Washington Watch

July 1, 2007

Let the Air Force Do It

In separate moves, the armed services panels of the House and Senate wrote provisions evidently aimed at giving to the Air Force all medium- to high-flying UAVs and tactical mobility responsibilities.

The House Armed Services Committee, in its 2008 defense bill, gave the Defense Department about one year to explain what it plans to do about creating an executive agent for UAVs that fly above 3,500 feet. The Air Force has pressed the Pentagon to give it that job for UAVs that fly at medium to high altitude. (See “Editorial: A Better UAV Flight Plan,” April, p.2.)

The measure, offered by Rep. Jim Marshall (D-Ga.), orders the Pentagon to set out its way ahead in a report submitted not later than March 1, 2008. Marshall initially proposed that the Pentagon name an EA by next March. This was watered down in the committee.

Marshall said the Defense Department essentially punted on the UAV issue two years ago. In 2005, it declined to name the Air Force executive agent, instead assigning such responsibilities to the UAV Center of Excellence, a joint organization.

Because the center lacks clout to align and streamline service activities, Marshall said, the result has been a possibly “wasteful expenditure of taxpayer resources.” He wants an EA named as soon as possible to eliminate duplication of effort among UAVs.

The bill includes provisions that may mollify the services that don’t get the executive agency job. For instance, it directs that the joint force commanders will always get the final say on the best approach to allocation and control of UAVs in a conflict.

Meanwhile, the Senate Armed Services Committee wants to put the Air Force in charge of all air mobility capabilities, and specifically the Joint Cargo Aircraft, with which USAF has been partnered with the Army.

In its 2008 authorization bill, the Senate panel said the Air Force should be in charge of fixed-wing airlift, and it moved $157 million of Army money to the Air Force to conduct the JCA program. The Army could also be cut out of the acquisition and operation of the aircraft, which was initially intended to replace Army C-23 Sherpa and C-12 Huron small transports, said committee members.

The Senate panel said it was pondering “whether this fixed-wing, intratheater lift mission should be assigned solely to the Air Force” or kept as a joint program.

The Army has claimed it needs some control because the Air Force has not always supported the Army when it asked for help. The panel, however, said Army leaders had failed to produce any concrete evidence for this charge, despite hearing many Army anecdotes about being stiffed.

The committee said the Army had failed to make the case that it can’t count on tactical airlift if it doesn’t “own” it. The committee found no case where a joint force commander had to intervene to get USAF to support the Army after such a request was denied.

The Air Force is “better positioned” to provide tactical airlift in both war and peace, the Senate panel said, admonishing the Army to spend its money on core missions known to be “underfunded,” rather than try to have its “own air force.”

Who Handles Big Wars

The armed forces should redistribute responsibilities for major and minor wars, mainly assigning the Air Force and Navy to fight the big ones and the Army and Marine Corps to fight the little ones, according to a new RAND study.

The “little ones” are defined as fights against insurgents and the conduct of stability operations. “Big ones” would be, say, conventional conflicts with big regional powers.

The study is titled, “A New Division of Labor: Meeting America’s Security Challenges Beyond Iraq.” In it, five authors said the US is likely to get drawn into military operations other than war in many places, and it’s time to adjust the functions of the military branches accordingly.

The authors argued that the US will face three big military challenges in the future: fighting terrorist groups, countering regional nuclear threats, and coping with the rising military and economic powers of Asia, primarily China.

The first two challenges will require an enormous amount of “hands on” action on the part of US ground forces, which would either fight terrorists and insurgents directly or train local forces to do so. However, the Army and Marine Corps are not primarily trained for these kinds of operations and perpetually struggle to balance expertise in such actions with the need to stay trained and ready to fight several major ground wars.

The RAND group suggested “relieving” the ground element of the requirement to fight more than one major ground war, and emphasizing smaller operations in training and equipping, since these are the most likely combat operations ground forces will face. Air and naval forces can play an important role in such operations, but it will be the ground forces that will have to work most directly with “their host-country counterparts.”

However, “the most plausible major combat operations that US forces might be called on to fight in the coming years—involving Iran, China (over Taiwan), and North Korea—call for heavy commitments of air and naval forces and, in the first two cases, smaller numbers of US ground forces,” they said.

Given limited resources, the defense leaders need to judge how to apportion risk: They can maintain ground forces in readiness for large ground wars where they likely won’t be needed in huge numbers—and do a poor job at counterinsurgency—or they can shift resources to let the air and naval forces take on “some of the burden for large force-on-force” conflicts.

“We suggest that DOD’s leaders consider the latter course,” the analysts wrote.

Removing the need for the Army and Marine Corps to fight more than one big war would “improve their stability operations capabilities qualitatively and quantitatively … [and] keep overall demands on the forces of these two services manageable.”

The Navy and Air Force would “retain their primary focus on large-scale power-projection operations,” although both would continue to enable stability operations through logistics, fire support, and intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance functions.

Both services would need to “place much greater emphasis on defeating enemies armed with nuclear weapons and with more sophisticated anti-access capabilities than have heretofore been encountered.”

The RAND group also suggested investing more in ISR systems—to “put an end to the situation in which sensor systems and the means to interpret the information … are chronically ‘low-density, high-demand’ assets.” It also argued for greater investment in long-range strike capabilities, suggesting that USAF cannot count on overseas basing in a major conflict and that the US must be able to operate from its own soil if necessary.

Roles & Missions Scuffle

The Pentagon is “overdue” for an exhaustive, top-to-bottom re-think of the roles and missions of the military services, reports the House Armed Services Committee. Defense officials should conduct one soon, the panel went on, adding that it should repeat the process every four years, from now on.

Dramatic technological change—particularly in space, unmanned aerial vehicles, and mobility—have started to “blur the lines” between formerly “clear-cut service responsibilities,” in the committee’s estimation. The Defense Department should take note of areas in which the services have drifted from their core competencies and missions.

The panel issued its conclusions in a statement released with its version of the 2008 defense authorization bill.

The panel slammed “duplication of numerous capabilities across the department,” which wastes money and diverts attention from true service requirements.

After such a review, declared the committee, the United States military should organize itself into “core mission areas” such as dominance of ground, air, maritime, and space environments, expeditionary warfare, mobility, homeland defense, and cyber operations.

Panel members noted that the “division of labor between the military services has not dramatically changed since the current structure was established in the National Security Act of 1947.” The Defense Department should look for areas where the services are engaging in missions “for which they are not ideally organized, trained, and equipped.”

The mandated review would not only identify areas where the services are drifting outside their “core” functions, but also highlight fundamental missions within the services that aren’t getting the attention and resources they deserve, the committee said.

The first review would take place in 2008 and would be presented to Congress in early 2009, along with the FY 2010 defense budget request. The next would be in 2012, and so on every four years.

The Pentagon currently conducts another every-four-years study, the Quadrennial Defense Review, but the House panel wants the roles and missions analysis done separately from the QDR, which assesses forces, policy, threats, and budgets. The next QDR is to take place in 2009, after the start of a new Presidential term.

The bill calls on the Pentagon to identify each service’s core missions and the “core competencies” that go with them. It is also to review all of the capabilities that the services are maintaining or developing and certify that those activities match the core missions and competencies. If they don’t match, DOD would have to offer a justification for continuing them.

The House panel also wants DOD’s Joint Requirements Oversight Council to better focus the efforts of the services—and even has provided suggested ways to do this.

The JROC, headed today by the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, comprises the four service vice chiefs and ad hoc advisors. The panel certifies (or does not certify) that some new development or program meets joint needs. The House panel wants the JROC to give the services “clear guidance” on acquisition priorities—based on core missions—and the amount of resources the JROC expects the services to commit to those activities.

The House panel said it believes the JROC today is “too insulated from the realities of the acquisition and budget processes.” It wants to make sure that “clear priorities and budget guidance” in the JROC process keep service imperatives from driving program decisions.

Major systems currently have to pass muster with the Defense Acquisition Board before they can move into major development, but the House panel also wants the JROC to certify that projects meet both joint and core needs before going forward, and that they are being pursued by the branch or agency with the “relevant core competency.”

The JROC would also have to certify that cost estimates are “consistent” with the level of resources committed in what is known as the initial capabilities document. If a program were to exceed 25 percent of the cost estimate before going into full production, it would get kicked back to the JROC “for a decision on whether to terminate or continue the system.”

The official assigned to lead the review of any particular program “must be” from a military department outside of the program’s core mission area, the House panel added.

People Vs. Programs

The White House in May asked Congress to rein in its generosity on military pay and health benefits, highlighting the growing issue of balancing troop compensation with urgently needed hardware programs.

The appeal came just before the House voted to increase military pay by 3.5 percent, half a percentage point higher than the boost sought by the Bush Administration. The White House’s Office of Management and Budget, in a plea issued before the vote, said the extra half point would cost $265 million in 2008 and $7.3 billion over five years. (See “Action in Congress: Pay Raise 2008,” p. 22.)

The White House called the extra amount “unnecessary.” The requested three percent raise, said OMB, is sufficient to keep military pay “competitive” with private employment and “provides a good quality of life for service members and their families,” especially “when combined with the overall military benefit package,” which includes generous health care, housing allowances, retirement, and dependent services.

Even more costly, said OMB, would be the House’s refusal to let DOD raise Tricare fees for military retirees under age 65. The agency said such fees would make the program “more sustainable.” Denial of the fee increase and refusal to implement other recommendations of the Task Force on the Future of Military Health Care would together “add over $1.86 billion in cost to FY 2008 and $19.28 billion in cost from FY 2008 to FY 2013,” OMB asserted. (See “Action in Congress: Higher Tricare Fees Backed,” p. 23.)

Combined, the pay bump-up and absence of health care reforms will cost the Pentagon about $26.5 billion more over the coming five-year program than it planned to spend. While OMB did not link the amount to any hardware program, such a sum is about what the Air Force expects to spend on the F-35 fighter and KC-X tanker replacement program during that period.

The Senate seemed ready to agree with the House on the half-percent premium, making its passage likely.

However, the issue of people vs. programs has been heating up. The services have seen more and more of their modernization programs eaten up by the costs of the wars in Southwest Asia, rising maintenance costs on old equipment, and military personnel costs—led by pay and health care—which have swelled by 50 percent during the last six years.

The Air Force found itself so strapped for funds to pay for hardware modernization that it decided in 2005 to cut 40,000 full-time equivalent personnel from its ranks, rather than cut hardware programs any further. Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne said he had nowhere else to turn.