Washington Watch

Sept. 1, 2006

No More “Strategic” Reserve

The National Guard and Reserve components of the US armed forces no longer serve as a “strategic” backup for active duty forces in time of major war. Instead, they provide an “operational” element, integral to day-to-day military activity, in peace and war. The Pentagon needs to admit that fact and make some changes in how it relates to the Guard and Reserve—or risk great damage to the overall force.

That warning was issued by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in July, in the third and last phase of its broad, multiyear review of how the military is structured for the 21st century. The project, called Beyond Goldwater-Nichols, has already yielded two blueprints for transforming force structure and weapon acquisition.

The BG-N study said the US military can’t do everything it needs to do without relying on the backup components. They are so stressed that, without action to address their problems, they “will begin to falter—the question is merely when this will start to happen.” Nothing less than “the health of the all-volunteer force” is at risk, CSIS said.

The CSIS effort is just one of several top-level examinations of the reserve issue being conducted by blue-ribbon panels. However, the CSIS method has been to get almost constant feedback, which it calls the “vetting” process, from DOD over the course of its study. Hence, the review’s conclusions to some degree reflect the views or agreement of top defense officials, though it does not carry their specific endorsement.

The study was Congressionally directed and paid for by the Pentagon.

The landmark Goldwater-Nichols legislation of 1986 substantively restructured the military. It drew to some degree on CSIS recommendations, hence the name of the review.

The new study made more than 40 recommendations for addressing what it called “the reserve component.” That title, however, belies the great diversity of the military’s backup forces—the Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve, Army National Guard, Army Reserve, Navy Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, and Coast Guard Reserve.

The CSIS authors noted that their suggestions are not “one size fits all,” because all seven reserve components have unique issues and needs.

The top recommendation was to integrate the active duty, Guard, and Reserve elements across all military functions, not just “one or two missions” in wartime. The Guard and Reserve should be able to participate in homeland defense, stability operations, and civil support duty and move beyond a “historical focus on fighting ?‘the big war.'”

Employing the backup forces as part of the operational force has become “mandatory, not a choice,” CSIS said.

The BG-N panel sharply attacked suggestions that the head of the National Guard should be installed on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Making the chief of the National Guard Bureau a four-star general or putting him on the JCS “would not necessarily give the National Guard a greater voice” in debates over strategy or resources and “would send the counterproductive signal that the National Guard is a separate military service, rather than an integral part” of the Army and Air Force, the panel said.

Rather, CSIS suggested that Guard and Reserve leaders be consulted “early on during critical policy and budgetary debates.” Excluding them—as has often happened—will only lead to “divisive external battles during the Congressional budget process.”

The group suggested making the chief of the National Guard Bureau the “principal advisor to the Secretary of Defense for matters concerning the National Guard in homeland security, homeland defense, and civil support missions.” This would eliminate one layer between the Secretary and the Guard bureau chief—the JCS—and this is “wholly appropriate” given that the Guard is so critical to all those missions.

The role of the Guard in dealing with both homeland security and domestic disasters needs more formal recognition, and the CSIS group suggested a much more visible and powerful role for the Guard in this area. It suggested that the Guard serve as the statutory and practical “backbone” of both efforts, to take advantage of its existing infrastructure, which is keyed into both federal and state bureaucracies.

A Guard officer should be appointed deputy commander of US Northern Command, the study group recommended. This will ensure that NORTHCOM is keenly aware of Guard “capabilities, culture, and constraints” in dealing with ongoing security or domestic crises, and that the Guard is effectively employed against them.

Practical Suggestions

The CSIS report on the Guard and Reserve offered many practical suggestions for easing the process of integrating backup forces into the mainstream force and avoiding a huge exodus from the ranks.

For starters, it said the Army, both active and reserve, must have more combat force structure, ideally adding five additional active brigade combat teams. Not only is this needed to reduce the strain on the existing Army, but a larger force will be a “hedge against risk if the transition to a more operational Army Guard and Reserve goes less smoothly than planned.”

The study called for an extra $13 billion over the next six years to “reset” the Army and its RC, replacing equipment lost in the wars in Southwest Asia and bringing the RC up to the same level of equipment as the active force. There should be an end to the “tiered readiness” model of the past in equipping the Guard and Reserve.

While the Army is going to a more “rotational model” of swapping Guard and Reserve troops in and out of the combat zone, the program is “underdeveloped and under-resourced,” CSIS found.

There needs to be a “much more flexible system” to bring members of the RC onto active duty, the BG-N study said. It needs to be “easier for more people to serve in new and different ways.”

The services should, as quickly as possible, integrate their pay and personnel systems and benefits for active and RC members. The Marine Corps has already done this, but the other services are lagging behind. This move would permit “seamless transitions” from one status to another.

The services should consider paying reservists more if they agree to additional, or more frequent, call-ups—what the study group called “intensive reserve.” Also, the services should “revitalize” the Individual Ready Reserve program, which is the reservoir of those who have separated from the military. The services should make a “full court press” to consult those who have separated to gauge their interest in more active reserve duty. The IRR obligations should also be “clarified in their initial contracts” so that service members know they can be involuntarily recalled if Uncle Sam needs them.

The BG-N group discouraged any notion of expanding the Tricare system for reservists, saying it is expensive and there hasn’t been enough study yet to determine the impact of creating “an entitlement policy of this magnitude.” Such an expansion would also undercut funding for equipment and training, the team asserted. Likewise, the group urged that the military retirement system not be altered to lower reserve retirement ages, as has been suggested elsewhere. (See “Action in Congress: Some Reserve Ideas,” May, p. 32.) Such a move would “likely harm efforts to retain RC personnel with many years of valuable experience.”

To keep Guard and Reserve troops from getting fed up with all the disadvantages of being on active duty with few of the benefits, the CSIS offered some other suggestions.

New recruits should be shielded from overseas deployments for two years. Instead, they would be guaranteed “at least two years at home prior to their being called up” with their unit. Some state units are already doing this; CSIS said the Pentagon should encourage the tactic with all reserve components.

Since 2002, green card holders who enlist in the active duty force or who deploy to Southwest Asia have been granted accelerated citizenship. The BG-N study suggested expanding this rule for all green card holders in the Guard and Reserve.

Those who sign up for the reserve component should be excused from activation while they are full-time students, as long as they agree to serve a longer overall hitch, the study suggested. This would “remove a significant barrier to the recruiting of college-bound or enrolled individuals” and improve the appeal of the RC to “high-quality recruits.”

A mobilization tour should be kept to “no more than a year” for Guard and Reserve members. Long deployments are “frequently cited as a major source of dissatisfaction” with the reserve component by members and their families. Long deployments threaten small businesses where the member may be the sole or principal employee. The military needs to “enhance predictability and reduce the burden on families and employers.”

Since families have a big vote on whether a member continues to serve, there needs to be more tangible benefits to get their support. The CSIS team recommended that members should be able to transfer their educational benefits, such as tuition assistance, to spouses.

Building Better Warthogs

The A-10 fleet—all of it—will get a major upgrade over the next five years, stretching its service life and sharply reducing the need for the Air Force to buy any F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing Joint Strike Fighters.

Air Combat Command had been grappling with the A-10 upgrade since last fall, when its hope to add precision engagement improvements to “some” of the A-10 fleet was an issue for budget debate. The upgrade was threatened by the discovery of wing cracks in a majority of Warthogs (See “Washington Watch: Still My Number,” April, p.10.) The A-10 enhancement was held out as an “unfunded priority” in Fiscal 2007 budget documents.

Gen. Ronald E. Keys, head of ACC, said in February it was then being discussed how much of the A-10 fleet should be fixed, how long to keep it in service, and whether all or just some of the fleet should get the precision advances.

The debate appears to be settled. Gen. T. Michael Moseley, USAF chief of staff, told Air Force Magazine in July that the service will “completely” re-wing those A-10s needing the fix, which ACC reported as 210 aircraft. The modification will involve structural refurbishing; USAF will “not just reskin them,” Moseley said.

As a result of the “Hog Up” program, the A-10 “now will be a significantly different airplane than it was before,” Moseley asserted.

The entire fleet of 356 A-10s will get further structural improvements and all will get the “precision engagement” upgrade. This will allow all A-10s to carry and use advanced targeting pods, laser- and satellite-guided bombs, and new networking gear. The improvements will allow the A-10 to attack targets from much higher altitude—well above many modern surface-to-air threats. It also adds some new cockpit displays and digital equipment.

Two years ago, the Air Force considered retiring 75 of its A-10s and using the operating and maintenance savings to pay for the precision update. However, an ACC official said that “several independent analyses” have determined that keeping the whole fleet of 356 aircraft is “very important to force structure plans … in terms of rounding out [the Air Force’s] capability needed for the long term.”

However, there was a casualty in the A-10 deliberations.

“The A-10 engine money fell out,” Moseley said. Re-engining the airplane, which is flying with its original equipment TF34s, was one of his priorities, and he said he still has hope that a way can be found to afford it.

“I still want to re-engine those things,” Moseley said. “That’s where my heart is. That’s where I want to go.”

Giving the A-10 such a substantial improvement could keep it in the inventory well into the 2020s. It could also obviate the need for the Air Force to buy any short takeoff and vertical landing models of the F-35, which it had been considering as an A-10 follow-on. (See “Struggling for Altitude,” p. 38.)

“If you have that force structure intact—the airplane’s modernized—and you have the force structure of attack, do you need to do something else that is an inherent CAS [close air support] airplane?” Moseley pointed out. “Don’t know yet,” he said.

For several years, the service has been thinking about buying between 200 to 400 B models, which might be useful for keeping close to troops who might need CAS.

However, the F-35B will cost about 32 percent more than the F-35A conventional takeoff version that the Air Force is buying, “and that’s significant money,” Moseley continued.

“It’s less maneuverable, because it’s heavier, it’s got a little bit less range,” he added. The Air Force is “still thinking” about the STOVL, Moseley said, but he seemed to be making the case against it.

The Air Force leadership would be “closer” to a decision on buying the F-35B after the 2008 program objective memorandum process was finished, he added. The POM was supposed to be wrapped up in August.

McCain’s Ghost of Contracts Past

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) wants to bring back a long-discredited method of cutting costs on big-ticket development programs: awarding such contracts on a fixed-price basis. Trouble is, neither the Pentagon nor the aerospace industry thinks the move will save any money—and could actually end up making things much more expensive.

McCain’s move was tacked onto the Fiscal 2007 defense authorization bill. He added a provision that the Pentagon should use fixed-price contracts for any new development programs unless the Defense Secretary provides good reasons, in writing, why such a method is inappropriate for a given system.

Incensed at big cost overruns on the Army Future Combat System and Joint Strike Fighter, McCain wants to eliminate cost uncertainty and get better accountability from contractors. But going back to fixed-price contracting probably won’t work, according to the Pentagon’s director of defense research and engineering, John J. Young Jr.

While “it’s possible” the idea might have “some merits in controlling cost,” Young said, “I think it’s more likely that it will have the opposite effect.”

Forcing industry into fixed-price deals will in turn cause contractors to “price-in that risk,” Young said in July. “Companies will not want to take the chance that they will lose money.”

Inevitably, some risks will be underestimated, and a company will lose money. “That won’t have to happen very many times” before companies get highly aggressive in pricing risk in all aspects of a program, even those that aren’t much in doubt, Young added. That could mean cost underruns “where they will … make substantial money.”

The better solution is to make sure both government and industry understand the risk of a program going in, the better to arrive at costs and incentives to make the contractor perform, he asserted. Those incentive fees should be built into the right milestones, and if the company succeeds, “pay them their profit, and that should … [get] us all to get to the finish line together.”

John W. Douglass, head of the Aerospace Industries Association, told reporters in July that having more stability in programs—in funding, schedule, and clearly defined requirements that don’t change—will help save money more than “contract type.”

He warned that insisting on fixed-type contracts would stifle innovation because industry is naturally risk-averse. Some companies, he said, would avoid bidding on contracts because they couldn’t handle the financial risks. Such an environment would be especially hard on small companies that don’t have the means to bear as much uncertainty as big ones, he said.

The industry also wants accountability, Douglass said, but “there are other ways” of achieving it.

Fixed-price defense contracting came into vogue during the Reagan Administration. The idea was that companies accepting such deals had a powerful incentive to innovate and meet objectives, lest they lose money.

But companies soon learned that only by accepting such deals could they get any work at all. They ended up lowballing bids to get in the door, with the idea of “getting better” during the later production phase. When delays or problems took hold, and profits vanished, so did the incentive to put the best people or the best effort into making programs work. Government didn’t help, either, sometimes trying to get a free ride by increasing requirements after fixed development prices were set.

Long-term contracts are subject to the vagaries of inflation, labor and materials costs, and technical setbacks. That’s why, today, the Pentagon has “evolved to … a cost-plus arrangement,” Young said, to cushion the effects of development, integration, and software risks.

The result of the 1980s emphasis on fixed-price was a contracting nightmare that ended up with the termination of a number of high-profile, multibillion dollar programs. Notable were the A-12 Navy stealth strike aircraft and the joint Tri-Service Standoff Attack Missile stealth cruise missile. (See “How the A-12 Went Down,” April 1991, p. 44.)

The C-17, once in deep trouble due to a badly drawn fixed-price contract, would have suffered the same fate. However, the Air Force and McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) agreed to scrap the contract and essentially start over with a cost-plus arrangement, each paying some of the “get well” money. As a result, the C-17 program was turned around and today is one of the Pentagon’s best-performing production programs.