Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper started his new job the week before the Sept. 11 attacks. Ever since, he has been working to balance the immediate needs of fighting a global war on terrorism with the long-term investments required to keep the Air Force at the forefront of military power. On May 2, he met with the Defense Writers Group in Washington, D.C. Following are excerpts:
Gulf War II
Though the Air Force is about 40 percent smaller than it was in 1991, it is a far more
capable force now and would make a more effective showing if the US had to fight Iraq a second time, even without the basing support of Saudi Arabia, Jumper said.
“The capability that we have has … advanced greatly since 1990-91. We saw our airplanes come out of [RAF] Fairford in England and [RAF] Lakenheath in England–both bombers and fighters–transiting thousands of miles or so to targets in Kosovo. We have the capacity to deal with these things … from significant ranges. … We can stand off from great ranges and do our job.”
Asked to describe the difference between USAF capability in 1991 and 11 years later, Jumper said, “The biggest changes that we have seen are in the area we call time-critical targeting. It is the ability to take the intelligence assets–which for years went on a cycle of collect, analyze, report–and to actually put them in the kill cycle so that now they are part of find, fix, track, target, engage, and assess. And we are doing this in minutes, not hours or days.
“In the Gulf War, we were working away at this, but the information technology was not there. Now the information technology has improved.”
Noting the success in Afghanistan of Predator drones and special forces on the ground, designating targets with lasers and calling in air strikes on precise coordinates, Jumper said, “Now we have varieties of ways to put eyeballs on or unmanned sensors on targets and stare at [the targets]–gather information about trends and habits [and] pick the time and place of our choosing to attack in ways we never had before.”
These trends “make us more deadly,” Jumper asserted.
Asked how confident he is that USAF would fare better now than in 1991 in the hunt for mobile Scud missiles, Jumper simply replied, “Very.”
Next Sensor-to-Shooter Links
USAF is already working on next- generation concepts that will directly and digitally feed coordinates from sensors to shooters without the need for some person to “fat-finger” numbers onto a keypad, Jumper observed.
“This next generation … will really make the difference, where we learn to make our platforms–space, manned, and unmanned–perform at the digital level with digital-level conversations that resolve these ambiguities of target location and target identification.” Fond of describing the various intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance communities within the Air Force as “tribes” that use their own hieroglyphs to communicate with each other, Jumper said the next generation of sensor-to-shooter technology will do away with the “tribal interpretations that now have to happen when humans get in the loop.”
F-22 and Access
Faced with yet another Pentagon review of the need for the F-22, Jumper said he’s confident the program will stand up to the scrutiny intact, especially since it has taken on new missions.
“The air-to-air piece [of the F-22 mission] is probably less than half of what we are going to count on the F-22 to do. Fifty-one percent, at least, is going to be to take care of this most dangerous part of what I call the anti-access mission.” The F-22 will swoop in at “greater than 1.5 Mach in military power” to swiftly eliminate modern, advanced surface-to-air threats that would keep unstealthy, slower aircraft away from the theater of operations. It will carry the precision guided 250-pound Small Diameter Bomb.
“It will be carried internally on the F-22–probably eight of [the SDBs], depending on the design. And [the F-22] will glide out there in the 40- to 50-mile range and take care of these most difficult threats that challenge our ability to get weapons onto targets and, as part of the Global Strike Task Force, will team with the other stealth and standoff assets of the Air Force and the other services to create the conditions for access in those places where access might otherwise be denied.
“It is this combination of air-to-air and air-to-ground in the F-22–which is an airplane that does things no other airplane will be able to do–that we think is important, and we will continue to make that case.”
He added, “We get taken to task because we continue to do very well in the wars that we have fought in the past [with currently fielded technology], but that is no guarantee for success in the future.” The Air Force, he said, believes it can buy 339 aircraft with the funding it’s being given for the program.
“That is the number that we agreed on” with the Pentagon leadership.
“I am confident we have a strong case for the F-22, as we have in the past. I am going to continue to make it. … It is necessary to the concepts that we have put forward for the future of the Air Force.”
“Depending on what we do for the next generation of long-range strike … and how quickly we need to do it, we have certain variations of the F-22 we could use to give us longer-range strike capability. All of that is a possibility; no formal proposals of that are out there yet.”
Jumper said he would not even call the next-generation long-range strike platform a “next-generation bomber. … I am not sure if the thing needs to be an orbital thing, a manned thing, or an unmanned thing.”
Mathematical projections indicate that the F-22 might be prone to “tip-flow separation” and “vortex impingement,” two aerodynamic problems that buffet the tail fins and force the rudder actuator to work hard to keep the rudder in place, Jumper reported. A similar problem manifested itself on the F/A-18 Super Hornet.
“When I asked, ‘What is the probability that this would result in a catastrophic failure of the tail?’ The answer was, ‘One times 10 to the minus six over the eight-thousand-hour life of an airplane,'” he said.
“And we’ve never actually experienced one of these test points yet, but the mathematics tell us that when you extrapolate, this phenomenon has this remote possibility of taking place.”
Jumper said there are several possible solutions–including a stealthy wing fence or a change to the rudder or actuator–but they are still being developed.
“I am not going to trivialize this problem, but I think that we have enough experience with this type of problem that we will be able to pivot off of what we learned from the F-18. Actually, the F-15 went through some of this, too. We’ll be able to deal with this and hopefully save ourselves problems on the Joint Strike Fighter.”
Jumper said he believes the problem can be solved “without … an adverse impact on the testing program, but I am going to withhold that judgment until I see what those fixes are and I hear what the engineers tell me.”
War on Terror
“It is a marathon, not a sprint. The Air Force, along with everyone else, the other services, are gearing up for having to deal with pursuit of terrorists over the long term. … We have to configure ourselves … to be able to respond to these threats as they emerge. …
“For lift, for tankers, for personnel, for optempo, rotational forces, we have to set ourselves up so that we can respond to these things on a continuous basis.”
Leasing New Tankers
USAF has “flown about 15,000 tanker sorties since the 11th of September on airplanes that generally came in about the Eisenhower Administration.” Jumper said most of these airplanes, the KC-135Es and KC-135Rs, “are facing extended periods of time in the repair cycle. These repairs that used to take six or eight months are now taking more than 400 days to complete, and it is costing us a whole lot of money. We are trying to avoid that, if we possibly can.”
The Air Force is looking into acquiring new Boeing 767s to replace the oldest KC-135s, either through a procurement or lease. Jumper was asked whether a lease would be paid for out of procurement or operating funds.
“We don’t have a lease deal yet. … We’ve been authorized to go pursue a deal. … We are still negotiating,” he said.
“The common misperception is that these O&M [Operation and Maintenance] funds are entirely at the discretion of people like me, and somehow in the dark of night, we can go broker a deal that passes nobody’s scrutiny but our own. In this day and age that is a ridiculous notion. We have to go back to the [Congressional] committees. We have to make sure that I carry out my responsibility to the taxpayer to make sure we are doing the right thing with the taxpayers’ money.” Jumper said the Air Force will not go “around” Congress to do business.
The Air Force doesn’t have a solid plan yet in part because the possibility of getting new tankers “came up earlier than we had anticipated it would.”
“We didn’t just wake up in the morning and say we need some tankers. … We are about to spend a lot of money on this last group of very old tankers. We are trying to avoid that, and that is why this potential for a lease was so attractive, in getting something on the ramp quickly.”
Electronic Warfare Options
Since an analysis of alternatives on replacing the joint Air Force-Navy EA-6B escort jammer fleet was completed in December, “the whole notion of electronic warfare has, in my mind, changed” and can be accomplished in “a variety of ways,” Jumper said.
“One of them is certainly the sort of standoff jamming that the EA-6 provides. But there are other elements of network warfare–of expendable jammers, of towed decoys, and other things–that go into helping you solve this problem. …
“Our position has been–and nobody disagrees with this–that we ought to back off and take a look at the whole chain before we decide that the single-point solution to this problem is to replace the EA-6B.”
Jumper said the Air Force and Navy are examining “a variety of solutions that go at this in a different way.” In a situation that is “less permissive” than Afghanistan, for example, “you are looking at something that has to persist for a long period of time, be able to stand off at longer ranges, have more power, etc.” …
“What we have to work on … between us [the Air Force and the Navy] is this notion of being able to run with the pack and to be able to persist. It is hard to get one airplane to do both things. … We are working with the Navy on how we can split up the areas of responsibility.”
A so-called EA-22, or an electronic attack version of the F-22, is probably not in the cards, Jumper said.
“That was a thing that was looked at as part of this [analysis of a] replacement for the EA-6B, but I for one don’t think that is the right solution. I think we need something that can sit and loiter and stand off and have the power to bash electrons harder from longer standoff ranges.” The EA-22 is “a possibility, but not one that I favor, at least right now, from what I know.”
Stepping Up Precision Munitions
“We all know that precision munitions are a very big part of what we all do today. Everyone agrees that we have to have adequate inventories of both laser-guided and GPS-aided munitions.”
Noting that GPS-aided bombs such as the Joint Direct Attack Munition “bomb locations and not targets,” since they fly to coordinates and do not seek specific objects, Jumper said the Air Force is “working on the kind of weapons that will give us precision in and under the weather.” So far, “the laser spot is the only way we have … to put a spot on a target and make sure that the weapon will hit the target.”
The Air Force and Navy are stepping up production “of both laser and GPS-guided munitions so that we will ensure that we have adequate stocks of these things. This buildup of capacity is going to take place between now and the summer of ’03, to work our way up to the levels we need to be able to surge in situations like we had in Kosovo and Afghanistan. … We have decided that the capacity has to be up around 2,500 to 3,000 a month … of JDAM kits.”
War Room of the Future
The Combined Air Operations Center has proved itself in war and work is being done to make the concept into a weapon system, Jumper said. He has said previously that CAOCs will be standardized, and those in them will have to pass check rides in their areas of operations.
Asked whether the US would be hamstrung by not being allowed to use the CAOC at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia, Jumper said the CAOC is a mobile thing.
“We can put the joint force air component commander both at sea or on shore. We practice that, and we have gained this flexibility, in cooperation with the Navy, to be able to combine a forward presence, either ashore or afloat, with reachback capability. … You put the databases and the computational stuff back on the shore so you don’t have to carry all that on the ship. You put a few people on the ship and a lot of people in the background.”
For the future, Jumper envisions a “virtual” CAOC.
“I don’t want to imply we have this yet, but this is what we are developing in our advanced AOC model. Essentially, you have a picture of the AOC floor the way it would look if you were all in one place and you’re establishing hotline, intercom-type communications with somebody on the other side of the room, but that person may really be in a reachback position, thousands of miles away.”
The CAOC at Prince Sultan could be “replicated elsewhere,” Jumper said. It could be “backed up by another CAOC right there in the area somewhere.”
“What is transformational and revolutionary is the fact that our [troops] can take the open-ended information technology that is out there and put the chess pieces together in ways that were never combined before to create new types of effects.”
Jumper noted that B-52s were never intended to perform close air support but have done just that in Afghanistan, dropping JDAMs on request by troops in the field.
“Close air support is now profoundly different than the [old] image that you have to have an A-10, [which] has got to be close to the ground [and] being shot at, and the pilot had better be at great risk before it counts.”
Similarly, the F-22 was designed to sweep the skies of enemy fighters, said Jumper, as “a replacement for the F-15, … white-scarf-in-the-breeze fighter pilot stuff.” However, “we are going to put bombs on it, and it is going to be a more accurate bomber than any current-generation bomber that we have, with increases in capability.”
The F-22 will have “information technology that vacuums up information from 360 degrees and displays on your cockpit an integrated picture of things that don’t just depend on the radar but other sensors that are on the airplane and other airplanes … data-linked to it to give you a very comprehensive picture of what your threat is.”
How different that is, he said, from the F-117s over Baghdad in 1991, with no protection other than stealth. That F-117 pilot had “no indication in the cockpit of what is looking at him and how much danger he is in, but he sees missiles lifting off rails … coming his way, and all he can do is sit there and be as small a dot as he can possibly be. That is courage.”
The coming integration and digital fusing of “manned and unmanned platforms will give us a degree of situational awareness that you can’t even imagine.”
Stresses on the Force
The Air Force’s intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets “were purchased in size for the … peacetime routine and when we step up our pace of activity … then these assets become what we call high-demand, low-density.” He named the U-2, Rivet Joint, Joint STARS, AWACS, and Predator UAV among the most highly taxed systems.
“None of this is new news, and we would be stressed no matter what scenario we had to respond to.”
Nevertheless, “our effectiveness is well up over what it was in 1990. I think we could do what the nation asks us to do, and it is just going to be a matter of how much more we ask the forces–that are already heavily engaged–to do, on top of what they are doing now and how long we ask them to do it. That part is the risk.”
Old Fighters, Skillfully Employed
Jumper acknowledged there will be a longer gap than expected in transitioning from the 1980s generation of fighters–F-15s and F-16s–to the next generation of F-22s and F-35s. How will the Air Force bridge the gap
“What we’ve done is upgrade the technology in the radars and the missiles and the electronics, and in certain cases, like in the F-16, done things to mitigate the bulkhead cracks and the other fatigue-related issues that come up over time.”
He later told Air Force Magazine that the service will “have to accept a higher degree of risk. The time is coming very soon when we will have to decide whether to SLEP [perform a Service Life Extension Program] our fighters or forego that and wait for the new aircraft. My gut tells me we will tough it out, but it all depends on these new aircraft coming in at the time we expect them.”
Jumper said there are “two differences between us and the bad guys” that will enable the Air Force to wait a little longer for the next fighters. “One is the continuing improvements in electronics we’ve been able to sustain. And the second is our training. And as a matter of fact, I would put training first. The people that we have flying these airplanes are beyond doubt the very best in the world because one of the things we have not compromised on is the quality of our training. …
“We are trying to make sure with the F-22 that we keep up with the technological lead the same way we’ve kept up with the training.”