strategic lift assets.” These systems, along with Joint STARS and “bandwidth for global communications” are top priorities of theater commanders in chief, he reported.

USAF is investigating moving the Joint STARS moving target indicator mission to space to obtain “full-time, real-time global surveillance,” Peters noted. Even if the Air Force got its full requirement for 19 Joint STARS–only 14 are now funded-it still could not keep up with demands from theater CINCs. The optempo imposed on Joint STARS crews and their families “would be merciless and unsustainable,” he added.

Peters, in a thumbnail sketch of the Fiscal 2000 budget, contended USAF will strive to avoid what Pentagon acquisition chief Jacques S. Gansler called “a death spiral in modernization,” as the cost of operating older systems siphons away funds needed to modernize systems to avoid those very same rising costs.

More than $2.5 billion has been earmarked for spares and repairs, new engines, and engine modules, as well as 100 percent funding of spares per flying hour. Peters said the Air Force fears, because spares are not as “interesting as whole airplanes or whole rockets, that we may lose this funding on Capitol Hill,” but it is crucial.

“We estimate that age-related factors alone have increased spare parts costs by $750 million in 1998 and 1999 combined,” he said. Other long-neglected items getting healthier this year will be combat ranges and “mundane” things like tech orders, Peters said.

Because of Congressional cuts in the last budget, the Airborne Laser was restructured in the Fiscal 2000 budget. This is “truly a heartbreaker,” Peters said, because the ABL was “on schedule, on budget, and meeting or exceeding all performance requirements.” The restructuring delays initial operational capability by a year.

The Space-Based Laser Readiness Demonstrator, targeted for 2006-08, was deemed to be not much of an advance over current technology and not providing a “path to a future system.” It has been supplanted by a 2010-12 “flight experiment” which will be closer to the final product, Peters said.

He said the 30 new F-16s will have the HARM targeting system to serve with the EAF, which otherwise would not have had enough capability in defense suppression to go around.

Peters said, “Fielding of these aircraft will also allow us to modernize the Air Guard F-16 fleet, while keeping 15 primary aircraft in each Guard F-16 squadron.” At the same time, it fills in gaps in the F-16 attrition reserve, making the plan a “win­win­win buy,” he added.

The upgrade of the C-5 will lift the departure reliability of the airplane from 60 percent to more than 75 percent, which will provide an enormous boost to strategic lift, Peters noted.

“We now have in our inventory more than 75 percent of all aircraft that we will use for the next 25 to 40 years,” he added. “This includes all of our strategic lifters, all of our tankers, and all of our bombers. Therefore, aging aircraft will continue to be a significant planning, technical, and budget challenge. The same can be said for our strategic missile forces, which we are upgrading to last well into the next century.”

Signs of a turnaround in pilot retention are welcome, but they are coming too late for the Air Force to avoid serious problems. By 2000, said Peters, there won’t be “enough pilots to simultaneously man our staffs at minimal required levels and fill our cockpits at required levels,” or in pilot training squadrons to “produce 1,100 experienced pilots a year,” which is the requirement.

A worldwide USAF conference will be held this spring “to try to sort out” how to fix the problem, he added, but “even in the best case, it is now clear we will be operating with fewer pilots and less experience for much of the next decade.”

Gen. Michael J. Dugan, USAF (Ret.)

The “golden age” of air- and space power has not arrived yet, but to bring it about, the Air Force must reorient its culture toward conceptual thinking and away from hardware alone, according to retired Gen. Michael J. Dugan, a former USAF Chief of Staff.

Dugan said aerospace is, in many ways, still in its infancy and was nurtured by early leaders who were willing to challenge the status quo and think as far as “50 years into the future.” The danger for the established Air Force, he said, is that its culture is too focused on individual systems.

He warned against USAF members thinking of themselves first as “heavy equipment operators, … very good at what they do, very good at the here and now,” but with little sense of connection to the larger Air Force, with a mission to bring about the future.

“One of the significant changes during the 1990s has been the apparent decline in Air Force institutional structure for thinking about the future of air- and space power, for thinking about vital aerospace contributions to the nation as a whole,” Dugan asserted.

“The heavy equipment operator syndrome can and must be converted into a spirit of service,” Dugan urged, citing the inclination of individuals in other services to focus on service to country rather than a specialty.

“Equipment loyalty is short term and easier to lose focus on when the demands of service life become difficult,” Dugan asserted. “I do believe that there is a better and longer, more vibrant and more persistent loyalty to the organization, to the institution, to the nation, when one builds on a different set of values-values of service.”

The Air Force should build on “the notion of ‘all warriors are created equal,’ ” which is a “wonderful warfighting concept. It makes everybody play on the team,” he added.

Dugan also urged a reversal of the habit of treating industry with suspicion, a habit that became fashionable when, in the last 20 years, each Administration has sought to be “holier than the previous one” on ethical behavior of government employees.

The Air Force “desperately need[s] the knowledge, the experience, the expertise, the historical perspective that can only come from industry. … A willingness to engage industry representatives in serious conversation and collaborative thinking about the future has, I believe, diminished rather than grown, and the United States is in danger of losing its grip on one of its principal lifelines,” he asserted. “Industry, in many cases, is where the long-range thinkers have roosted,” and USAF must “exploit the available intellectual resources wherever they find them.”

“Industry,” Dugan noted, “is the source of many of the innovations that heavy equipment operators love to exploit.”

Dugan said the Air Force has not done an adequate job of “continuously telling our story in public,” so that Americans recognize the value of the Air Force and give it the support it needs. He advocated conducting “the debates about priorities among important national needs”-particularly “the contributions of airpower in comparison with other elements of national security”-in public.

“They are certainly not best argued in the Pentagon,” where USAF will always be outvoted, he said.

That support will be vital to being ready for whatever conflict next emerges, Dugan warned.

When it does, Dugan warned, “The American people are going to expect the United States Air Force to be every bit as good and successful as it was in the [Gulf War], and they will be seriously disappointed if we can’t deliver that.”

Gen. Richard E. Hawley

The commander of Air Combat Command, Gen. Richard E. Hawley, was among the first to loudly sound the alarm about declining readiness and shortchanged modernization over the last few years. However, he now feels that the “benign neglect that was causing me such concern … has been transformed into what I think is an emerging bipartisan support for better custody” of the military services.

He is also enthusiastic about the many new capabilities hitting the ramp which are already or soon will vastly increase the fighting power of USAF.

The F-22’s flight test program is proceeding well, Hawley asserted. The flight test aircraft have accumulated more than 200 flight hours, maneuvered to 6g’s and 26 degrees angle of attack, achieved an altitude of 50,000 feet, and hit speeds up to Mach 1.4.

“It is living up to its promise, both in performance and in the key areas of maintainability and reliability,” Hawley said. That will come in handy when it becomes operational, when the F-22 will be able to deploy “with half the airlift of a comparable F-15 squadron today, [and] one that we will sustain with one-third fewer people.” He added, “When you can save airlift, that means more combat power for the CINCs.” Given the proliferation of new surface-to-air missiles “with a 100-mile reach,” the F-22 has become more, not less, important, he said, given the absolute necessity of controlling “the third dimension.”

With new upgrades to radar, avionics, and weapons, the B-1B and B-52 fleets will have “10 times the lethality of the bomber force that migrated from SAC to ACC in 1992,” Hawley asserted.

Within the last year, the B-2 has shown that it can deploy and operate from a forward base and still score “shacks” on all its bomb runs. All of the B-2s now deployed at Whiteman AFB, Mo., are of the full-up Block 30 version, and the full complement of 21 airplanes should be on the flight line by 2000.

More than 1,000 Sensor Fuzed Weapons have been delivered to inventory, and 1,000 Joint Direct Attack Munitions will be on hand by the end of this year.

“This is no longer pie-in-the-sky stuff,” Hawley noted. “This is no longer programs and plans [or] … line items in the budget,” he said. “This is real capability: all-weather day/night, near-precision attack capability anyplace in the world, anytime, against anybody who deserves to get ‘schwacked.’ “

Hawley went on to tick off other new capabilities, like new Block 30/35 AWACS, with the Link-16 system and integrated GPS that improves “by a factor of 200” the accuracy of targets it feeds to the common operational picture.

He noted that the sixth Predator system has been delivered, now with an improved voice link to civilian air traffic control “so it can begin to operate in that FAA environment, which has been such a challenge for us.” Predator is now operating in Southwest Asia in support of Central Command, as well as in Bosnia, and in the next few years, the inventory will build up to where “we can sustain three systems forward deployed at all times.”

Global Hawk has racked up 11 flights, up to 61,000 feet and 350 knots, with a 9.5-hour sortie under its belt, all adding up to “great promise,” Hawley said.

He is proud of the EAF concept and pointed out that a regional CINC will get a force that has been “tailored for his mission and specifically trained and prepared to do his work,” rather than one simply rounded up and sent “without any focused, tailored preparation.”

Overall, Hawley said he’s changed his outlook of “gloom and doom” and is now “really optimistic” that things are falling into place “that can make our problems go away.” Mission capable rates haven’t gone back up, “but they did level off” since 1998. It is “a start,” Hawley said.

Retention has continued to fall, Hawley acknowledged, but “the just-released Presidential budget is a huge step in the right direction.” He believes the attention paid to fixing retirement, boosting pay, and putting adequate spares in the bins “sends exactly the right message” to the troops-that “the nation considers that what they do is important.”

Much of the turnaround depends on inflation staying low, he noted.

“We need to examine the assumptions very carefully, and should they prove false, we must be prepared to provide more direct sources of funding for these critical needs,” he said.

Gen. Richard B. Myers

To spin off a new, separate Space Force or to hand over space operations to another service or some new joint organization would require forgetting many of the lessons of the last decade, as well as ignoring the Air Force’s good stewardship of space assets, Gen. Richard B. Myers, head of both US and Air Force Space Commands, asserted.

“We learned our lesson of tactical vs. strategic airpower, and of fighters vs. bombers,” as irrelevant comparisons, Myers said. “It is not about the medium or the platform but … the capability that we bring to the fight, the effects that we create on the battlefield,” he explained.

Myers said he believes the growing appreciation of the importance of space to “our standard of living and for our national survival” has created a “sense of urgency, a certain natural impatience with the pace of progress.” The Air Force, however, is moving at a pace he considers “about right” in space, given the resources available.

“We are the greatest ‘spacefaring’ nation in the world. So it is not like we have not done our job very well. We have done our job damn well,” he insisted. “It is the resource, technology, and policy issue. Well before we can put weapons in space, somebody has to say at the political level that is OK. And so far, they have not said that.”

Severing the Air Force from space operations would simply create more layers of bureaucracy, more “stovepiping,” and less efficient use of the resources available for the missions space assets help conduct, he argued.

“I submit that it’s time that we put the stewardship issue behind us and focus on the real enemies–funding, technology, and, I would add today, policies–that hold space power back,” Myers asserted. “It is simply time to get on with it.”

Efforts continue to integrate space capabilities into all aspects of warfighting, he said. Last year’s EFX ’98 experiment showed that USAF can “deploy more teeth to the fight by leaving more tail at home,” using satellite communication to “reach back” for needed data and expertise.

When military and commercial space operators are able to discuss both “warfare and market share” with regard to the same systems, “those in uniform need to take a hard look” at the system and see if it still “fits into a military core competency,” he said, arguing that divestitures can help bring in savings needed for space investment.

Myers thinks, for example, that launch operations are a candidate for substantial divestiture, considering that commercial launches are now outpacing military launches and that the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle system will be a contract for launch services, not systems.

He also said there must be more money for space “at a national level. It is more than we can do in the Air Force” alone. He noted, for example, that GPS is, in effect, “a global utility that the Air Force is funding.”

Myers noted that the threat to US space systems is hard to define but that “Indonesia, Turkey and Iran” have been known to jam satellites and that “countries are working on directed energy threats to satellites.” So far, he has not been able to generate much enthusiasm among commercial operators to harden their satellites against jamming or blinding.

He added that he is “pushing” for more intelligence community emphasis on assessing the space threat.

Gen. John P. Jumper

NATO is in an identity struggle, striving to define its post­Cold War mission, even as it integrates new members with different levels of technology, US Air Forces in Europe Commander Gen. John P. Jumper told the symposium.

“The Alliance … stands in the crossroads of a new era,” he said. Originally based on Article 5 guarantees-that an attack on one is an attack on all-the Alliance “is now being challenged with new dynamics-dynamics that talk as much about interests as borders.”

The struggle has brought about conflicts of doctrine, which have seen the NATO forces restructured into “joint subregional commands.” Jumper noted that this structure tends to “break up airpower into small penny packets and distribute it around to individual command and control.” That’s a problem because under the new structure, “within the major headquarters of NATO … there will be no senior airmen.” Jumper, at what he called the “third level of command,” is the top airman in NATO’s chain of command.

“In the politics of NATO, we will have to continue to struggle with compromises and answers that are most difficult for airmen,” said Jumper. “That’s what I see my job to be over the coming year.”

Another area of difficulty is “within the Joint Task Force structure,” of US forces, Jumper said. There are so many JTFs with “convoluted numbers and makeups” that it’s hard to find enough people to staff them all, particularly given the headquarters drawdowns.

“I think if there’s something we can concentrate on as a joint team partnering with other services, it is to deal with that problem,” he added.

Things are still being learned from mounting expeditionary forces, he noted. Initial runs of supplies and support need to be smaller, “get you started” types. There needs to be more work done on “understanding the difference between deployment lift and sustainment lift.”

More detailed information also needs to be collected and maintained about available airfields and the communications, electrical power, and other facilities that will be available at a deployment site.

He’s pleased that the new philosophy of “all warriors are created equal” has begun to erase the focus on the platform and brought into focus the mission. Space operators, intelligence officers, and airmen coming together for a recent Kosovo operations planning session all wore Air Force Weapons School patches, he noted.

“When you put them out there, they don’t care where the platform resides-in the air or above the air. … They talk about effects, … and they don’t talk about the relative importance of one platform over another, and we can all take a lesson from that.”

Jumper cautioned that in the EAF structure–which configures the Air Force for the peacetime deployments and contingencies–focus must not be lost on “the major war plans.”

Should a major war erupt, “EAF, AEF, it’s all off. We flow [the wartime force] as it’s written,” Jumper insisted. “We cannot give up our commitment to the major war plans … [or] to the CINCs who depend on that airpower to be there, and be there quickly.”

Maj. Gen. Donald G. Cook

The Air Force is being reshaped to fulfill its Global Engagement Operations strategy and to better respond to the realities of modern contingencies through its Expeditionary Aerospace Forces, EAF Implementation Director Maj. Gen. Donald G. Cook explained.

“We have moved from a Cold War Air Force, focused on containing the threat with a large forward presence, to a smaller, capabilities-based Air Force, focused on shaping and responding around the world,” Cook explained.

There is plenty of reason to reorganize, he noted. In 1998, there were “over 60 deployments and 23,000 sorties” flown in Operation Southern Watch, over Iraq. At the same time, “there were 30 deployments and over 2,200 sorties in Bosnia.” The operating tempo was stressing the force too much, Cook said.

The new strategy will make USAF more responsive to the contingencies-both ongoing and unexpected-that appear to be inevitable.

The Air Force will be organized into 10 EAFs, Cook explained. Of these, two will be on call, ready to go to a specific theater on short notice. Their composition, training, and equipage will be tailored to the unique needs of the CINC they are to support, and during the period when they are on call, they will be at maximum readiness for their expected mission.

They will not own certain kinds of systems–like Joint STARS and AWACS–because these are in high demand but short supply. Such capabilities will swing to where they are needed, and alternatives for them will be used whenever possible.

The on-call EAFs will be in that status for 90 days, after which they will revert to a downtime status. After that, they will re-enter a 10-month workup period, in which they “will train, equip, and rest for future operations activities necessary to keep the force ready and strong.”

Cook cautioned that this workup period should not be “misconstrued as tiered readiness. It is not.”

Rather, “all our combat forces remain committed to the theater operational plans within 30 days,” Cook noted. The two on-call EAFs can be considered as tagged to whatever Smaller-Scale Contingency may come up, Cook said, while the rest of the force is available to handle the two Major Theater War requirement.

While the EAF concept is being implemented, the two interim EAF units will be the 366th Wing at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, and the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C. They will serve as our on-call wings for the near future, Cook explained.

Rep. Cliff Stearns and the Air Force Caucus

To highlight the special needs of the Air Force, as well as help overcome dwindling military experience in a Congress with fewer and fewer veterans in its ranks, a bipartisan Congressional Air Force Caucus is being formed, according to Rep. Cliff Stearns, a Florida Republican.

“Our mission is … to ensure that the Air Force remains strong and vibrant and to get the message out” about the need for adequate pay and benefits and spares and modernization funding, said Stearns, a former USAF officer. He said the caucus already has 17 members and will work on “expanding air mobility, upgrading our [force of] conventional bombers, … continuing with fighter modernization, and developing new aerospace capabilities,” including a missile defense system.

Stearns said the caucus will focus on making pay and benefits more competitive with those in the private sector and will move to include military service members in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

He noted that the caucus will also seek to “educate our … peers in Congress” about USAF’s “integral role” in defending the nation. Under 30 percent of House members and less than 47 percent of Senate members have any military experience, he noted, down from 40 percent and 61 percent, respectively, five years ago.

The group will also urge the executive branch not to make any more open-ended military commitments to hot spots around the world, because the caucus believes such commitments sap the fiscal strength of the services.

“We need to … establish the objective, go in, [achieve] the objective, and leave, but not continue to leave our troops there for long periods of time,” he asserted.

Stearns also announced the creation of the Military Retirement Health Care Task Force, which will investigate “all the promises and representation made to members of the armed services” by recruiters about lifetime health care for 20-year veterans and their families.

“We’re going to submit a report to Congress with remedies to fulfill these promises made by these recruiters, so, in the end, all the promises made will be promises kept,” he emphasized.