Feb. 1, 2010

The Testers From Tucson

I was very pleased to see the cover of the December edition [“The Testers From Tucson,” p. 42] . The picture of three Block 32 F-16s from the Air National Guard/Air Force Reserve Command Test Center in Tucson led me to expect a great feature article. I was disappointed to see eight pages of pictures with but a few words in captions that only scratched the surface in describing this incredible organization.

AATC is the model of cost-effective providers of combat capability. It’s difficult to imagine our Air Force without the test center. For example, the pre-Block 40 F-16 fleet operated by the ANG and AFRC comprises close to half of the combat coded F-16s in the Air Force, but without the work of AATC, these 300 or so aircraft would be of no value to COCOMs.

AATC has two informal mottos which really tell the story. The first is, “80 percent of the capability at 20 percent of the cost,” which is out of necessity. Their budget is small and the National Guard and Reserve Equipment Account (NGREA) that was mentioned in a caption varies year to year and is certainly not big dollars when it comes to fleet modernization. But they use great processes to identify the need, off-the-shelf technology to save money and speed development, and incredible creativity and brain power to finish the product.

The second motto is, “It doesn’t count until they’re flying it in the field.” No glitzy PowerPoint presentations here—just hard, focused work and testing to get the capability to the warfighter. There are so many examples of urgent COCOM needs that this organization has met, especially since the beginning of OEF and OIF. Many are classified but many are so apparently mundane that they are taken for granted, like targeting pods on the A-10.

Maj. Gen. Rick Moisio,


Washington, D.C.

SAC’s Standard

The report, “Command Shake-ups at Nuclear Minot Wings,” [“Air Force World,” p. 14], December 2009, induced a feeling (as Yogi said) of déjà vu all over again. Upon reading your report, any officer who had commanded a strategic wing must have had a “there but for the grace of God” moment. The report evoked a vision of SAC rising from the grave, along with the shade of Curtis LeMay, who has been quoted as saying, “I can’t tell whether one of my wing commanders is incompetent or unlucky, and I don’t have time to find out.”

There is great merit in this renaissance of severe standards for nuclear operations, but the standards are not new. In your report, two commanders of major commands refer to standards of perfection that we demand in the nuclear enterprise. Old SAC wing commanders who served decades ago under such standards will say amen to that, while recalling, with a certain dark humor, an earthier version of those standards: “In SAC, the reward for a perfect job is no punishment.”

Brig. Gen. William L. Shields,

USAF (Ret.)

Tucson, Ariz.

Silver Bullet

Thank you, Colonel Boyne, for the excellent and especially relevant article, “Silver Bullet Blunder” [December 2009, p. 68], which provided (among other things) an analysis of Japan’s pilot training command philosophy and its lack of ability to produce quality pilots in militarily significant numbers throughout World War II. After the Battle of Midway, Japan could no longer take the strategic initiative. Why? Japanese aircrew losses were significant and irreplaceable. Even worse, Japan (Germany, too) continued to keep their “best and brightest” in combat units where attrition [due] to combat losses became profound. In two consecutive months at the end of World War II, the German Luftwaffe lost an incredible 2,000 pilots per month. During this same time, the US rotated its combat aviators back to the US to train other aircrew, and to develop follow-on aircraft and weapons systems.

Both Germany and Japan clung to the notion that the mere pulverizing of a city by airpower was enough. For Germany and Japan, the lack of ability to create an effect with airpower consistent with their operational objectives became a significant factor in the outcome of World War II.

Another factor addressed in “Silver Bullet” and particularly relevant today is technical innovation. The Japanese focused on aircraft performance. The US focused on aircraft performance and the technical development of airpower. Close air support (CAS) is a classic example. What makes CAS so effective is the precise application of weapons. For the US, that application, later in World War II, turned on the availability of talented and trained forward air controllers (FACs) embedded with ground forces, using radios capable of communicating with aircrew. Innovation in modern CAS was not that aircraft supported ground forces; it was the capacity to apply command and control structures in the precise application of airpower.

Airpower does not exist for itself. Rather it exists in the context of military power under the authority of a joint force commander. That commander may be a four-star or a field grade officer. Truly, we do not need a B-2 to drop bombs; we need it to create an effect in consonance with the operational objectives of the joint force commander.

At the heart of the precise application of airpower is command and control (C2), be it a FAC/JTAC or the combined air operations center. To apply air assets as the Germans and Japanese did in World War II squandered aircrew, aircraft,and mission—a lesson we ought not to relearn today.

Lt. Col. Tom Brannon,

USMC (Ret.)

Ridgecrest, Calif.

Commander and Chief

Herman S. Wolk, in “Commander and Chief,” [December 2009, p. 64], wrote that President Roosevelt called for production of 10,000 airplanes in a 14 November 1938 meeting to discuss the urgency of building up the air forces. Forrest C. Pogue described this meeting in George C. Marshall: Education of a General 1880-1939, the first volume of his outstanding four-volume biography of Marshall.

Pogue wrote that Roosevelt really wanted 20,000 planes, but he felt that Congress would cut that figure in half, so he wished the War Department to plan on 10,000 planes. Asked for his opinion, Army Deputy Chief of Staff Marshall, unlike others in that meeting, courageously told the President that he did not agree.

It is a tribute to President Roosevelt that he appreciated General Marshall’s candor and less than six months later announced Marshall’s appointment as Army Chief of Staff effective 1 September 1939.

Cmdr. Walter Dunn Tucker,

US Naval Reserve (Ret.)

Henrico, Va.

Speed Is Life

[Regarding] comments by Lt. Col. Richard F. Colarco, USAF (Ret.), Colorado Springs, Colo., in his letter on “The Sixth Generation Fighter,” p. 4 of Air Force Magazine, December 2009, the following are lessons from history, lessons from my combat experiences flying the F-4 in Vietnam, and lessons from working F-22 subjects at the Pentagon and Eglin [AFB, Fla.]. These lessons clearly indicate the continuing requirement for a speed advantage-supersonic flight capability for our fighter aircraft.

From World War II history, we know that the German Me 262’s superior speed provided a virtual sanctuary for them from which to attack B-17s and a sanctuary from attack by slower fighters like the P-51. The 262 could attack and disengage with impunity. It was only vulnerable during and shortly after takeoff and in the landing pattern—when it was slow.

An adequate supersonic speed advantage over enemy fighters allows a US air combat fighter to accelerate from a base or from an optimum patrol speed orbit to a high-energy level where the US fighter can maneuver to create the optimum attack geometry (snap-up, head-on, front quarter, flank, stern, etc.), attack, separate out, and reposition to re-engage again if necessary. Further, the option to disengage when out of weapons or at combat “bingo” fuel (time to leave) is preserved. Once engaged in a multibandit environment, a lack of superior speed can result in a “Custer’s last stand” scenario—you can’t get away and they want your scalp.

Speed, along with persistence, maneuverability, situation awareness, all aspect weapons (to include the gun with an all aspect computing sight), integrated avionics, teamwork, etc., is life. Fighting and living throughout an engagement to fight again is a requirement.

Lastly, I personally know of a number of engagements in Vietnam that involved supersonic flight to include a Mach 1.2+ snap-up attack against MiG-21s at 30,000 feet. Superior speed over an adversary is required.

Col. John Madden,

USAF (Ret.)

Mill Creek, Wash.