Letters

Dec. 1, 2019

You Say You Want a Revolution

The article, “The Counter-Revolution in Military Affairs,” authored by perceptive John T. Correll in the July/August issue [p. 52] and [USAF Chief of Staff] Gen. David L. Goldfein’s “Questions & Answers: Halt Force Readiness” in the September issue [p. 10] present strong evidence of the major structural changes either underway or essential to meet extraterritorial threats to the United States posed by technology. Although such technology-driven changes have been going on since the earliest days of warfare­—the Roman chariot was one—some of these changes in recent times have caused strong rivalries between US military forces, as Gen. [William] “Billy” Mitchell discovered.

In the late 1950s, a monumental battle ensued over jurisdiction of the ICBM, pitting Army Maj. Gen. John Medaris and his German engineers with their German V-2 derived Redstone Missile against then-Air Force Brig. Gen. [Bernard] Schriever and the Air Force’s industrial complex led by Convair and their Atlas missile and the brilliant former Hughes Aircraft’s Dr. Simon Ramo. Ramo dominated the President’s Scientific Advisory Committee that awarded the ICBM to the Air Force, and then led the contractor and provided technical direction of the Air Force program. The Department of Defense is once again faced with technological change that will force restructure of the armed forces.

Foremost for the Air Force is the fact that the need for piloted combat aircraft is rapidly declining, and it comes at a time when there is a severe pilot shortage. These two facts illustrate an immediate challenge that can be solved with the proverbial swipe of a pen. An order to eliminate most co-pilot positions would solve the immediate problem. Most modern aircraft have reliable automated systems that can control aircraft from takeoff to landing. The Air Force has had fully automated aircraft since 1949, capable of takeoff, flight to a distant destination, and landing without human intervention. Eliminating pilot positions is anathema to some Pentagon and industry interests. This is but one example of how technological change affects the armed forces.

ICBMs and IRBMs can be deployed and fired just as well by US Army forces as the Air Force, points originally made by Medaris and Wernher von Braun. Politics prevailed then, and politics may prevail now. I haven’t mentioned the Navy or the Marines as the Navy’s role is unique, but the Marines continue to expand their mission to conflict with both the Army and the Air Force, instead of their traditional role in support of Naval operations. Never underestimate the opiate of power.

The proverbial bottom line is DOD is due for a major shake-up and the resulting interservice battle will not be pretty, all due to a wide-ranging advance in the technology of war and the definition of war itself.

Lt. Col. C. W. Getz,
USAF (Ret.)
Fairfield, Calif.

Dump Up-or-Out

Regarding your September issue “Editorial: Developing Better Airmen” [p. 2]: As a former Air Force public affairs officer (1964-68), I’m delighted that my career field is among the highly valued specialties that a revised promotion system will hopefully preserve and strengthen. Ending officer promotion zones is a good first step, but why not go beyond that by eliminating the up-or-out promotion policy that has destroyed careers and robbed the AF of many talented performers? Our military is the only organization I know of in the public or private sectors that fires people for simply not getting promoted. I recall a B-52 pilot griping that before joining the Air Force, he thought pass over was a Jewish holiday. Involuntary separation for not advancing at each grade level from captain to general makes no sense. Officers’ tenure should be based entirely on their job performance, not on checking the right boxes to get ahead.

Dump up-or-out ASAP.

Richard Reif
Flushing, N.Y.

Security First, Second, Third

I enjoyed the article on software coders and the 10 centers of innovation [“The Air Force Software Revolution,” September, p. 47]. What disturbed me as a security professional, is that security was mentioned 19 times throughout the magazine. However, only once was it mentioned in the article, and then as “cybersecurity.” In my humble opinion, security should have been mentioned in each subsection and embedded in each of these young coders to make sure security is considered and worked on at the beginning of the software development life cycle; not somewhere down the road where the cost-benefit ratio (ROI) makes it almost impossible to fix. We would be no different than we are today in software development/maintenance.

I [also] read Timothy Cox’s long, four-column letter regarding space [“Letters: Space Mindedness,” October, p. 4]. What wasn’t mentioned is that the Air Force has already had work in numerous agencies that were responsible for space, i.e., Air Force Space Command, US Space Command, JSPoC, etc. Right now, we have staff that have transferred over to so-called space, but have no clear direction. The one thing I see that a separate Space Force would do is have a separate budget in total just for space. However, doubling the bureaucracy, IMHO, will [not] help us defend ourselves in space any better. With such a dysfunctional president and Congress right now, I don’t think we’ll get our money’s worth.

Roy S. Gertig,
USAF (Ret.)
Bellevue, Neb.

Unacceptable Dorm Norm

I am absolutely astonished when I read about the deplorable, unacceptable conditions in which airmen, soldiers, sailors, and Marines are living on our military installations [“World: Mold, Moisture in USAF Dorms,” October, p. 8]. The latest couple of articles talked about “town hall meetings” and housing occupants’ “Bill of Rights.” Whatever happened to the chain of command? I thought these responsibilities fall under the immediate purview of the base/garrison/camp commander. It doesn’t matter that the housing maintenance is no longer an “in-house” responsibility. I understand that the housing maintenance has been contracted out. That does not relieve the commanders from the responsibilities of taking care of their people.

The airmen, soldiers, sailors, and Marines should be able to walk right into their first sergeant’s office or even immediate commander’s office and report unacceptable living conditions. Those reports should then be elevated up the line to the appropriate level where action is taken to fix the problem. I read that some of the military housing occupants are being threatened, or feel threatened, by contractors if they report problems. Other contractors have developed methods and systems where they hide the actual maintenance data from the military and report false data. Unless the military commanders actually go down and look at the housing firsthand and talk directly to the occupants, they will never know the real truth. It’s high time we get commanders at all levels deeply involved in this unforgivable situation. That is when the fixes will be developed and applied.

Maj. Gen. Thomas R. Griffith,
USAF (Ret.)
Bozeman, Mont.

Jaw Officially Dropped

After reading recent articles on the forced purchase of F-15s by USAF and all the “reasoning” behind said purchase, I stand agape [“Keeping 4th-Gen Fighters in the Game,” Oct., p. 34]. The real answer to this self-created problem is so obvious, yet has not been stated: Reconstitute the F-22 production line and build out the remaining three-fourths of the original planned purchase. The practice of having a low/high team of tactical/fighter aircraft on the ramp has been proven to work over and over, but seldom when said aircraft are not of the same generation. Worse, by the time USAF comes up with the “replacement” for the F-22 (2040?) and production is begun (2060?) the only viable recent production aircraft remaining will be F-35s.

We already fly F-22s. We already know how to maintain F-22s. We already know what parts of the F-22 need to be modified from original specifications. And we already know that now, and into the foreseeable future, the F-22 will be an even more superior fighter and tactical aircraft compared to foreign peer aircraft than the F-15 was in its era. It is the only fifth-generation fighter to have been used in combat.

There is a viable, available solution to a real problem confronting USAF’s fighter ranks. It will not be solved by building more F-15s of any mark or modification. Fifth generation is and will be the minimum standard for combat aircraft going into the future. We only fly two aircraft in that class. We should not place our airmen and women in the position of having to compromise their safety—and ours—by providing them with lesser equipment. The answer is obvious, and cheaper both in dollars and time (the biggest expense) than a clean-sheet design that won’t be built until far in the future.

Norman E. Gaines Jr.
Hartsdale, N.Y.

Scrap the Remote

It’s been over nine months since the USAF took delivery of the the first KC-46 tanker [“McConnell KC-46 Crews Shaping the Future of Refueling,” July/August, p. 21].

There were known Cat 1 issues with the platform upon delivery, first the RVS [remote vision system], and now cargo restraint devices.

The most pressing is the RVS, which is crucial to the tanker’s primary mission. The Air Force was told numerous times that this would not work, yet they proceeded to have it placed on this platform. Memories are short in the Pentagon. Do we need a refueling boom through the cockpit of an aircraft to bring the point home?

You can already see the TCTO’s [Time Compliance Technical Order’s], caution, warnings, and notes being written in the Dash 1 on this substandard refueling system. For what reason do we need this system when we have a proven way to air refuel aircraft?

The AMC commander needs to have a critical-design review team establish a boom pod fix similar to the one on the KC-10, which is a proven system, ASAP. We still have time to fix this. Yes, it will cost money, but how many lives will it save? Better yet, it will have no restrictions.

The successful legacy of this platform rests solely on the AMC commander.
Scrap the RVS system, go to a proven system that USAF has been using for years, and move on.

Col. Clyde Romero,
USAF (Ret.)
Marietta, Ga.

Coding Questions

Commendations for tackling a seldom-considered topic, software in the Air Force [“The Air Force Software Revolution,” September p. 47].

It is good to see the Air Force is approaching software with a new sense of spirited humor by initiating projects with names like “Kobayashi Maru” and “Kessel Run.” Much is missing from the treatment of the software in the article, however. Undeclared are the main issues of software in the Air Force, namely (in order of highest significance first): late deliveries, cost overruns, missing or misperforming capabilities upon delivery, and difficulty in maintaining and/or upgrading the software when required in the future.

For the projects that are described in the article to be taken seriously, they must identify where and how they will address these issues. Missing from the discussion are some Air Force bases where software, either in acquisition or operation, is very intensive: Schriever, Peterson, Vandenberg, Kirtland, Los Angeles (only partially treated in the article), Wright-Pat, and Hanscom to name a few.

The software development practices cited are good, but nothing new. The practice of publishing software in incremental releases has been an industry standard for 40 years and is hardly revolutionary. Open-source architectures have been in use since 1984. Combining custom code with commercial products is 30 years old. Agile development is simply a disciplined approach of limiting the scope of a product, informed through clearly understanding the intended usage of the product. A caution about just running off and coding something in a hurry is that most such code is thrown away soon. Unspoken is the truth that most software is doomed through poor systems engineering (in particular, failing to specify good requirements), not software engineering.

The scope of effort is highly unspecified. Are these projects writing small sets of software, perhaps of a few dozen lines of code each, or are they developing major programs composed of millions of lines or more each? The former is implied by the content of the article.

The place of these projects in the software life cycle is unclear. Are these young coders interacting with software designers at the beginning of major programs or modestly maintaining/enhancing software that has been long delivered? Are they harvesting existing data mines in new and innovative ways (it seems so) or creating new capabilities? In a realm of 10 billion lines of code currently operating in the Air Force, where do these projects fit? It appears to be in the maintenance phase and minor upgrade area. The targets of these new projects seem to be scattered. The return on investment is uncertain at this point.

That the Air Force should employ airmen to undertake software development is akin to enlisted personnel designing and building hypersonic aircraft instead of acquiring the aircraft from a defense contractor. This is indeed a brave new experiment, worth continuing.

A challenge is posed at the end of the article. Should the Air Force consolidate all these projects into a single model at this point? Should the model be Kessel Run or Rogue Blue, BESPIN or LevelUP? The experience of the DOD-mandated Ada programming language, a well-intentioned effort to solve all software issues in the 1980s by forcing all software to be written in an advanced language called Ada, should inform us today: a solitary approach doesn’t always work, and the current projects should proceed independently without conforming to an as-yet-to-be-proven model.

The most significant import of the article is the revelation that the Air Force has created an “16K” software development officer career field and an “8K” enlisted career field, both with huge potential for positive impact on the Air Force. The courage to engage airmen in the software profession is phenomenal. An area to consider is that the 16K and 8K airmen should attend design reviews of major software programs, to provide critique and to gain intellectual insight for subsequent maintenance tasks.

Thanks for the good news brought by this important article.

Mark L. Lupfer
Colorado Springs, Colo.

Identified

Two photos which accompanied John T. Correll’s fine article [“Against the MiGs in Vietnam,” October, p. 53] caught my eye and encouraged comment. The first highlights Vietnam War aces, Capts. Charles DeBellevue and Richard Ritchie, and appropriately includes well-deserved, by-name recognition for two ground crew members that helped make their successes possible.

The other iconic Vietnam War photo pays tribute to fighter pilot legend, Robin Olds, and Operation Bolo, which he masterminded. In this photo, three other pilots are shown with Olds but they are identified only as “with airmen at Ubon, Thailand.” This generalization unintentionally slights those three Air Force majors pictured.

Though the photo is famous, none of the many copies found on the Internet identified the “airmen” by name. In the end, I consulted a tried-and-true source, my mother-in-law, Beverly Moore, who provided the last piece to this puzzle.

Pictured in the photo are retired Air Force officers (l-r): Col. Bill McAdoo, Gen. Bill Kirk, Brig. Gen. Olds, and Maj. Gen. Joe Moore. Sadly, all those pictured are now deceased, and with the exception of Olds, all are now reunited at Barrancas National Cemetery in Pensacola, Fla.

On a related note, Correll states that the Vietnam War produced just five US aces (credited with five or more aerial victories, i.e. “kills”). Robin Olds could have been/might have been a Vietnam ace as well. Olds said that he intentionally avoided shooting down a fifth MiG, knowing that being an ace would have taken him out of the war prematurely and relegated him to public relations role back in the States. Others theorize that he had other MiG kills that he intentionally didn’t take credit for and “was almost certainly an ace in Vietnam.” Even my mother-in-law doesn’t know the true answer to that mystery.

Col. Bill Malec,
USAF (Ret.)
O’Fallon, Ill.

Correction

  • In the November 2019 issue, the AFROTC Cadet of the Year should have been listed as Cadet Savannah M. Johnson, AFROTC Det. 410, University of St. Thomas, Minn. Cadet Sydney Cloutier was AFJROTC Cadet of the Year.

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