March 1, 2009

The Downdraft

[Regarding Air Force Magazine’s December editorial, “Air Supremacy in a Downdraft,” p. 2]: The Air Force must recognize that it has to change its culture to eliminate all resistance to being open to meaningful change so it, like the rest of our military, becomes as relevant as possible to current and future medium term realities, not those of the Cold War.

Christopher Dye

Plainfield, N.H.

UAVs: Epiphanies

Yogi Berra said it better than USAF’s senior leadership’s UAV pronouncements in the January 2009 magazine: It’s like deja vu, all over again. The USAF director of operations said, “We want to go to a dedicated career field because we can see this as a force that we’re going to need in the future not only at the tactical, but at the operational and strategic [level]” [“UAV Pilots,” p. 34]. The article then says, “This realization has begun to affect the approach to the problem taken by the Air Force’s senior leadership.”

That realization had a 14-year gestation in the USAF Operations Directorate. USAF pilots have flown Predator, now MQ-1, aircraft since the Advanced Concept Technology Development (January 1994 through June 1996). The 14-year USAF UAV track record, with some exceptions, is marked by “leper colony” and “expedience.” Both are issues pointed out by the CSAF in the same article: The Air Force “must promote a strong and healthy [UAV] community, not a ‘leper colony’ or an agency of expedience.”

USAF spent the first Predator decade plugging the holes in the dike. USAF removed pilots from their original weapon systems for two-year Predator tours as “nonflying operators” then returned those pilots to their original commands and weapon systems. Imagine fielding a new weapon system with USAF leadership direction that no “pilot” would ever have more than two years’ experience in that system. Fourteen years later, where are the senior USAF leaders with UAV experience? When will USAF produce a general officer who has MQ-1, MQ-9, or RQ-4 listed as an aircraft flown, in the official biography?

At the very beginning of USAF’s Predator program, senior USAF leadership studied and debated the qualifications for its Predator pilots. What did it decide, after pouring through an AFRL study that included nonrated officers and mountains of staff papers? USAF took the expedient (and expected), but lukewarm solution: USAF pilots. Why lukewarm? The UAVs on USAF’s mid-1990s windscreen (Predator, Global Hawk, and Dark Star), if fielded, would eventually swamp USAF’s static pilot production of 1,100 pilots per year.

Facing static pilot production and growing UAV pilot requirements, the operations directorate chased multiple solutions during the decade, including alternative USAF pilot production and use of USAF navigators. All ended up in the bureaucratic wastebasket. Now, “the Air Force will also begin beta testing a class of 10 active duty officers (up through the rank of captain) from various technical and nontechnical fields, to see if it can teach them how to fly armed UAVs.” In other words, USAF says that if the Air Force uses the existing pilot acquisition process (aptitude, skill sets, flight physical, initial flight screening at Pueblo, Colo.) and forgoes simulator and in-flight aircraft training with simulator-only for instrument flying qualification, it should graduate USAF UAV pilots. Fourteen years ago, AFRL said essentially the same thing.

Lt. Col. Doug Henley,

USAF (Ret.)

Yorktown, Va.

Airpower’s Six Phases

Rebecca Grant reaches too far [“The Six Phases of Airpower” January, p. 46] to create scenarios to justify “conventional warfare” requirements for air dominance planning.

For example, she cites the newspaper Izvestia—not always the most reliable source—declaring that Russia would respond to US missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic “by basing strategic bombers in Cuba.” First, it is unlikely that the Russian government would commit any of its relatively few long-range bombers to foreign basing and its implicit political control—especially to bases some 90 miles from the continental United States.

Second, Cuban officials, seeking better relations with the United States, are unlikely to allow Russian combat forces of any kind on their territory. As evident from my week in Cuba, the Cubans—officials and citizens—distrust the Russians and want very much to be friends with the Americans.

Ms. Grant, in attempting to build a case for a potential conventional conflict with China, states: “USAF must be certain it can prevent [Chinese] Red Air and missile defenses from creating a lockout in the Taiwan Strait, for example. F-22s will have to hunt and kill SAMs.”

Does the Air Staff seriously consider operating F-22s (or any aircraft) over mainland China to kill SAMs? If so, we are really in trouble. And where would those F-22s be based? Taiwan? The airfields on that island probably have a wartime life expectancy measured in minutes (how long does it take for a cruise missile or IRBM from China to strike Taiwan?). Will we be eating up tankers and F-22 flight hours to fly such anti-SAM strikes from Japan or Okinawa? Or engaging Chinese fighters over their territory or even in the strait, where they have the benefits of ground radar and intercept control and nearby bases?

If the decision is made to strike Chinese territory, it will be done with air- and submarine-launched cruise missiles.

The specter of future conventional conflicts should certainly be used in our efforts to justify conventional (non-irregular warfare) military forces. But more realistic scenarios must be derived than those given here.

Norman Polmar

Alexandria, Va.

Mr. Polmar, I hope you are right about Russia not becoming a threat. Scenarios aside, it will take more than standoff cruise missiles to hit mobile targets like air defenses which can drive well out of harm’s way in the flight time of a sea-launched cruise missile. As Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz reminded us in February 2009, the F-22 will be important for suppression and destruction of enemy air defenses.—Rebecca Grant

Dr. Grant’s article, “The Six Phases of Airpower,” shows that hard-won lessons learned in combat concerning irregular warfare have not been learned by all. Fortunately, AFDD 2-3 Irregular Warfare distills the lessons learned during joint-combined actions in the 21st century in a key foundational doctrine statement: “IW is not a lesser-included form of traditional warfare. Rather, IW encompasses a spectrum of warfare where the nature and characteristics are significantly different from traditional warfare” (p. viii).

Combat action at any point in the spectrum of war by any service does not take place in a vacuum. The idea that an adversary, once engaged in combat, would enjoy a sufficiently permissive acquisition environment as to allow them to rapidly deploy counterair systems in sufficient numbers to change suddenly the air environment is unrealistic. This attempt at a cautionary tale does not consider the coordinated use of a nation’s—or a coalition’s—other instruments of power. Further, it assumes a lack of foresight on the part of our military leaders that is unjustified.

Maj. David Hook,

USAF (Ret.)

San Antonio

Ups and Downs of Space Radars

The introductory sentence in the article “Ups and Downs of Space Radars” (January 2009, p. 67) states that future Maj. Gen. [David D.] Bradburn entered the US Army Air Corps in 1946. In fact, the USAAC had been renamed the Army Air Forces in June of 1941.

MSgt. James B. Walker,

USAF (Ret.)

Dayton, Ohio

Neither Jeffrey Richelson nor James Walker gets it exactly right, but Richelson gets it more right. Bradburn’s official USAF biography states the following: “After graduating from the US Military Academy as a rated pilot, General Bradburn was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the US Army Air Corps.” Thus, Bradburn may have “entered” the AAF in 1946, but he also would have entered and been commissioned in the Air Corps. The status of the Air Corps, created by statute in 1926, did change during the war. Nor was it abolished or renamed in 1941. It continued to exist until 1947, and substantial numbers of officers and airmen were appointed, assigned, or detailed to it during the AAF years.—the Editors

Cold War From on High

I thoroughly enjoyed your article “Cold War From on High” in the January 2009 issue [p. 38]. I would like to point out that the photo captioned as “the SR-71’s super-secret forerunner, the A-12, circa 1962” is actually the third YF-12A, 1960-6936, one of three A-12s converted by Lockheed to test the feasibility of a Mach 3 interceptor. This aircraft was used to set three world speed and altitude records on May 1, 1965.

Of the three YF-12A aircraft, 60-6934 was damaged during a landing at Edwards AFB, Calif., and the rear half of the aircraft was later used to build the SR-71C trainer. Aircraft numbers 60-6935 and 60-6936 were subsequently flown by NASA; 60-6936 was lost when a fire broke out due to a fuel line fracture while on approach at Edwards on June 24, 1971, and 60-6935 is now on display at the Air Force Museum, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.

MSgt. Robin Thurston,

USAF (Ret.)

Colorado Springs, Colo.

On p. 40—The comment that “Lockheed based the aircraft (U-2) on the main fuselage of the F-104 fighter” is not quite correct. The original CL-282 study was based on the fuselage of the XF-104—which differed considerably from the later production configuration.

On p. 43—the top photo is incorrectly attributed to my good friend and Lockheed Martin photographer Denny Lombard; it was, however, taken by my good friend Lockheed Martin photographer Eric Schulzinger.

On p. 45—The third caption noting “The D-21 … could be launched from the back of an SR-71” is incorrect. The only Blackbird family aircraft capable of carrying the D-21s were two purpose-built M-21s (A-12 derivatives). These aircraft, when carrying D-21s, sometimes were referred to as M/D-21s.

Jay Miller

Fort Worth, Tex.

Arc Light

[In regard to: “Arc Light,” January, p. 58]: Arc Light B-52 missions staged out of Guam were successful, in part, through the air refueling support of KC-135 tanker crews on two- to six-month TDYs at Kadena AB, Japan, from Stateside SAC bases. Most of the B-52s required enroute refueling on every mission to complete the 12-hour round-trip to target and return. The Kadena tankers did this essential job, rendezvousing with receivers at the refueling track over Luzon.

It was essentially a navigator’s mission. After takeoff, lead navigator coordinated with lead bomber’s estimate to the rendezvous point, striving to arrive just one minute ahead of the converging B-52s, then turn down track for hookup and offload. The timing was critical—arriving too early caused an extended refueling track, additional time and fuel. Arriving too late was not an option. Tanker navigators used a “timing triangle” enroute to make any needed adjustments for precise time arrival.

Refuelings were conducted regardless of weather conditions. From bright sunny days, to dark, stormy night offloads in typhoon-like conditions, missions were not aborted for weather.

After refueling, tankers broke off and started the two-hour return to Kadena. Recovery weather was always a concern, mindful of low fuel reserves and no available alternates. Kadena landings were often made in marginal weather, especially during the monsoon season. Approaches in heavy rain squalls and gusty crosswinds were common, knowing that a mere seven-degree wing-low at touchdown could scrape an outboard engine. Any remaining adrenaline was used in stopping the empty -707 on a wet runway before reaching a drop-off at the end. Reverse thrust would have been nice. Crews generally flew 10 consecutive missions before earning a short day of R&R.

A lot of unsung activity took place in support of Arc Light and Linebacker II. Flight crews, maintenance personnel, schedulers, and staff all worked overtime to survive and succeed in the overall mission. Thanks for the memories!

Lt. Col. Joe Tichenor,

USAF (Ret.)

Dunwoody, Ga.

The article on Arc Light brought back a few memories of my B-52 days and experience in planning and flying on some of the missions while assigned to the 91st BW. I think that there was a mistake when the picture of the B-52D on p. 58 and 59 was identified as being assigned to the 93rd BW. To my knowledge, and backed up by an inquiry to the AFHSO, the 93rd BW did not participate in the Arc Light operation. The 93rd BW did furnish an aircraft and crew to Eglin AFB, Fla., in early 1962 to drop the first iron bombs from the B-52. I was the EW on that crew. S-78 was probably not your typical SAC crew, at least by our ranks; we had four lieutenant colonels, one major, and our gunner was a master sergeant. Yes, some of us had spot promotions.

Col. Edward Mutch,

USAF (Ret.)

Bellevue, Neb.