June 1, 2008

Cliffward Bound

I agree with your assessment [“Editorial: Lurching Toward a Cliff,” April, p. 2] that the 2009 budget request does not adequately fund Air Force investment programs. The nation needs at least 381 F-22 fighters, many more C-17s than the currently programmed 190, and a replacement for aging Cold War bombers. This is shaping up to be the decade of lost opportunities for American airpower. I shudder to think what would have happened to the Air Force if General Moseley had not shown up in time to prevent the “controlled flight into terrain” that the Quadrennial Defense Review was becoming.

However, I would like to offer three caveats to your case for more funding. First, Congress is highly likely to fund production of additional F-22s and C-17s in the 2009 budget mark, which will provide the bridge to an Administration with more sensible investment priorities. It is up to the Air Force to convince President Bush’s successor that 381 Raptors is the minimum viable number, and it needs to rethink its approach to airlift recapitalization to acknowledge the need for at least 250 C-17s.

Second, the nation is spending five percent of a $14 trillion GDP—$480 billion in baseline 2008 military spending, $189 billion in war-related outlays, and about $20 billion on other items like Energy Department nuclear weapons programs. With the nation facing a $400 billion budget deficit this year and who-knows-what next year, it isn’t realistic to expect a higher level of military outlays in the absence of an urgent threat. So increasing investment outlays requires cutting other aspects of military activity. Iraq would be a good place to start.

Finally, the Air Force is going to lose the modernization argument if it keeps using fighters as its point of reference for budgetary shortfalls. What about the sorry state of electronic warfare? What about the fact that it can’t scrape together enough money to modernize 14 JSTARS planes with new radar that would be better at tracking insurgents? I’m all for getting to 381 Raptors, but how can the service expect sympathy for its funding difficulties when it plans to buy more stealthy fighters than every other country in the world combined, but has no roadmap for upgrading its radar planes

Loren Thompson

Arlington, Va.

Ramenskoye, Past and Present

I noted with great personal interest the photos on p. 52 of Air Force Magazine, April 2008 issue, showing an Mi-8 Hip helicopter and an An-12 Cub fixed wing aircraft apparently rigged for aerial recovery (“capture,” in your caption).

This is the first instance I have ever seen in print that the Russians employed a midair recovery system (“MARS” as the USAF called it). After flying 72 combat missions in Korea with the 36th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, I left active duty and joined All American Engineering Co. (AAE). In 1960, I was a member of the design team for the JC-130 Aerial Recovery System used for photoreconnaissance satellite capsule recovery. I was then project engineer on USAF’s first MARS and flew as test engineer on the first USAF catch in an H-43 helicopter in July 1961 at Holloman Air Force Base, and then project engineer on USAF’s CH-3C MARS, used to recover the Ryan Model 147 reconnaissance drones. Later (in 1969), I became AAE’s manager of Aerial Recovery Programs.

I am amazed that after all of those years “in the business,” the Russians’ activities never surfaced.

G. Robert Veazey

Wilmington, Del.

Thanks so much for the photo feature “Ramenskoye, Past and Present.” It was a fascinating look at a world that we don’t get to see often.

For my part, I would have been happy with a feature that was four times as long on the same subject. Hopefully, you’ll publish other, similar features in the future.

Also, a small nit: The caption for the F-16 image that appears on p. 18 of the same issue states that one of the fighters “unloads some electronic countermeasure flares.”

In fact, flares are infrared decoys, not electronic countermeasures.

Hank Caruso

California, Md.

If There Comes Another Draft …

I was one of the thousands of recruits during the Vietnam War, as identified by the statement on p. 71, “…as many as half of the Air Force’s enlistments were induced by the pressures of the draft” [“When the Draft Calls Ended,” April, p. 68]. Unfortunately, I served about nine-and-a-half months due to what my father called “immaturity.” However, I had wanted to serve in the Air Force for most of my life previous to actually entering when I did.

In my case, however, I had the abilities needed to fulfill an enlistment and/or career in the Air Force. What I needed was some help from our government as I suspect many did at that time. I am thinking that in the future, should the draft be reinstated, that it would behoove the government to make some adjustments to the system, such as allowing all college students the opportunity to complete the first two years of schooling before being subject to the draft. This would give an advantage to the draftees where they would be allowed to enter with some idea of what the world holds beyond the friendly confines of high school.

Also, it would be important to provide a way of doing alternative service to the nation instead of having to enter the military during a time of a national draft. I understand that the needs of the country are dire during a time of conflict such as the current War on Terror, but the individual has to be shown some latitude and respect for his or her own choices and future lives and jobs. I say this because of the morale factors encountered during Vietnam, etc.

William Reid

Essexville, Mich.

No article has ever struck a nerve with me like John Correll’s article on the draft.

I was a student at a small university, drinking beer with my buddies in a dorm room and watching the draft number assignments. It’s important to note that my year group was the first that did NOT have a student deferment, so the process drew more than just casual interest from the eligibles.

I briefly left the room and when I returned, everyone was wearing very glum faces. While I was gone, my number had been assigned. I was two—not 20—not 200—but two! My dreams of getting a Ph.D. in literature and a professorship went up in smoke. I was toast.

I checked out the AFROTC unit but they couldn’t sign me up until the following summer. For the next several months, I enjoyed celebrity status on campus. Few knew my name, but they’d point and say, “There goes No. 2!” There was a silver lining to what many considered the black cloud over my head. I met many coeds who voluntarily introduced themselves and expressed concern about my situation.

As it turned out, the Paris peace talks were progressing to President Nixon’s satisfaction. Therefore, he decided there would be no draft in January. This went on for several months until springtime when he announced there would be no draft that year. Like a phoenix, my previous dreams came back from the ashes.

However, I was finally out of money—dead broke would be more accurate. AFROTC dangled a two-year navigator scholarship in front of me. I bit at the carrot thinking that after my commitment I’d go on to graduate school. Little did I know.

Because of a medical disqualification and my scholarship status, AFROTC told me I’d have to switch from navigator to missile training. That didn’t faze me at all. Due to my complete ignorance of the military, Mather and Minot were just dots on a map.

My initial goal of a four-year tour turned into a very enjoyable and productive 26-year career. I never looked back.

Col. Scott W. Berry,

USAF (Ret.)

Niceville, Fla.

That Tanker Competition

The KC-45 tanker procurement is in protest now and we wish otherwise [“Air Force World: Air Force Picks Northrop Grumman in KC-X Contest,” April, p. 14]. However, there is an aspect of the procurement we need to understand. The officers of both companies have a fiduciary responsibility to the thousands of shareholders and employees of their companies to do all legally in their power to obtain business for their companies.

This is especially true considering there may be $50 billion dollars and jobs far into the future at stake for them and their suppliers. We see patriotic considerations involved, but those mostly are the responsibility of federal government procurement and support activities. This is the real Super Bowl and none of the players can give in to be nice guys! I certainly hope the Government Accountability Office makes a firm decision soon so USAF gets the best equipment it needs now to do their most important jobs for another century!

Maj. Ralph S. Miller,

AUS (Ret.)


Both offerings will perform the Air Force tanker mission. Replacing commercial 767-200 with 767-300 and 767-400 components is not a higher technical risk. All the component substitutions have a service history on 767-300s and 767-400s. Most substitutions have the same form, fit, and function, and are only stronger than the corresponding -200 component. Getting an assembly plant for the KC-45 up and running in the United States is a higher risk. In addition, the KC-45 is based on the passenger A330-200 and not the A330-200F freighter.

Are we forgetting that the European Airbus A330 was brought in to provide competition? Since these tankers are based on off-the-shelf aircraft, all performance parameters should be rationalized on each aircraft’s max fuel load and not based in absolute terms. If the KC-45 exceeded the KC-767 by less than 25 percent in the majority of fuel off-load scenarios, and exceeded the KC-767 costs by more than 25 percent, the KC-767 should have won. The KC-767 carries a 200,000-lb fuel load, while the KC-45 carries a 250,000-lb fuel load. The evaluation standard should have recognized that the KC-767 could not compete with the KC-45 in size, and the KC-45 could not compete with the KC-767 on ramp footprint. Since these two aircraft are dissimilar, the competition should have ignored all evaluation aspects that would have required Boeing and Northrop-Grumman to design a whole new base aircraft to win. If the Air Force wanted a larger aircraft, they should have asked Boeing to compete the KC-777.

What happens when the last 200 KC-135Rs have to be replaced? The Boeing 767 will have been out of production for 15 or more years. Tankers based on the Boeing 787, Boeing 777, and Airbus A350 will be too big. The only option then will be to design a new tanker from scratch to replace the last KC-135Rs.

Col. David A. Carlson,

USAF (Ret.)

Dundee, Fla.

Why Airmen Don’t Command

Ms. Rebecca Grant’s article in the March 2008 edition highlights a startling facet of the current defense establishment: the continued absence of Air Force general officers among the ranks of geographic combatant commanders [“Why Airmen Don’t Command,” p. 46.] Unfortunately, her article is based on dated information, poor assumptions, and provides the reader with inaccurate and invalid conclusions. Ms. Grant concludes a conspiracy of tradition and emotion has kept the Air Force out of geographic commands. She further concludes that for the Air Force to effectively place its officers in these commands, it needs officers with a deep understanding of ground operations or regional expertise. In actuality, the only conspiracy is that senior defense leaders and the Joint Staff work together to glean the most qualified nominee from a field of exceptional candidates.

A definitive look into recent research reveals more accurate rationale as to why only two geographic combatant commanders have worn Air Force blue. A canvassing of over a dozen recent senior defense officials and general officers including two former Secretaries of Defense, a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, three current combatant commanders, and a host of civilian and other flag officers provides unique insights from those actually involved in the hiring of combatant commanders over the past 10 years. These senior officials, contrary to Ms. Grant’s argument, conclude that while regional and ground experiences are important factors, they are not decisive or pivotal factors in the selection.

In fact, of five current regional combatant commanders, only two have deep regional experience in their geographic regions. Furthermore, of the three admirals currently leading geographic commands, none have had significant ground commands or experience. Senior civilian leaders exhibit no predisposition toward ground experience or ground commanders and it’s wrong to assume they do. Instead, senior defense officials recognize the broad political-military importance of geographic commands and take great effort in conjunction with the service chiefs and the Joint Staff to select the most qualified individual, regardless of service or background. Moreover, both former Secretaries of Defense [William S.] Cohen and [Donald H.] Rumsfeld did not feel bound by the historical affiliations of certain combatant commands with particular services and frequently nominated nontraditional candidates to lead these commands.

Instead of ground, regional experience, or historical legacies, the true critical determinant and the attributes that separate highly qualified candidates in the current selection of combatant commanders are a candidate’s joint experience and his demonstration of broad, global perspectives. Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon R. England summed up a consensus of senior leaders, relaying that combatant commanders must “have broad experience, a world and global view, and a broad perspective.” Joint experience is most often cited by these officials as the critical factor because it is the vehicle to broadening experiences and exposes the officer to a wide range of interservice, interagency, and international issues. Joint experience also builds credibility with other services and allows senior officers to develop reputations and trust with fellow services. According to Larry Di Rita, the former special assistant to Rumsfeld, “Among two equally qualified in all other respects, the officer who had the greater joint expertise or experience would probably be the officer selected.”

So why hasn’t the Air Force grabbed its fair share of geographic commands? After all, isn’t it the “nation’s premier global, multidimensional maneuver force?” Aren’t its general officers joint? Somewhat surprisingly, several senior officials consider the Air Force the least joint and its leaders the most parochial, always inclined to seek an “Air Force solution” to defense or security issues. One senior official lamented, “It is striking how insular and parochial the Air Force is when compared to the other services.”

A sampling of joint experience at the most senior levels of the Air Force gives significant credence to this perception. Current Air Force senior officers have a noticeable dearth of experience in joint general officer positions. For example, half of the current four-star major command commanders have not had a joint tour as a general officer, which incidentally makes them ineligible to be combatant commanders and causes other services to question the Air Force commitment to joint endeavors.

Additionally, certain joint billets and certain service commands are historically recognized as the “proving ground” for future geographic commanders. Included among these positions are the directorate heads of the Joint Staff and the senior military assistant to the Secretary of Defense. These positions are prominent because they offer opportunities to interact among the other services and among senior civilian leaders. Of the 14 geographic commanders serving since 2000, eight have served as Joint Staff director heads or as the senior military assistant to the Secretary of Defense. Unfortunately, in the past 10 years, only two Air Force officers have served in any of these positions. The lack of consistent representation of Air Force officers corresponds to its lack of representation among geographic commanders.

Clearly the Air Force is not equipping its senior officers with the right mix of joint experience that leads to the broad perspectives senior officials desire. Individual opportunities for geographic commands are few, and having the right person available at the right time is difficult. Because of timing issues, the slating of other service officers, contingencies, and other external dynamic factors, a service must develop a pool or “bench” of officers with the flexibility to adapt to the dynamic environment of senior officer affairs.

Ms. Grant and Dr. [Phillip S.] Meilinger propose the Air Force learn to “politic better” for service combatant commander nominees. In reality, politicking for service nominees only serves to engender service rivalries and doesn’t produce long-term results beneficial to any service.

The Air Force would be much better served by focusing efforts on developing lower level general officers (two-star) to assume leadership roles in the joint directorates. The Air Force should broaden its general officers earlier and compete them more aggressively for key joint positions. Joint experience in general officer positions should be rewarded and its absence considered detrimental. The Air Force should also mandate joint tours for its 0-7 and 0-8 officers, thereby giving them the opportunity for multiple joint tours by the time they become three- or four-star officers.

Regardless of the method chosen, the Air Force should seize every opportunity to ensure its general officers have broad joint experience. Joint experience equips the officer with an immediate appreciation of other service capabilities and allows an introspective review of one’s own service. In sum, Air Force general officers with wider joint perspectives will help change the negative perceptions held by senior defense officials—especially the ones that select geographic commanders.

Col. Stuart K. Archer

Maxwell AFB, Ala.