Air Force leaders came together in February at the AFA’s annual Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla., to forecast a powerful future for the service but only if USAF is permitted now to make the investments–and divestitures–necessary to remain effective. As Air Combat Command chief Gen. Richard E. Hawley said, the Air Force must be “allowed to be efficient.”
Acting Secretary Peters
The Air Force must close bases to free up money for badly needed modernization and could do so even if Congress rejects the Pentagon request to permit two more rounds of the Base Realignment and Closure process, acting Secretary of the Air Force F. Whitten Peters said.
“Because we are paying for excess infrastructure, we are skimping on things our troops need today,” Peters said. “We are skimping on readiness and … modernization, and this has got to be reversed.”
Using existing administrative measures, “I can close bases today,” Peters said at a symposium press conference. Some in Congress undoubtedly would fight back; he noted that the F-22 program had been taken “hostage” several times in the last year by congressional interests angry about recent depot decisions–but he asserted that “you cannot ask people to work the hours they work, fixing airplanes without the parts they need, for the pay they receive, indefinitely. Eventually, the political pain is worth it.”
The situation is not yet a crisis, he said, and the Air Force can afford to wait a couple years yet before resorting to acting alone on the base issue. USAF leadership is reluctant to close bases unilaterally because the BRAC process tends to cushion the blow to local communities with economic and transitional assistance.
Peters pressed for the closures, however, because they represent the only way to fund the programs the Air Force needs to remain technologically superior to any potential enemy. The savings from closures “continue year after year,” Peters noted, adding that they are “an incredibly important part of the modernization funding” in USAF’s future spending plan.
He pointed out that the $5.6 billion the Air Force reaps from having shuttered many facilities in the early 1990s “equates to a three-squadron wing of F-22s. It also equates to the entire effort to develop, build, buy, test, and field seven [Airborne Laser] aircraft. This is not a small amount of money.”
The current USAF budget request is “adequate but barely so,” Peters said. While “investment” accounts would grow by 15 percent, it comes at the price of “a 22-year low” in military construction, which covers new housing, runway renewal, and building maintenance, among other things.
“We are also … on the cusp of a serious readiness problem,” he asserted. Readiness indicators “are dropping,” and he noted a 6.8 percent fall in aircraft mission capable rates since the 1991 Gulf War. Engine maintenance problems are mounting as the power plants age and parts are getting pricier. The average age of USAF aircraft “is approaching 20 years, and in four years, 75 percent of our fleet will be over 20 years old,” he said. Meanwhile, despite boosting bonuses, pilot retention continues to slide.
“Disruption,” and not just money, is the culprit behind some of the problems, he noted. While base closures save money, they also create turmoil as units and equipment move, hurting productivity.
The numbers are not all bleak, though, and Peters observed that the budget request includes a 3.1 percent pay raise, plans to build or renovate 3,500 housing units, 22 new or upgraded child care centers, and the abolition of gang latrines for airmen. USAF leadership has recognized that quality of life “must be a priority” in funding.
Readiness accounts also got a shot in the arm, with engine upgrades and maintainability improvements targeted. As the engine workforce gets settled, productivity should improve, Peters said.
He and Gen. Michael E. Ryan, USAF Chief of Staff, have launched an effort called “Do-Able Space,” a program to identify the key technologies that will be the foundations of a 21st century space force.
In partnership with NASA, the National Reconnaissance Office, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, USAF will focus on near-term items that will fit in a tight budget. One such item is a space-based global target tracking system-roughly comparable to the JSTARS capability-to be in place by 2004.
Chief: General Ryan
The Air Force is not properly distributed for the new era of expeditionary missions, which are increasingly its main role in national defense, and must “regroup” to be more effective, Gen. Michael E. Ryan observed.
“Our Cold War concept, as we transition to the two regional war scenario, has ill prepared us” for USAF’s new “expeditionary role, which is demanded in these lesser contingencies,” Ryan said. Most of the problem, he said, is in being spread too thin at home.
The regular Air Force is down to 12 tactical fighter wings, yet “we are spread over twice that number of bases,” Ryan noted. “That leaves us with operational units that lack the depth and breadth for the kind of deployments” that the Total Force is now undertaking, he said.
Since the Cold War ended, USAF has had to beddown at three European sites and seven other countries to maintain commitments to Southwest Asia operations, not to mention additional forces sent to Korea and Latin America.
“All of these come from a support base we have never sized for these expeditionary contingencies,” Ryan said.
“We have been taking it quite literally out of hide. Our people have had to manage continued operations shorthanded at home bases while supporting deployed operations. Home bases must still be guarded, remaining aircraft maintained and flown. The families still need medical attention and the remaining forces must still train. In short, we’ve been sucking it up for about eight years, and that must change.”
Seconding Peters’ call for more rounds of BRAC, Ryan said the Air Force must “regroup” into fewer home bases. Base closure, he said, is not just about saving money for modernization; rather, “it is an operational necessity.”
Ryan said the entire Air Force must develop the “mind-set to be expeditionary,” with greater-than-ever attention paid to being “light, lean, lethal, … so we can move rapidly and efficiently to where we are required, … not where we live but where we are needed.”
The Air Force already has made changes in doctrine and organization in order to better match the needs of US regional commanders in chief, Ryan said, and this will make USAF more responsive to expeditionary demands. “Being an expeditionary aerospace force is what our nation needs our Air Force to do, and over the last eight years, we’ve adjusted to meeting that need within the margins that we can control.”
ACC: General Hawley
The situation in the Air Force regarding morale, pilot and ground crew retention, spare parts, and operating tempo is “very serious,” Air Combat Command chief Gen. Richard E. Hawley warned. While he allowed that USAF of 1998 is “not a hollow force,” he did assert that the service is “back on a declining slope in readiness” and that, like the crew of the Titanic trying to steer clear of the iceberg, it may be hard to turn away from trouble in time, even applying “full rudder.”
Giving a rundown of leading readiness indicators, Hawley used phrases like “alarming trends,” “not very healthy,” and “not a pretty picture.”
The Air Force will lose more pilots in the first quarter of 1998, for example, than it will produce through pilot training during the whole year. Only one in five aircraft armament personnel is re-upping at the end of their initial enlistment period. Mission capable rates are going down as aircraft age, and spare parts are running low.
“When you start a trend like some of those we are looking at today, when you see that slippery slope developing, you can’t turn it around quickly,” Hawley asserted.
He estimates that “we need another $4 [billion] or $5 billion a year to fix the major shortfalls that plague our Air Force.” If the other services are similarly strapped-and Hawley bemoaned the fact that the services have been reduced to taking “potshots at one another’s core programs” to gain a larger share for their own-the total bill comes to between $10 billion and $20 billion for all of DoD.
Either the Pentagon budget will have to be increased, or “we can be allowed to be efficient,” Hawley said. Congress should permit the base closures so badly needed, as well as put an end to what he termed “industrial and civic welfare programs funded through the defense budget.”
As a taxpayer, Hawley said, “I would prefer that we be allowed to be efficient.”
Even if an immediate infusion of money were applied to the problems, the negative trends would still require “a year or two” to be reversed, he added.
Hawley railed against the slew of studies and analyses suggesting that the US military must be virtually rebuilt to face emerging, but not very clearly defined, threats. He criticized the “well-meaning” people who produce reports suggesting there will never be anymore of the conventional conflicts “that have been so common in this century.”
These analysts-he alluded particularly to the National Defense Panel, which produced its analysis of defense requirements late last year-all seem “prepared to trade in the programs that are intended to preserve this nation’s ability to wage large-scale conventional conflict” on the assumption that future enemies will not bother to challenge the US in traditional military ways. Abandoning that awesome power, he argued, could “easily tempt a future tyrant to challenge us at a level where the costs are high, indeed.”
America’s conventional power deters conventional war in the same way that nuclear weapons have deterred nuclear war, Hawley argued, and neither should be given up “for some yet-to-be-defined capability” to counter the anticipated lesser threat, from terrorism to cyberwar.
Instead, he urged “a course that honors the advice given to wing walkers of old: Never let go of that last wire before you have a firm grip on the new.”
Hawley advocated a “balanced set of capabilities on land, sea, and in aerospace”–a balance that preserves US conventional dominance.
Arguing that the US military is not neglecting investment in technologies and weapons that will counter the cyber, ballistic missile, and terror attacks of the future, Hawley asserted that a prudent course of spending is already under way. The investment in countermeasures against asymmetrical threats is “healthy” and shouldn’t be increased at the expense of readiness and modernization accounts.
A balanced military will have the ability to “evolve gracefully to deal with those asymmetric but lesser threats … that are sure to arrive.”
USAFE: General Jumper
Making the Air Force truly an expeditionary force will require more than just a “light and lethal” doctrine; it will mean breeding “a new generation of air and space warriors,” according to Gen. John P. Jumper, USAFE commander.
He wants a “back to basics” mind-set where airmen deploy and “live under the wing, … where you fly in, you set up the tent city, you live off [Meals Ready to Eat] for a week or so before sustainment airlift starts,” Jumper said.
“In this culture you have to get back to some basic institutional values: Every airman a warrior, every airman a sensor,” Jumper explained. In his vision, every blue-suiter “will be qualified with a weapon. We will be able to keep and maintain mobility bags, … understand force protection right down to the task level, where we have in our wallets the card that has the specific things that are expected of each of us in peace and in a crisis.”
The unrelenting pace of operations means that the expeditionary force members must be deeply motivated, and the mission-and its importance- “must be kept … squarely in front of the people we need to do the job.”
Jumper said USAF leaders must explain that “just by being there,” deployed Air Force personnel are “probably saving a thousand lives a week” in Bosnia or preventing Iraq from developing weapons of mass destruction through operations in Southwest Asia.
Airmen must also be given a sense of tradition and teamwork, Jumper said, so that each knows “the basics of air and space planning and employment” and understands his place in accomplishing the mission.
Jumper asserted that “our young people are yearning for this leadership. They want this leadership. … It takes their minds off how many body piercings they have and body tattoos and makes them want to be part of my team and not the ‘hole-in-the-lip’ team.” Having the fortitude to put up with hardship deployments will be essential to making the expeditionary Air Force a reality, Jumper insisted.
“It is an important mission,” he said. “If we keep it in front of their faces, it will be important to them. And if it is important to them, there is no alternative in the world that can offer them the sense of mission, sense of accomplishment, sense of fulfillment that they will achieve by serving their nation in that capacity.”
PACAF: General Myers
Economic turmoil in the Asia-Pacific region has complicated American military relations with affected countries, PACAF Commander Gen. Richard B. Myers said.
Myers argued that US forward presence has been a major factor in ensuring stability and laying the groundwork for prosperity in the Pacific Rim, such that even China has admitted that “they rely on our presence for security and stability and for economies to flourish.”
Now that the region is in financial crisis, “our stabilizing presence allows Asia-Pacific countries to focus on the business of political and social restructuring and to support economic development,” Myers said. “Our presence has probably never been needed more than right now.”
The economic downturn has translated into drastic cuts in Pacific nation military budgets, leading to cancellation of orders for US weapons and withdrawal from planned bilateral and multilateral exercises, Myers noted.
Coupled with operating budget cuts, the arms sales cancellation hurt “the interoperability of our forces,” Myers asserted. It also raises questions about the ability of countries like Japan and Korea to pay host nation support bills.
Nevertheless, “now is not the time to abandon our partners over there,” Myers said. “We are looking for innovative ways to stay engaged in the region without causing undo hardships on our partners.” Some of these involve teleconferencing and computer simulations. Myers will take any useful suggestions that will allow the US to keep its military-to-military relationships with Asia-Pacific countries warm and functional until the economic crisis passes.
Disengagement from the region “could lead to an escalation of the crisis beyond the current economic turmoil,” he cautioned. “Our goal is to prevent any military crisis.”
Myers also noted that while the notion of the halt phase “and particularly airpower’s contribution to it are debated inside the Washington beltway, there is no debate in Korea. Warning times there are very short, so a quick and effective response is absolutely vital.
“Fast-responding airpower is the force immediately available to halt the invading forces,” Myers said.
USSTRATCOM: General Habiger
Despite the deterioration of its conventional forces, Russia continues to upgrade and enhance its strategic nuclear weapons, Gen. Eugene E. Habiger, US Strategic Command commander in chief, reported.
“The Russians … are continuing to put lots of resources into the modernization of their strategic forces,” Habiger said. He noted that the new Russian SS-27 ICBM was declared operational late last year. In addition, a new class of Russian ballistic missile submarine and a new sea-launched ballistic missile for it are expected to be in service in 2005, and the Russians are “investing quite a bit of money in a new air launched cruise missile” for their bomber force.
Meanwhile, the US has no plans for any significant investments in new strategic weapons, though Habiger said there should be a “funding wedge” beginning in 2008-10 to replace the Minuteman III. In the interim, the Minuteman force will get new motors and an upgraded guidance package which will keep them “good until about 2020 or so,” Habiger noted.The Navy has doubled the service life of its Trident ballistic missile subs to 40 years, and Habiger said the B-52 force will last well into the 2030s with vigilant maintenance. Because of the shift to the cruise missile mission, the B-52 is not badly stressed and has a lot of structural life remaining, he said.
The B-52’s “age” of about 14,500 flight hours compares very favorably with the Boeing 757 and 767, which, though considered “pretty new airplanes,” average 26,000 and 20,000 hours, respectively, he pointed out.
Still, Habiger asserted that the lack of any new developments in strategic forces means “we have put our industrial base at risk, and we must ensure that the expertise and the capacity to sustain these systems and to develop follow-on systems at the appropriate time is not lost.”
He also cautioned against the emergence of China as a nuclear threat, for though China is “not an enemy … not a foe,” it does have the fourth largest economy in the world and a quarter of the world’s population.
“They are modernizing their strategic forces, and they have the potential to become a global peer competitor in the next 10 to 15 years,” Habiger said.
He said he sees no imminent threat from Russia and is heartened by the openness of Russia to allow US scrutiny of some of its most sensitive nuclear facilities. He also expects that the Russian Duma will ratify the START II treaty and will “immediately want to go to START III,” which would reduce the two sides to 2,000-2,500 warheads. Such would probably require “some decrement in at least two legs” of the Nuclear Triad, particularly “our ICBM force,” he said.
Habiger also predicted Russia would seek a further reduction-a START IV–but that it would take a long time to negotiate, since it would reduce the US and Russia to the nuclear levels maintained by France, China, and the UK, and they would likely be included.
Habiger observed that those now seeking the abolition of nuclear weapons forget that US national policy calls for just that. Under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the US agrees to the goal of “total elimination” of nuclear weapons but only “given the proper preconditions.” Habiger said he personally feels it will be “difficult, if not impossible, to get that genie back in the box.” But the “glide path” of reductions the US is now following with Russia is “appropriate” and “makes the world safer,” he asserted.
USTRANSCOM and AMC: General Kross
The shift to an expeditionary nature will put new pressures on the Air Force’s mobility fleet, and Gen. Walter Kross, USTRANSCOM CINC and Air Mobility Command commander, argued for the “nuts and bolts” resources to make airlift work in the coming decades.
Kross made his case for “at least another squadron” of C-17s to flesh out the strategic airlift fleet. These would be “over and above the currently planned 120 in order to handle our special operations requirements, which are simultaneous with our major theater war requirements.” The additional aircraft would have to be “factored in sometime in the future.”
He also pitched for his plan to re-engine and upgrade the C-5 fleet in order to obtain the kind of reliability experienced with the KC-10 fleet. USAF should not “walk away from” an aircraft with 80 percent of its structural life left, Kross said.
Either way, Kross insisted that AMC needs 260 big airlifters to do the job. “Our analysis and our experience show us that if we have fewer than 260 wide-body T-tails, we lose the flexibility to do our jobs as well as the capacity to do [them] on time.”
Kross also introduced a plan that would standardize the C-130 fleet–now at five types and, with introduction of the J model, six–into two versions: the C-130J and a yet-to-be-defined C-130X. The X model would be a standard configuration of upgraded E and H versions with new systems to make them more efficient.
“Upgrades would target the electrical system, avionics, engines, and in some cases structural repairs,” carried out over a period of 12 years. The program would pay for itself when measured against the need to stay current with international avionics standards and the reduced maintenance time and costs that would follow.
“The trick is how and when,” Kross said.
He also said a program is in the works to help retain pilots coming up on retirement in a “career transition program, linking our mobility flying career with a follow-on commercial aviation career.” Definitive plans are “very close on this one,” Kross promised.
AMC is also pushing for more generous enlisted flight crew compensation, with the idea to shift it onto a career enlisted flight incentive pay system “that would look very much like the officer system.” The command has “pushed to double [enlisted] hazardous duty incentive pay.”
Kross also hailed quick action and top-level support for the Global Air Traffic Management upgrade, which will make the airlift and tanker fleet compliant with new international avionics regulations. Without GATM, airlift would be restricted to certain altitudes and corridors, greatly complicating the flow of cargo.