Toward a New Style of Warfare

Nov. 1, 2003

Senior Air Force and national leaders as well as top private experts gathered at AFA’s International Airpower Symposium held Sept. 16–17 in Washington, D.C., to review and assess the progress of and lessons from the Global War on Terrorism. Among the more significant topics were the development of USAF’s expeditionary capabilities, the emergence of true jointness as a critical force multiplier, and the power of precision weapons and information to transform operations in the modern battlespace.

Secretary James G. Roche

The Air Force rapidly adjusted to the challenges posed by the war in Iraq—a testament to its “expeditionary operating concepts” as well as “the airmen who have adopted this mind-set as the norm rather than the exception,” said James G. Roche, Secretary of the Air Force.

Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan changed the Air Force “footprint around the world … substantially,” said Roche. The service set up “new bases and renewed relationships” and proved “remarkably flexible in adapting to these new demands.”

Roche said that “teamwork and trust” made Gulf War II a coordinated “warfighting effort from planning to execution.” One example was the joint planning effort of the Air Force and Army to iron out air-ground coordination problems that surfaced during Operation Enduring Freedom. As a result, USAF placed an air component coordinating element—led by then Maj. Gen. Daniel P. Leaf—with the land component commander for Gulf War II.

However, Roche emphasized the need to refrain from becoming “complacent” because, he said, “there are still many areas where we need to improve.”

One area of particular concern, he said, is the battle damage assessment process, something Gen. John P. Jumper, USAF Chief of Staff, also emphasized in his remarks (see below).

Roche said that the BDA system must be “as dynamic and responsive as our ability to strike” because good BDA is essential for rapid decision-making. “Anything less undermines the inherent deterrence and compelling effects airpower brings to our warfighting team,” he said.

Another necessity, said Roche, is to establish a “balanced and streamlined approach to space knowledge.” He said that the Air Force must make sure it has the “right staffing” in the combined air operations centers to support space missions such as space control. “And we need a space common operating picture,” he declared, “not a series of PowerPoint slides representing one.”

Roche also said that current events and trends in Iraq and Afghanistan are providing additional “powerful lessons.” Attacks in Iraq have not been limited to coalition military targets but to the very institutions that would help rebuild Iraq into a functioning nation. These events “confirm the persistent threat posed by those who oppose freedom and tolerance,” said Roche, adding, “The rising insurrectional alliance between radical Islamic groups and the Baathists will prove to be yet another front in the war on terror.”

He called the re-emergence of small Taliban elements in Afghanistan and the “expanding presence of terror groups in Morocco, Yemen, Indonesia, and other locales” a “persistent threat.” Therefore, he said, “we must continue to invest in the capabilities that will allow us to prevail in conflict—whether in a major conventional war or [in] the asymmetric battles we increasingly face these days.”

To that end, Roche said, the Air Force will continue to pursue not only next generation systems, such as the F/A-22, but also “innovations that create new capabilities from legacy systems.” Among those innovations are the addition of laser targeting pods on the venerable B-52 bomber and the real-time video link from the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle to the AC-130 gunship. He also cited a recent adaptation for the B-2 stealth bomber that enabled it to drop 80 satellite guided bombs in a single run.

“Every weapon hit within 10 feet of its intended target from over 35,000 feet and 10 miles away,” he said. And it took “less time to target these 80 weapons than the usual eight hours it takes us to target 16 [Joint Direct Attack Munitions],” said Roche, explaining that the feat was made possible by using “machine-to-machine integration.”

Adaptation also applies to new systems. Roche said the Air Force continues to adapt the new F/A-22 fighter, even before it is fielded. “The F/A-22 has changed in major ways,” he said, listing its suite of avionics, new weapons, and enhanced, active, electronically scanning antenna radar. “We are transforming the world’s greatest air dominance fighter into the world’s supreme multirole attack system—one that is nearly invisible to the enemy and one able to hold hostage virtually any target,” said Roche.

“When this aircraft is fielded in numbers, and the combatant commanders learn of its incredible capabilities, we will produce as many as we need to ensure our nation’s continued security,” Roche predicted.

Gen. John P. Jumper

The recent war in Iraq showcased the Air Force’s push to go back to its roots as an expeditionary force and its continuing rapid evolution as it applies new thinking to old hardware and doctrine, according to Gen. John P. Jumper, USAF Chief of Staff.

During the Cold War, the Air Force lost the “expeditionary habits” developed in World Wars I and II, but it has reclaimed that heritage and is now flexible enough to go anywhere on short notice, he said.

Gulf War II saw USAF set up 36 provisional bases—so many that “we couldn’t have opened even one more” due to a shortage of such mundane things as tents, said Jumper. He now deems it “a basic core competency” for the Air Force to be able to swiftly move in and set up operations at austere locations. Eight of 10 Air Expeditionary Forces were needed for the fight, Jumper observed. It will take until next March to get the system back into its normal deployment rhythm.

Jumper acknowledged, too, that despite the stunning successes of Gulf War II, the war also showed up the fact that air mobility assets were “stretched to the limit.” He said there’s been no decision about seeking more than 180 C-17s, though, and likely won’t be until it is better understood whether the C-5 fleet can be economically upgraded and whether the Air Force will get new aerial tankers.

Operation Iraqi Freedom demonstrated that USAF is thinking about things in “new ways”—delivering close air support from B-52s aided by Global Hawk sensor unmanned aerial vehicles and forging tight links between satellites, pilots in the air, special forces on the ground, and land force commanders to rapidly plow a path through enemy defenses.

“The first lesson is the importance of not losing sight of the fact that joint warfare is the imperative,” said Jumper. USAF worked “very closely” with the Army and Marine Corps and was able to “mature the relationship” between the land component commander and the air component commander, he added. The days are over, Jumper asserted, when any service assumes it can win a war by itself.

By going back to square one and discussing the means of fighting in conceptual—rather than equipment—terms, the services have a common language and can develop better ways to address emerging and chronic needs, he said. The Air Force is now thinking in terms of how it will fight before addressing what it will buy to fight with. Putting concepts ahead of programs “puts some discipline into our system,” said Jumper.

Bomb damage assessment proved to be something the service continues “to do badly,” Jumper noted. His goal is to rework the definition of BDA so that it doesn’t require such detailed analysis, enabling the Air Force to get a more useful assessment to the commander “more quickly.” And he said that one way to expand BDA coverage is to use aircraft returning from strikes. They could be routed over sites attacked by other aircraft to take images with sensors they already possess. This would involve no new purchases of gear but speed up the process of deciding if an urgent target has actually been destroyed or needs to be attacked again.

“In the future, as we continue to try to transform, we will see the traditional way we think about intelligence—where you collect it, then you analyze it, and then you report—is also going to be used inside the kill cycle to find and fix and kill targets in real time,” explained Jumper. “We have to find ways to shift those assets back and forth across the traditional lines so that those assets can be used both ways and can make that transition seamlessly.”

Space programs will continue to receive emphasis, said Jumper, noting “a great upsurge” in 2004 funding. The Air Force has “really not done a bad job of keeping our space capabilities modernized,” he observed, because space systems are so critical “you have no choice. Once they stop, you’ve got to put something up there to replace it.” In fact, he said, “we’ve done a better job” modernizing space systems “than we have on modernization in our airborne force.”

The science and technology budget is and will remain under pressure he warned, adding that USAF is only spending “the minimum level that we need.”

Jumper provided a status check on the F/A-22, saying USAF has “wrestled to the ground” the fighter’s software instability problems. The airplane is proving to be a hit with operational testers, he reported.

“This is going to be the most amazing air machine that has ever been developed,” he asserted, quoting test reports describing the Raptor as able to deliver a consistently and “grossly one-sided fight” against top-rated F-15s and their pilots.

Gen. Gregory S. Martin

The Air Force has marvelous technology to collect battlefield information but must now speed up the process of turning that information into action, according to Gen. Gregory S. Martin, commander of Air Force Materiel Command.

Martin, who had just taken the helm at AFMC, said lessons learned from Gulf War II point up a need to “break the time barrier” in translating collected intelligence into touch-screen information that decision-makers can use to make quick choices during an unfolding operation. The battle presentation must show, at the touch of a button, what an object is, who it is, how old the information is, how it was collected, and what a target is likely to do, Martin said. It must also be easy to understand by all who must use the data so that fleeting targets can be reached “before that target is gone.”

The overarching goal, he said, is to “achieve desired effects near-instantaneously.”

Another lesson of Gulf War II is that “there is absolutely no question about the force-multiplying effect of a combined air operations center,” Martin said. It is a capability that must also be put through constant exercises that include allies.

The Air Force learned—more so in Operation Iraqi Freedom than any other conflict—about the importance of a fully integrated planning and execution capability, he said. “You must exercise that. You must train to it.” Only when such skills are developed “under the stress of a serious exercise or a major contingency [will you] find out what kinds of connectivity [exist], where the seams are, and how you work together as different cultures.”

Cooperation with allies will continue to be essential, Martin said, because the war on terrorism is one where “we are not defining the battlespace on our own terms. More often than not, we are reacting.” The ability to network information from many sources and coordinate action will “give us a chance” to stop terrorists before they launch their attacks.

“It can’t be done by one nation alone,” said Martin. “It can’t be done by one service alone. It has got to be done in a joint, in a combined, and in a very partnered and collaborative way. This is our challenge, I think, in the Free World.”

Programmatically, said Martin, AFMC will be pursuing many forms of directed energy—both lasers and high-powered microwaves—which not only offer speed of effect but the ability to deliver only the amount of energy needed to achieve the minimum effect desired. He said there will continue to be an emphasis on improving the stealthiness of airframes and extending their range through more efficient propulsion.

In sensors, he said, a key effort will be hyper- and multispectral systems that, when combined, can give the Air Force the ability to see things in places where “we have never been able to sense them before.” Part of this will be achieved through nanotechnologies and microelectronic mechanical systems, which will cut weight and volume of systems, but also through biometrics, which seek a means to mimic the sensory systems of living things.

The Air Force continues to look into hypersonic flight, but the capability must be pursued at the “right pace,” said Martin. Right now there are no “processes that will use it as effectively as perhaps other capabilities,” he explained, adding that it is also “very expensive.” He said that he expects to see a hypersonic demonstration vehicle “within the next five years or so,” but it will take longer to have a system with “military utility.” In fact, it has not been decided whether hypervelocity systems are needed.

However, Martin maintained that while “it is important for us to pursue,” the costs to sustain that technology must be balanced against other emerging capabilities that have great promise, such as directed energy programs.

Martin also said the Air Force is looking hard at its aging aircraft, trying to discern where it makes sense to simply upgrade old airplanes and where it’s more economically logical to just buy new ones. “We are not as far along as we would like to be in making those assessments,” he noted.

To help that process, the service established a new airframe viability board. The C-5A Galaxy is the first aircraft under the board’s scrutiny. So far, “we don’t have the answer, but we understand the potential problems and are now beginning to harness some resources that way to give us some insights,” Martin said.

Rebecca Grant

Air and space power made the conduct of Gulf War II nothing less than “a new style of warfare” which will set the tone for armed conflict in the 21st century, according to Rebecca Grant, an airpower analyst and president of IRIS Independent Research.

Briefing AFA convention attendees on a white paper called “Gulf War II: Air and Space Power Led the Way,” Grant said Operation Iraqi Freedom abolished the warfare modes of the 19th and 20th centuries that involved setting up sequential fronts, attrition warfare, and lines of engagement with the enemy. Instead, Gulf War II took place on five separate fronts simultaneously and fluidly, removing virtually all of the enemy’s initiative.

“This style of warfare is so new that we don’t have good words for it yet,” Grant explained. “We tend to talk about what it isn’t: nonlinear, nonsequential, noncontiguous operations. What that all is saying is that there is a change in how we built the framework of victory.”

In previous wars, ground forces have had to protect their flanks along a long front, Grant said, but Gulf War II saw airpower alone protecting the flanks of advancing ground forces, allowing concentration of power and unprecedented speed of advance.

The 1991 Gulf War began with an intense 38-day air campaign. In Gulf War II, there was no need for a protracted attrition of half the enemy’s forces before the ground offensive could be launched. One reason, said Grant, was that battlefield preparation actually began as early as June 2002 when Operation Southern Watch air patrols systematically eliminated much of the Iraqi air defenses in response to heightened attacks on coalition aircraft.

The Iraq war also built on successes in Afghanistan, where it was impossible to establish any front, Grant said. Instead, connections between coalition ground forces and aircraft, armed with very precise ordnance, made it possible to locate and destroy concentrations of Taliban and al Qaeda forces.

With intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance, command and control, and strike aircraft working together and with ground forces, she explained, “you could bring in as much air-delivered firepower as you needed.”

In Gulf War II, the “overwhelming airpower available” gave commanders a far wider array of choices than in earlier wars, Grant asserted.

There were really “five air wars” going on in Iraq, she pointed out. There was the Scud-hunting mission in the western desert, which had been practiced in Nevada beforehand. There was the strategic campaign against leadership targets in Baghdad and elsewhere. In the north, there was the airlift of ground forces and air attacks against Iraqi defenses and, in the south, support for the advancing Army V Corps and 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.

The “level of precision and discrimination” demonstrated by the air strikes, tempered by a dedicated effort to prevent civilian casualties “is entirely new,” Grant said, as was “the ability to track and prosecute time sensitive targets.”

Aided by satellites, USAF was able to predict the March sandstorms in advance, and, while ground forces were obliged to slow down at that point and wait for their supply train to catch up, there was no pause in air attacks. Because of systems that could see through the blowing sand, it offered no sanctuary to Iraqi forces.

While there did evolve a front of sorts—the leading edge of the ground force—“it happened within a framework that was radically changed” from earlier wars, Grant asserted. Air and space assets were able to tell ground forces almost exactly what lay ahead and, in most cases, destroyed threats before the ground units reached them.

Another new and unique feature was the ability to “dial a weapon” from the sky, Grant noted. So many were the strike aircraft above Iraq, armed with such an array of munitions, that the commander could ask for—and immediately get—anything from a two-ton bunker buster to a 30-pound antivehicle missile.

Overall, air and space power allowed “the whole joint force to function at its most optimum level,” she asserted. The emplacement of USAF controllers with ground and sea units smoothed out the bumps and allowed unprecedented coordination of effort.

“What we’ve seen in Operation Iraqi Freedom,” Grant said, “is that through air and space power, we have an ability to be more efficient in that Global War on Terrorism; to prosecute it in a way that holds with some of our core values, such as minimizing collateral damage, such as minimizing loss of life—not only on the friendly side but on the opposition side as well—and such as trying to run this in a way that is sustainable and plays to the strengths of an expeditionary military force.”

Vice President Dick Cheney

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on American soil “demonstrated how vulnerable we are as a nation” and how terrorists can “take advantage of our open borders and open society and use them against us,” Vice President Dick Cheney told attendees at one of AFA’s National Convention symposia.

To counter this threat, the vice president said the Administration had to look beyond the “old, Cold War remedies” and devise a new viable national security strategy—one that recognizes the unique nature of terrorism and “puts us on the offense.”

Simply put, he said, “there is nothing they value highly enough that we can put at risk to keep them from launching an attack against the United States.” A defensive posture is inadequate, he said, because even if almost all attacks are prevented, the one that “gets through can still kill you.”

Cheney said, “We need a strategy … that lets us go after those who pose a threat to the United States or our friends and allies, a strategy that allows us to destroy the terrorists before they can launch attacks against us.”

There are those who say the United States is wrong to take the offensive in the war on terror. However, Cheney maintained, “We cannot wait to act until after another day like 9/11—or a day far worse.” He quoted President Bush, who has said, “If the threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late.”

Cheney continued, “We will be much more secure if we aggressively go after the terrorists and after the nations and the mechanisms that support them than if we lay back and wait for them to strike us again here, in the United States.”

He emphasized that this is a war “that involves not just the United States but all of the nations of the civilized world.” Cheney underscored how evidence found in Afghanistan, where al Qaeda had the support of that nation’s now-deposed Taliban regime, revealed that US enemies “are determined to acquire weapons of mass destruction—chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons.” He went on, “We have every reason to believe that if they succeed, they will use them, launching attacks far more deadly than anything we’ve ever experienced.”

The vice president noted that the Air Force’s role in the war on terror has been “crucial.”

Cheney said: “The Air Force’s global reach enables us to project our power anywhere in the world within a matter of hours. Its new tactics and precision weapons help us achieve our military objectives while minimizing collateral damage. It provides umbrella coverage for the defense of our homeland.”

Although the US and its allies are “making steady progress,” he said, “the work goes on.” Ultimately, Cheney said, the war on terror is against an enemy that “rejoices in the murder of innocent, unsuspecting human beings,” adding, “That is why people in every part of the world and of all faiths … can settle for nothing less than total victory.”

Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta

“The United States Air Force has a proud aviation history, one that has long been intertwined with commercial aviation,” said Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta.

Commercial aircraft made gains in performance following the Air Force lead, and the development of bombers “helped evolve commercial passenger aircraft,” he said, adding, “America’s first military jets were the precursor to commercial jets.”

Mineta went on to describe the ongoing efforts between the Federal Aviation Administration and the Defense Department to refine aviation safety practices. DOD “provides about 15 percent of the nation’s air traffic services,” he noted. “Working together, we are standardizing our procedures and integrating a transparent delivery of service to the consumer,” said Mineta.

Speaking about the future of aviation, he said that the Transportation Department is working with DOD, NASA, Homeland Security, and Commerce “to develop a shared vision of the air transportation system … as far out as the year 2025.” The agencies are working together to build, possibly as early as this fall, “a national plan to help determine what the system of the future should look like,” he said.