The Force Seeks a New Baseline

Jan. 1, 2003

Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, the entire Air Force has been “sprinting,” according to Gen. John P. Jumper, Chief of Staff. USAF people have been engaged in a full-scale war on terrorism around the world and at home, while still conducting no-fly-zone operations in Iraq, defending the border between North and South Korea, supporting forces in the Balkans, operating a global airlift, and controlling a vast constellation of space assets, among many other significant tasks.

Late last year, Jumper spoke with Air Force Magazine about the most pressing challenges he now faces, his priorities, and prospects for solving deepening problems even as the force continues at a full run.

Funding increases in the last two defense budgets have helped the Air Force deal with some pressing problems, particularly in the areas of personnel benefits and readiness. However, long-term solutions to the issues of overextended personnel and aging facilities and aircraft must wait for a pause in operations, according to Jumper.

Defining the true number of Air Force people and aircraft needed for the decades ahead is on hold until the service can accurately gauge “the new baseline activity that is brought on by this global war on terrorism,” Jumper asserted. The process of figuring out “what [it is] going to take for us to adjust to that new baseline … is still ongoing,” he said.

Jumper is convinced that both operating tempo and requirements for personnel and equipment are headed up. “I know that the baseline of activity is going to increase rather than decrease, but it’d be folly for me to sit here and give you a number,” said Jumper.

Senior officers working toward defining long-term requirements are doing their best to perform the intricate calculation of what kinds of functions can be privatized, how much more capable aircraft are than they used to be, how fast equipment is aging, what realistic threats are posed by emerging opponents, and what kinds of missions the Air Force will be assuming in the years to come, Jumper reported. However, absent any clairvoyance about what course the war on terrorism will take, hard answers will remain elusive.

The Manning Issue

“I think a lot of that is unknowable until you see world events unfold,” he said. “As long as world events are unfolding, and we are sprinting, it’s hard to know what the baseline’s going to be when it all settles down.”

“You can’t man yourself for the surge,” he continued. “You have to try to estimate what the background level of activity is.”

The Defense Planning Guidance–a classified document that tells service chiefs where to place priorities in their budgeting–describes the kinds of operations in which the Air Force will likely be involved but not their intensity or duration, Jumper noted.

“The DPG tells you … we’re going to have to deal with homeland defense, we’re going to have to deal with so many regional contingencies, etc., but it doesn’t say at what level,” he explained. Moreover, the document doesn’t forecast what kind of residual force will be required after various contingencies have ended. With the exception of Vietnam, the US has never in the last 60 years fully withdrawn from a region of major combat.

“At some point, we’ll reach a steady state in Afghanistan,” Jumper said. “At some point, we’ll reach a steady state in the Balkans. [But we] don’t know what that is, yet.” He said the steady state in the no-fly-zones over Iraq is known, but so far it’s been impossible to predict whether these residual operations in Iraq offer a gauge of the level of effort required elsewhere, such as post-Taliban Afghanistan, he noted.

Jumper observed that the last time major decisions were made about manning levels and force structure was the early 1990s, and the Cold War had just ended. There was enthusiasm for reaping a peace dividend, and there was little indication that the Cold War would be followed directly by nonstop regional crises leading to substantial deployments of US forces.

“We brought ourselves down by 40 percent,” Jumper said of the manpower and hardware decisions of that period. “In many cases, we brought ourselves down too far.”

Soon after the war on terror began, senior leaders began talking about a need to increase the number of people in uniform. Jumper acknowledged that the Air Force initially requested an increase of 7,000 troops in the Fiscal 2003 defense budget. That figure was intended mainly to fill out the ranks of security forces that were already overextended and had inadequate depth to protect bases both at home and abroad simultaneously. The figure might have even been higher, but “you can only absorb so much at one time, because of your training base,” he said.

However, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld quickly stopped talk of increasing end strength for any of the services. In remarks to the press, Rumsfeld said he had seen too many people in uniform performing functions that could or should be done by contractors. Farming those tasks out to civilians would free up service people for more obviously military missions than, as Rumsfeld characterized it, “painting rocks.”

Rumsfeld ordered the armed services to first scrutinize their own ranks for people performing non-military tasks before he would entertain any requests for additional end strength.

No “Rock Painters”

Jumper bristles at the notion that there are USAF people being applied to meaningless tasks or in some way being underused.

“There are no rock painters out there,” Jumper insisted.

However, he said, “There are legitimate questions about our contributions to other agencies and ways, for instance, to do things, like guarding gates.” Jumper said Rumsfeld has “rightly asked us to look at more efficient ways to do our business.” There are, he agreed, “alternatives to increases in end strength.”

Jumper noted, “We have a lot of people out there in [defense] agencies and other places who are not directly doing Air Force work.” For example, USAF contributes hundreds of people to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, whereas the Navy details about 80 people to that organization.

The Air Force has identified a number of pools of human resources, Jumper said, but the Air Force must now, having found the people, get them back. That will not be automatic, as some are certainly performing unique work that supports the overall defense mission.

“We have to identify those people who are not directly involved in Air Force activity; we have to make the argument that they should be involved in Air Force activity and see how much of that we are able to win back inside the Air Force, doing blue-suit sorts of things,” Jumper explained.

If the Air Force can’t get most of those people back to put in its rotational base, “we’ve still got a manpower problem,” he said. Jumper was quick to point out that “the difference between ‘identifying’ and ‘taking’ [is] … significant.”

In the coming discussions regarding the 2004 defense budget, Jumper explained, “We’re making a case for what we think we need” in terms of end strength. The number of people required for Air Force missions is “going to go up, but I can’t tell you that I’m going to have to come in and ask for an increase in end strength until we know how many … we’re going to be able to reclaim.”

Jumper said he is not afraid to ask for more people if the internal searches for more deployable people come up short. “When we have enough fidelity [of data] to go argue with … [and] I feel comfortable that I understand that argument, I’ll make that argument, whatever it is,” he said.

Preserving and meeting goals for the length of deployments is another issue that concerns Jumper.

“The goal for the Air Expeditionary Force is going to continue to be 90 days,” he said. “There are some extensions in highly stressed specialties that are going to go up to 180 days, and we’re trying to keep a cap on that. Right now, it affects less than six or seven percent of our population, but still, we don’t want any of our [people] to have to go over 90 days.”

Handling Personnel Shortages

The acute shortage in a number of specialties prompted Jumper to create interim solutions until he can find permanent ones.

“We have managed to install a program that identifies the stressed specialties earlier and shift our accessions–new people coming into the Air Force–into those shortages a lot more quickly than we’ve been able to do before,” Jumper said.

Because security forces suddenly had a much larger task after Sept. 11–defending homeland bases as well as overseas deployment locations–that specialty has been targeted to get a substantially larger number of new recruits entering the service, Jumper said. However, he noted, moving new recruits into areas chronically short of people does nothing to deliver seasoned, experienced airmen to those same specialties.

The security forces field is also emblematic of the problems attending an ongoing effort to privatize functions that don’t necessarily have to be done by uniformed people, he pointed out.

Guarding gates is one candidate for contractor work, Jumper said. He pointed out that, while civilians can probably be used to guard bases, such an action raises a question. “If you reduce your security forces by that number, what does it do to your rotation base?” Jumper asked. “And that’s the part we aren’t able to answer yet.”

In other words, if you have fewer active duty security forces, those you do have are deployed more often, or longer, or both. There would also be fewer, if any, Stateside bases where they could serve, practically ensuring a good portion of a career would be spent overseas.

Also in heavy demand are specialists in Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance and field engineering areas such as electrical power generation for austere operating locations.

Jumper wants to make sure that everyone capable of expeditionary service is placed into the pool of eligible people. New categories of “eligibles” are being identified daily, and only a few specialties–such as ballistic missile launch officers–will be excluded. His goal is that, with the exception of just those few who cannot leave their post and deploy, everyone will be in the rotation base. Not even the Air Staff is immune, he said, though plucking people out of key jobs must be done “with care.”

Service leaders are looking to “invent ways to make the Air Expeditionary Force rhythm more evident to our people in the Air Force, so that the rhythm of the AEF infects our assignment process, our professional military education process, and all the other processes,” said Jumper. He wants the expeditionary mind-set to pervade the service.

Overtaxing Guard and Reserve

Jumper was asked if he was worried that members of the Guard and Reserve–who have been called time and again in the last 10 years and now serve as a regular part of the AEF rotation–are in danger of burnout and whether the reservoir of goodwill shown by their employers is drying up.

“I hear a lot of fear about that,” Jumper said, “but I don’t see it manifesting itself. As we demobilize these tens of thousands of people we had called up, there is not the mass exodus” from the reserve components that some had feared.

Jumper chalks up the continued willingness to serve to several factors: a desire to see the conflict through to its end, supportive employers, and the Air Force’s determination that no one will be called to do unnecessary work and that no one will be held any longer than necessary.

Jumper has been “very, very impressed with the employers out there who understand exactly what the nation’s going through.” Numerous companies–some of them very small–have even moved to make up the difference between the peacetime wages of their employees called to active duty and their military pay; in some cases this poses a major hardship. Jumper said that, by and large, employer frustration is not a problem.

“The Guard and Reserve are supporting us at a rate greater than they did in the middle of Desert Storm,” Jumper pointed out, “and they’re doing it on a daily basis.”

“We’re in the process of a big demobilization right now, so that we’re not keeping people activated any longer than we absolutely have to, to do the job,” he said, “and again, that’s a massive effort to decide who’s not needed and to make sure that you let them go.”

Jumper added, “We owe it to them to make absolutely sure that when they are called up, and activated, that the work they do is meaningful to them.”

However, some reservists cannot be released, because the missions they perform are too crucial. Jumper said extensions and Stop-Loss are still being used.

“Now, are there worries about how long this is going to be?” he asked. “Absolutely. And there’s anxiety about it … when we have to extend the call-up period of people, no doubt about it.” However, he pledged that these situations are reviewed “every day,” and USAF is doing everything possible “to get that down as quickly as we can.”

Whereas new recruits are brought in routinely throughout the year, the Air Force cannot renew its aircraft fleet quite as easily. Modernization was put on holiday during most of the 1990s, and the force aged considerably over that period–both chronologically and in terms of wear and tear.

Using Up Aircraft

Fighters are being used “at a rate much greater than expected,” Jumper noted. Likewise, the conduct of “far-off conflicts” has also led to usage rates for the tanker and airlift fleets that exceed predictions. There are concerns that the fleet will wear out before replacements are available.

As some of the fighters do wear out, they won’t immediately be replaced. Consequently, the fighter fleet will grow smaller. “There has to be some reconciliation of the notion of increased capability and numbers [of fighters],” Jumper asserted. There’s an assumption that “all the numbers we have out there are still required,” he said. “What we have ongoing now are studies that will tell us where there are trade-offs.”

Jumper was referring in part to the advent of new small munitions which can cause the same destruction as large ones. More weapons can be carried on each mission, more targets per mission can be destroyed. Perhaps not as many aircraft are needed. However, the issue of fleet size is not that clear cut.

“Your … level of global activity dictates how many resources you have to have,” he said. One fighter cannot be in three places at once no matter what its capabilities. Multiple contingencies define a certain level of activity and a certain force structure, explained Jumper. “We’re trying to reconcile [that] right now.”

The need to meet the demands of a worldwide rotational base were essential to the debate over how many F/A-22s the Air Force should buy, and it is an argument that seems to be “well understood,” Jumper reported.

“We did a very exhaustive study on the F/A-22,” he said, referring to a review ordered by Rumsfeld as part of the Defense Planning Guidance. “It was good for us to do that,” Jumper observed, “and reaffirm all the reasons” the service has put forward for buying the Raptor.

The case for the F/A-22 is especially strong in light of a new emphasis on placing special operations forces deep within enemy territory. “What better than a platform that can penetrate [enemy airspace] at Mach 1.5-plus?” he asked. The F/A-22, which Jumper described as able to slip past “the next two generations” of surface-to-air missiles and “the worst defenses,” can reach out and provide air support to those deeply inserted troops.

If resupply is needed by C-130s or C-17, “what better to keep the corridors open from both the surface-to-air and air-to-air potential threats than the airplane that has proved itself to be most survivable against those kinds of threats?” asked Jumper. “That’s the way we’re looking at it.”

Given the new concepts of operation that have emerged, especially defense against cruise missiles and the ability to attack “moving targets under the weather,” the F/A-22 “has only become more valuable,” Jumper said. It remains the Air Force’s top priority.

Alongside the F/A-22 is the F-35. Jumper wants to ensure the service maintains the efficient high-low mix it has today with the F-15 and F-16 structure for its fighter fleet.

The F-35, Jumper said, addresses itself to the requirement to have persistent stealth over the battlefield, and it’s there to deal with the dynamics of the pop-up target. “The F/A-22 can certainly contribute to that and keep the battlefield safe from a variety of threats, again, to include things like cruise missiles,” he added, “but the workhorse part of that would be the purview of the Joint Strike Fighter.”

The Air Force has typically modernized its force one element at a time. In the 1970s, it was fighters. In the 1980s, it was bombers. In the 1990s, it was airlift. This decade has already seen two fighter programs entering production, continued purchase of the C-17, and a move to replace the aging tanker fleet sooner than planned.

Jumper categorically believes that fighters, in this particular time period, must be the priority.

“In the end, what it takes to win wars is firepower,” he said. “We are anxious to start replenishing that part of our force that puts steel on targets, in the air and on the ground.” This is necessary to “make up for the fact that we haven’t … bought that kind of airplane for a very long time.”

Hard Trade-offs

Finding the correct balance among ISR, space, training, and special operations is “the subject of the debates that are going on right now,” he reported. Making those trade-offs will be hard, he said, because there are no Air Force missions that could be cut in favor of new systems.

“There’s no decreased demand for space,” he said. “Nothing that tells us we’re going to have to do less of … Unmanned [Aerial Vehicles]. These are all growth industries.”

Setting priorities means “deciding what you have to do first [rather than] managing a pile of things … that you’re clinging to that no longer have to be done,” explained Jumper. “I haven’t found that pile.”

Real property maintenance accounts were consistently robbed during the 1990s to pay for modernization and shortfalls in readiness, but Jumper said that won’t be the case in the years to come. “A point of emphasis for our civilian leadership is to get us down from a 200-year [building] replacement cycle … to 67 years, which is still not the industry standard,” he said.

Traditionally, such accounts have been “a source we’ve had to go to when other budget priorities are cut,” stated Jumper. “We don’t want to go to that source. … We’re sticking to that goal, again with considerable plus-ups of money that we’ve gotten from OSD and this Administration.”

The Rumsfeld Pentagon has adopted transformation as its watchword and has served notice that systems that don’t propel their services into the next generation of warfare have little chance of continuing. Jumper agrees with the need to push the technological and conceptual envelope. However, he has one worry: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and the Pentagon’s current fascination with them.

UAVs clearly made their mark in Afghanistan. Global Hawk and Predator are “celebrated” because they were able to bring persistence and endurance to the force in a new way, Jumper explained. It’s important to ensure that the UAVs the Air Force buys “continue to advance those virtues for us, rather than be overly duplicative of what we already have.”

Jumper expressed frustration that, if he questions weaponizing UAVs or their rapid development, he is seen as championing the white-scarf fighter pilot community. “When guys like me express this opinion, people automatically jump to the conclusion that I am a fighter pilot and therefore I feel threatened by UAVs,” Jumper said. In actuality, “I am the guy, personally, who put the laser ball on the UAV [and] who put the Hellfire [missile] on the UAV” to be able to shoot a target of opportunity when one emerges before a Predator.

He said he wants to keep those qualities of persistence and endurance “in front of us as we advance to the next generation” of UAVs and their armed descendants.

It’s all about “the concept,” said Jumper. He is intent on making sure “that we don’t get caught up in this focus on novelty of platforms and lose sight of the effect we want to create.”