An Aerospace Force for the Nation

Nov. 1, 1999

From the Gulf War in 1991 to Kosovo in 1999 and through dozens of contingency operations in between, the nation has looked again and again to its aerospace forces for crisis response and global power projection. The military strength of the United States is defined primarily by the global reach, power, and awareness that are derived from its capabilities in air and space.

As we enter the 21st century, however, these capabilities have been weakened by excessive reductions to the defense program. As impressive as the US Air Force was in Kosovo, it was stretched by a 78-day operation that also demonstrated the limited sustainability of the force in extended conflict.

The Air Force Association believes it is imperative to provide more adequately for all of the military services, and especially for the aerospace forces upon which the nation has become increasingly reliant.

  • The US Air Force is 40 percent smaller than it was during the Cold War, yet the rate at which it is employed has risen by a factor of four. Readiness and mission capability rates are dropping precipitously.
  • Retention problems, especially in the pilot force, are growing worse. The enlisted force is undermanned in critical specialties, and experience levels are still falling. For the first time in 20 years, the Air Force has begun to miss its recruiting goals.
  • After the Cold War, we entered a “strategic pause,” when no real challenge to US military superiority was foreseen and when operational pressures on the force were expected to lessen. This was to be our chance, despite a smaller defense budget, to make orderly investments in R&D and force modernization. As it turned out, the budgets did not cover current operations, and the investments in future capability got short shrift.

We believe the nation requires a balanced mix of land, sea, and aerospace forces. In some instances, perhaps most, the Air Force will lead the operation; in other instances, it may be the supporting force. Either way, no military operation of major scope will be conducted without aerospace power as a strong element.

The importance of aerospace power will grow more pronounced in the years ahead. This is the force the nation will depend on, early and often, in time of trouble. This reality should be reflected to a greater extent than it is now in policy, planning, doctrine, and resources.

Forces and Strategy. In 1993, searching for a rationale to justify a reduction to the defense budget, the Department of Defense determined-as the minimum standard feasible for sizing the force-that US forces should be prepared for two major theater conflicts that occurred almost simultaneously.

This standard, if met, would serve the nation reasonably well. The need to cover at least one theater conflict is indisputable. Also, there must be additional forces, both to perform other military missions and to serve as a hedge and deterrent against opportunistic adversaries who might take the first conflict to be an advantageous time to move aggressively elsewhere.

Unfortunately, the US armed forces do not have the resources to execute a two-war strategy. For the US Air Force, the operation in Kosovo was the rough equivalent of a major theater conflict. By the end of the first month, it was running short of preferred munitions and had stripped stateside bases of spare parts and experienced aircrews. When the operation ended after 11 weeks, the Air Force needed a period of reconstitution in which to recover.

Specialty aircraft, such as those that fly Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions, were sorely pressed to meet the concurrent demands in Kosovo and in other theaters. A regular assumption for implementing the two-war strategy has been that these systems, which the Air Force has in very limited numbers, would “swing” from one conflict to another. It is now clear that the force needs more of these aircraft.

Had a crisis begun in another theater while the operation in Kosovo was still in progress, the Air Force’s capability to respond would have been definitely constrained. Furthermore, it would not have been possible for the other services to fill the gap, since many of the capabilities required are unique to the Air Force.

We congratulate the Air Force on its regrouping of operational and support units into Aerospace Expeditionary Forces to cover peacetime contingencies. This approach provides some stability and redistributes the impact that deployments have on units and people.

It does not, however, change the fact that the Department of Defense is not prepared to meet the two-conflict standard in carrying out the strategy. Our armed forces need to be larger-and they need more money.

Resources for Defense. After the various gimmicks and questionable assumptions were factored out, and contrary to proclamations of a landmark increase in military spending, the Administration’s budget proposal for Fiscal 2000 marked the 15th year in a row that defense has been cut. Adjusted for inflation, the defense budget authority proposed for Fiscal 2000 was actually less than it had been in Fiscal 1999.

Resources are short on all fronts. The emphasis on current operations has crowded out force modernization and other priorities in the budget-and current operations are underfunded themselves. Force structure is inadequate. Readiness is deteriorating. Mission capable rates are down. Crises that do not end quickly pose a problem in sustainability.

Department of Defense spending on procurement today is only two-thirds the level necessary to maintain the average age of aircraft and other major military equipment. The present fleet of aircraft is the oldest the Air Force has ever operated. This leads to further readiness and maintenance problems, to say nothing of what failure to modernize does to the effectiveness of the force.

The military space program is woefully underfunded. The Air Force provides most of the space resources to support all of the services, but its share of the defense budget has not been adjusted to compensate for that. Furthermore, the only proposals floated to increase spending on space involve the reallocation of money from other accounts in the Air Force budget, which was already too short to meet the nation’s needs.

This is only one example of what happens when resources for defense are based on fiscal preconceptions rather than strategic requirements. Ceilings are artificially set and arbitrarily imposed. Valid military requirements are then played off against each other for what resources are left. The services are forced to choose between readiness and modernization, as if either of them were expendable. This is a dangerous practice and contrary to the nation’s interests.

The defense budget is dropping toward 3 percent of Gross Domestic Product-down from 6 to 10 percent during the Cold War. The Air Force Association believes that we can and should afford a defense program that meets the needs of national security and that the level of such a program will be close to 4 percent of GDP.

Technology and Force Modernization. In the early 1990s, the Department of Defense took a “procurement holiday,” postponing the purchase of weapon systems and other major equipment. A peace dividend was demanded, collected, and spent.

It was a budget-cutting exercise from which we have never recovered. Air Force investment accounts, chiefly spending on procurement and R&D, have now declined for the past 10 years in proportion to funding for current operations.

Military modernization programs have been singled out and attacked in detail. The B-2, which later performed so splendidly in Kosovo, was assailed relentlessly for years and cut back harshly. A more recent example has been the Congressional initiative to strip funding, for reasons that were essentially economic, from the Air Force’s No. 1 modernization priority, the F-22 fighter.

Budget considerations were obviously a prime consideration in the 1999 Bomber Roadmap, which said that the present bomber fleet, with upgrades, will be adequate until 2037 and that 2013 is soon enough to begin work on the next long-range bomber. We believe the Air Force should revisit this decision and its implications for the future of long-range airpower.

The 1990s also saw the demise of the great R&D organizations-of which Air Force Systems Command was the finest example-that once explored, developed, and advocated new military capabilities in work that ranged from basic research to delivery of finished systems. In the field, these activities were merged with the service materiel commands, and at headquarters level, the emphasis was put on acquisition management rather than on R&D.

We no longer have the burgeoning 20-year pipeline in which active technology investments once led to such dominant capabilities as ballistic missiles, stealth, precision weapons, and the current generation of Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance systems.

There are instances of emphasis on technology. For example, the Air Force has announced a large increase in S&T funding for space over the next five years, but that is to be paid for by a compensating drop in S&T funding for aeronautical systems. Overall, the portion of the budget allotted to research and development has declined sharply.

For years, we have lived off the investments made during the 1960s and 1970s. We produced the weapons that won the Gulf War during the 1970s and 1980s. In the 1990s, we have failed to invest in the future. We have squandered our leadership, and the risk is soaring. Unless that mistake is corrected, we will pay a high price for it in lives and in risk to our national security.

Operation Allied Force. Operation Allied Force in the Balkans demonstrated some of the potential of aerospace power, but not the full range of its capabilities. US and allied airmen were effective within the restrictive rules of engagement that were enforced to prevent casualties and collateral damage.

The US Air Force was the mainstay of the air campaign. Strike missions were accurate beyond precedent, with 99.6 percent of the bombs dropped hitting their targets. The Air Force also proved the efficacy of projecting combat power, day after day, around the world from bases in the United States.

Aerospace power ultimately succeeded-despite an ill-conceived strategy, political micromanagement, the needless concession of initiatives, and the incremental use of force-in making the Serbian regime yield to NATO’s terms. This was achieved with the loss in action of only two aircraft and with no allied combat casualties. Furthermore, and several highly publicized exceptions notwithstanding, these results were achieved with comparatively little collateral damage.

The Air Force Association recognizes the excellent performance in Operation Allied Force and congratulates all of the NATO crews and support forces, especially the men and women of the US Air Force. We are proud of them.

It is a tribute to aerospace power and to these airmen that the campaign was successful in its major purpose of bringing Belgrade to terms. However, this was not the prototype for an air operation. Political goals were imprecisely stated and difficult to translate into missions that could be carried out by military force. Some of those goals, such as directly ejecting the Serbs from Kosovo where they were engaged in door-to-door violence, were not possible to meet with airpower alone or within the commitment the allies were willing to make.

A great deal more might have been accomplished by attacking the full set of strategic targets, with determination, shock, and surprise, beginning on the first night of the conflict.

We congratulate the joint force air component commander for superb execution of the campaign. It would have been beneficial, both in formulating the objectives and in planning the operation, to have had an airman, with special competence in the application of airpower, at the most senior levels of the NATO chain of command.

People. For the men and women of the armed forces, the concept of service is strong. To an extent seldom encountered in the commercial world, they are driven by a sense of duty and mission. However, they must also believe the system that sustains them is fair. It is important to them that their relationship with the nation they serve is one of mutual respect.

People in uniform accept the hardships and hazards of the military profession; in return, they look to the nation to take care of them and their families, providing reasonable compensation, personal security, and quality of life.

Their confidence that the government will provide for them has been shaken in recent years. The Department of Defense has been unable to keep the promise of lifetime medical care for those who serve a full career. Although a guiding principle of the all-volunteer force was parity in compensation with the private sector, the divergence has reached 13.5 percent. The value of the military retirement system, once the No. 1 retention benefit, has been reduced by about 25 percent.

The relationship is further strained by constant short-notice deployments to distant locations for operations in which the nation’s interest may be marginal. The sacrifice that this demands from service members and their families has seemed to be expended almost casually. It is not surprising that military people take such trends, along with the reductions in programs that affect them personally, as a significant signal of the value the nation puts on their service.

It is anticipated that legislative action this year will close part of the pay gap with the private sector and partially restore the military retirement program. These actions are long overdue and much appreciated. Unfortunately, the problems with medical care continue, both for those now serving and for those who are retired.

The solution to retention problems and other personnel problems that beset the force will be to re-establish the trust in which military people believe the system that supports them is fair and reasonable and that their service to the nation is valued and respected.

Total Force. The Air Force continues to lead the way among the military services in the employment of its Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve components. We especially commend the expansion of the Reserve Associate concept, long in effect in Air Mobility Command, to fighter units of Air Combat Command. The Guard and Reserve are rich in operational experience. The question is not whether to draw further upon that experience but where and how that can be best done. As the Guard and Reserve components take on a larger role in the Total Force, it is essential that they be equipped and trained to the same standards as the active duty component.

The Air Force Association expresses its appreciation and regard for the support of employers of Guard and Reserve members. Without their cooperation, the great strength of Total Force would not be possible.

A Diversity of Threats. Conflicts occur in unpredictable places and at unpredictable times. When the baseline was laid for the defense programs of the 1990s, no one imagined that within the decade, US forces would be involved in a large scale conventional conflict in the Balkans.

The scope and pace of emerging threats are consistently underestimated. Two years ago, the Central Intelligence Agency said rogue nations like North Korea were l5 years away from acquiring long-range ballistic missiles. North Korea has since demonstrated that it has such a capability and soon, according to revised Intelligence estimates, will have ICBMs that can threaten the continental United States.

Problems of unpredictability are compounded when our preparations do not keep up with the threat. Our vulnerability to ballistic missile attack is of particular concern. Advanced military technologies of all kinds are proliferating, as are weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. First-rate fighter aircraft, approaching parity with those flown by the US Air Force, are coming into service around the world. Lethal surface-to-air missiles are widely available. All nations have modern electronics. The effort to penetrate and attack defense information networks is constant.

In view of this, the nation would be unwise to believe, as it has a tendency to do, that the military capabilities that prevailed this year, or 10 years ago, will be adequate to deal with threats and conflicts of the future.

We believe that the main focus of the national defense strategy should remain on regional conflict, and we view with concern the rising emphasis on military operations other than war. Noncombat capabilities are a consideration in structuring the force, but they must not be the priority consideration. The essential mission of the armed forces is to fight and win the nation’s wars. It is to that standard and purpose that they must be organized, trained, and equipped.

Aerospace Power. The traditional concept of war, which still prevails in joint doctrine and war planning, perceives the role of airpower to be secondary and in support of land power. This concept is wrong, and the perpetuation of it is irresponsible.

A Revolution in Military Affairs-the main aspects of which are information technology and long-range precision strike-has changed the face of war. Massive, force-on-force engagements and attrition warfare are no longer inevitable. Military effectiveness can no longer be measured by battle lines on the ground.

Aerospace power, the hardest-hitting, longest-reaching, and most versatile force that the nation possesses, has assumed a larger role in the conduct of military affairs. It will be used, one way or another, when we are confronted with a crisis abroad. Either as the supporting force or the supported force, it will be critical to the outcome.

Whether projecting power over great distances or providing worldwide situational awareness and mobility, aerospace power is uniquely global in its perspective. Theater commanders and other elements of the joint force depend on aerospace forces for that perspective. The joint force also looks to aerospace forces for air superiority, which provides not only freedom from attack but also freedom to attack.

Aerospace power is the force that can respond within hours rather than within days, and as it has demonstrated yet again, it can do so with great accuracy and focus.

The Information Operations mission, pivotal to national security strategies of the future, is moving inexorably toward space. It is inevitable that air superiority and space superiority will eventually merge and that strategists will think of aerospace power as an integrated whole.

Force of the Future. The Revolution in Military Affairs affects all of the services, but its key elements–stealth, long-range precision strike, and the obtaining, exploiting, defending, and attacking of information–depend on and center on aerospace forces.

The dimensions of aerospace power are still expanding. Vast improvements still lie ahead in sensors, weapons, and the capabilities of air and space vehicles. The inherent features of aerospace power allow us to act with effectiveness and flexibility, over long range, on short notice, while putting as few Americans in harm’s way as possible.

The dividing lines between airpower and space power will continue to blur. In the integrated arena of aerospace, airpower and space power share common operational characteristics that include elevation, perspective, speed, range, and freedom from the geographic constraints of the Earth’s surface.

Aerospace power will remain the military instrument of choice. It is the force of the future. As we enter the new century, the mission the Air Force must advocate and pursue is command of the aerospace medium and operations in it, from missile silo and treetop levels to High Earth Orbit.