The management philosophy of Gen. Larry D. Welch, the Air Force’s new Chief of Staff, stresses decentralization of authority and responsibility by placing “one supervisor” in full control of “one piece” of the Air Force mission. Full control, he explained, extends from authority and resources to accountability. A layered management structure that obscures rather than pinpoints responsibility is inimical to this approach, General Welch emphasized. While the shift toward decentralized management is a top priority, he plans to pursue this goal in an evolutionary manner.
The new Chief’s emphasis on “evolution” came across also in his analysis of the Air Force’s basic priorities. Those priorities, he said. “were right [when first formulated] and remain so.” The challenge that confronts the Air Force now, he emphasized in an interview with AIR FORCE Magazine, is to keep these priorities intact and in balance even though funding levels might decline sharply in the future. The result might be some “tough choices, because we do have to balance things.” These balances, he explained, must be maintained among various major mission areas as well as in terms of “readiness today and readiness tomorrow.” In the first instance, “that means spare parts and ammunition—and those are important—while readiness tomorrow is modernization.”
The Top Priorities
The central priority—long-standing and uncontested—is “providing a productive environment and motivating our Air Force people.” Whatever progress the Air Force makes in combat readiness and combat capability is derived “from the fact that we have high-quality people.” Quality is a function of several factors. Key among them is the imperative that “we give our people the wherewithal to do their daily jobs, which means spare parts, tools, support equipment, and whatever other things they need to do their job. It also means professional facilities for professional people to work in.
Ranking right below the people issue is strategic force modernization, USAF’s top programmatic challenge. The pivotal factor driving this priority, General Welch pointed out, is that the US has only about half of the prompt hard-target kill capability needed to maintain effective deterrence while the USSR’s capability is at twice the required level.
As a result, “our number-one priority today is the Peacekeeper missile.” MX, he said, “is by far the most available, most affordable solution to this shortfall.” The Peacekeeper ICBM “is here, it works, it’s a technical success story by anybody’s standard, and we simply need to get on with the deployment [of the full complement] of 100 missiles.”
The Air Force—in line with a congressional mandate to deploy the second fifty Peacekeepers survivably and in a mode other than modified Minuteman silos—is investigating eight different basing schemes. Of these eight deployment modes, four are specifically tailored for survivability, General Welch said, adding that, under current plans, the Air Force late this year will select the one “that we think makes the most sense.” Survivability, he pointed out, “clearly is desirable; what we will have to weigh when the time comes is affordability vs. the degree of survivability.”
The Air Force’s position on ICBM survivability remains unchanged and unambiguous: “Survivability is important, but even more important is the deterrent capability [that] resides in MX.” The fact that the Soviets can never be certain of succeeding “in a surprise attack makes these missiles a powerful deterrent, however survivable their deployment mode.”
No Substitute for the ICBM
The new military head of the Air Force—until recently the Commander in Chief of Strategic Air Command—dismissed contentions making the rounds in Congress and the executive branch of government that the age of the ICBM is past and that the strategic triad should devolve to a dyad of sea-based and air-breathing strategic offensive weapons: “Serious strategic thinkers understand the importance of the ICBM leg of the triad. In the first place, the Soviets have the greatest respect for ICBMs. The clear and incontestable evidence of that is the reliance that the Soviets place on the ICBM leg in their triad.”
There are good reasons for that, according to General Welch: “The ICBMs give you peacetime alert forces with the highest capability at the lowest cost. There is no other way to provide that much deterrence for that price; that alone makes the ICBM leg a vital part of the deterrence capability.” Additionally, only ICBMs currently provide prompt hard-target kill capability. Even with all planned improvements of the other legs of the triad, the ICBM component will remain “the most effective part of [the US prompt] hard-target kill capability. There are no substitutes for the ICBM,” in General Welch’s view.
USAF’s Chief of Staff sees merit in the US plan to seek the elimination of all mobile ICBMs—whether MIRVed or single-warhead weapons—in the current round of strategic arms-reduction talks. Explaining that the US proposal to outlaw mobile-based ICBMs must be viewed within the context of such parallel conditions as cutting existing nuclear warhead inventories in half, General Welch said the “very straightforward motivation [behind the US proposal is that] mobile ICBMs are very hard to verify. Even more important, the Soviets are fielding mobile missiles today, and we [will be fielding] our mobile missile in the early 1990s, if all goes well.” As a consequence, it is advantageous for “us to suggest at this time that [both sides] dispense with mobile ICBMs—assuming that the Soviets negotiate in good faith,” General Welch pointed out.
SICBM and the Two-Bomber Program
So far as this country’s plans for the Small ICBM (SICBM) are concerned, General Welch said the Air Force is working on answers to two basic questions: “First, what is the cost differential between a single-warhead mobile [design] and one [carrying] two or three RVs? Second, what is the impact on mobility [of greater size and weight that might result from MIRVing] and, hence, on survivability?” Major cost savings obviously can be realized if a survivable SICBM carries more than one warhead. But a MIRVed design “makes sense” only if it retains adequate mobility while lowering costs, and “we don’t know the answer to that yet.” In this context, General Welch expressed irritation over premature claims that MIRVed SICBMs with adequate mobility are within the state of the art, asserting that he was “very much opposed to Pentagon engineering. If we need to make technical decisions, we ought to get our technical people to get us that technical information.”
General Welch is strongly opposed to efforts to force the Air Force to buy more than 100 B-lBs: “Our two-bomber program is well conceived and well executed.” He pointed out that the Air Force launched the B-I B program because of the need for an “interim bomber to ensure that we would have the time to develop ATB [the Advanced Technology, or Stealth, Bomber] in an orderly fashion and with an acceptable degree of risk.”
The B-IB. he emphasized, “provided us exactly that.” He added that the B-lB is a “superb” weapon system that “will be an effective penetrating bomber for a number of years and, beyond that, will be an effective cruise-missile carrier for decades.” Although the B-lB was the right program at the right time, “100 remains the right number. In this budget environment, the only way we can afford more than 100 [B-IBs] is to delay ATB.” But there is no valid reason for holding up the ATB program, which is “on the right schedule because we bought time with the B-IB.”
The popular notion that ATB is not suitable for force projection and other conventional warfare roles is “exactly wrong,” according to General Welch. While the Air Force has not yet decided on a follow-on aircraft to the B-52G to serve in the role of a long-range conventional bomber, two facts are abundantly clear, according to General Welch: “The B-lB will have a good conventional capability, but the ATB is far and away the most promising conventional vehicle that we can imagine.” The Stealth bomber, he disclosed, “will have a very, very respectable bomb-carrying capability [over] very respectable ranges. When you add the stealth aspect to all those normal capabilities that are important in conventional operations, [the end result is a] new dimension in conventional support that we never had before.”
The B-lB as well as ATB will rely heavily on SRAM II, a follow-on to and replacement for SRAM-A, which is “rapidly becoming overage and [whose] engines are getting unreliable,” USAF’s Chief of Staff emphasized. The Air Force examined carefully the possibility of reengining SRAM-A—as suggested on Capitol Hill—but found that SRAM II is “clearly the best solution” in terms of performance and cost-effectiveness.
He also pointed out that—contrary to the notion of some congressional experts—the B-I B and eventually the ATB will need both “ACM [the advanced cruise missile, a stealthy, longer-range replacement of the ALCM-B air-launched cruise missile] and SRAM II.” The ACM, now in flight test, “is the right cruise missile for the B-I B and beyond.” It has greater range as well as advanced performance compared to ALCM-B and, therefore, can cope with the increasing forward capabilities of Soviet defenses more effectively, according to General Welch. From the Air Force’s point of view, SRAM II and ACM are not “either/or” issues, but represent essential strategic weapon systems, he added.
The Challenges of Low-Intensity Conflict
Over the past few years, the Air Force has increased its emphasis on “the very low end of the conflict spectrum—that is, Low-Intensity Conflict [LIC] and the Special Operations Forces [SOF]”—with the result that this form of warfare now receives adequate, balanced attention, according to General Welch.
The challenges associated with Low-Intensity Conflict, he suggested, are keenly affected by semantics: “LIC is such a broad term that I am not exactly sure how useful it is.” There is a tendency to use the term in an all-encompassing manner, “from antidrug operations up to major conflict that doesn’t involve superpower confrontation.” By that definition, “the Air Force spectrum of capabilities for Low-Intensity Conflict is everything up to nuclear confrontation.” The resultant problem then is “how to balance all the different demands across that broad [mission] spectrum.”
Beclouding the issue further are vague and overlapping definitions affixed to the SOF mission: “There is the tendency, especially in Washington, to regard Special Operations Forces as [within] the purview of antiterrorism or perhaps, at the most, antiguerrilla warfare. The fact is that the SOFs play a major role in much larger conflicts.” These loose definitions overlook the central fact that “the Special Operations Forces, in most cases, have to be very closely integrated with the so-called conventional forces.”
These ambiguous definitions scatter considerable confusion—including the notion of perceived shortcomings—in their wake, according to General Welch. “We have,” he pointed out, “aircraft that are committed to the SOFs with crews that are specially trained to support special operations missions.”
A broad range of forces is in fact in being and has application to ambiguous warfare operations, General Welch stressed. “The Commandant of the US Marine Corps might argue that he has the whole Corps assigned to the SOF mission,” even though under the narrow definition of the term that fact is usually overlooked, General Welch maintained.
Misunderstandings in Congress and elsewhere notwithstanding, “We clearly have increased greatly our emphasis at the low end of the [LIC] spectrum. We plan to double the MC- 130 fleet—and that is already submitted to Congress—and we are doubling the force of Pave Low helicopters. [Moreover,] that is just the beginning of what we have planned” in terms of bolstering the Air Force’s LIC capabilities.
Tactical Forces and Standoff
The Air Force’s long-standing goal of building the TAFs (tactical air forces) to a force level equivalent to forty combat-coded wings is slipping, General Welch acknowledged ruefully: “I am afraid we are on a course parallel to, rather than on a course toward it.” The current budget environment, especially in light of the just-completed cutbacks in the acquisition area for FY ’88, means that “we simply won’t get up to forty wings.” He added that this forecast is valid for at least “the next two or three years, and I seriously doubt that anybody can see beyond that.”
The frequently aired contention that the Air Force is at best tepid about the use of remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs) and other automated standoff weapons is incorrect and unwarranted, in the view of General Welch, who has extensive background in the tactical arena. The Air Force, he emphasized, “is very interested in standoff weapons,” mainly because the increased sophistication of tactical defenses mandates “the use of standoff weapons against a good many targets.” RPVs especially are a very “desirable solution to a number of missions or, at the very least, as supplements to various missions.”
By the same token, the Air Force’s enthusiasm for RPVs in the past has been dampened because “we haven’t had tremendously encouraging experience with past RPV programs. Either they didn’t work, or the costs escalated to three, four, or five times the estimate we started out with.”
But there is reason for optimism with regard to unmanned vehicles of this type: “At the present time, we have several RPV programs under way, plus there are a couple of others [run] by other services that we are interested in. I believe the time has come where we know how to [design and build] RPVs, where we know how to make them work, and where we know how to keep them reasonably close to our cost estimates.”
But however configured, standoff weapons that are to play an essential role in the tactical air warfare arena must be “robust. We need systems with great autonomous capabilities that are independent of fragile networks. I am all for standoff,” USAF’s new Chief of Staff cautioned, “but very suspicious of complex networks.”
Another topical issue in the tactical air warfare arena that General Welch viewed with cautious optimism centers on weapon systems commonality. There are many past success stories that teach categoric “dos” and “don’ts” in terms of commonality, he pointed out. The fundamental lesson is “that success stories in the past came from successful programs launched by one service and adopted by another service.” He cited the F-4 in this context, which served as the backbone of the Air Force’s tactical forces for more than a decade, even though the Navy had developed the aircraft. “The A-7 and the Sparrow missile are other examples—and there are lots of them—where a system developed by one service was found to be extremely useful by another with just minor modifications.”
But the commonality principle must not be carried too far. “Where we get into trouble is in cases that involve the [forced coalescence] of very complex sets of multiservice requirements, [with the result that] we wind up building a ‘camel.’
Two major tactical aircraft programs are under consideration for multiservice roles at present. In the case of the Air Force’s Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) program, the Navy “has been directed to consider it as [that service’s] follow-on air-superiority fighter [by modifying the aircraft] for carrier operations,” General Welch said. Conversely, the Navy is developing an air-to-ground combat aircraft, the Advanced Tactical Aircraft, or ATA, that the Air Force will be looking at “in terms of [adapting it to serve as] our next air-to-ground fighter.” He emphasized that he saw “no reason why this won’t work so long as we don’t wreck the ATA by separate sets of requirements or do the same thing to ATE”
Jointness and Reform Issues
Among the Air Force’s top priorities that General Welch helped formulate in such previous assignments as USAF’s Vice Chief of Staff and Deputy Chief of Staff for Programs and Resources, there is one that he is especially committed to: “There is absolutely no question that we will continue the ‘joint initiatives’ with other services. The emphasis on joint programs and cooperation will expand more and more. This is very natural for the Air Force, because we support the other services. With the exception of offensive strategic forces—and even here we do the job in cooperation with the Navy—our missions are flown in support of other services. So I find it very natural to pursue joint initiatives, especially since they have been very successful. They have saved both the Air Force and the Army a lot of money.”
Several parallel efforts under way in the Administration as well as in Congress to reorganize the way the armed forces plan, buy, and fight include positive elements and others that are “not helpful,” in General Welch’s view. “I think all of us could agree that it [would be good] for us and the country” if some of the management layers burdening the acquisition process were eliminated.
General Welch added, “I applaud the Packard Commission’s findings. We in the Air Force are moving on with implementing [the Commission’s recommended changes] because we think that the effects will be very positive.” There are many features of the Defense Department’s reorganization plan “that I agree are very beneficial.”
But he warned that in all reorganization schemes there is the acute danger that proposals will be added that “are not helpful.” The core proposals of the various reorganization bills and plans are “generally positive. It’s the fringe that contains a lot of things that are dangerous,” General Welch suggested.
The new Chief of Staff, who launched his military career in the enlisted ranks of the Kansas National Guard’s 16th Armored Field Artillery a quarter of a century ago, reacted with a broad grin to concerns within the service that its top leadership was “TAC-dominated.” For one, he pointed out, “I come to this job as the CINCSAC. If anyone doubts what that means, let me assure them that the SAC imperatives capture you in about one hour. But on the broader question about the background of the senior people of the Air Force, [we need to remember that] there are three tacair commanders in the Air Force, but only one CINCSAC and one CINCMAC, with the result that more ‘tactical generals’ are likely [to occupy top command slots]. We should point out also that the reason we call them generals is that they are generalists.”
General Welch added that he lets the record speak for itself in terms of the Air Force leadership’s “tremendous and effective support of strategic modernization and airlift programs.” The fact that very high on “my priority list are Peacekeeper, ATB, and the C-17 should not escape anybody’s attention. As a matter of fact, they may be higher on my list than any tactical program. I think,” he concluded, “that the balance is taken good care of.”
Apparently, so too is the Air Force under General Welch’s leadership.