On Course for Global Engagement

Jan. 1, 1999

The Air Force often seems to fare better in battle than it does in peacetime in the corridors of power in the Pentagon. War plans and joint doctrine emphasize ground operations. Not even the Gulf War, in which it was generally agreed that airpower was the decisive element, managed to change that.

The joint planning models in use today discount the effectiveness of airpower. Air Force operations not in support of surface forces are considered “unjoint.”

Part of the problem may be that the other services have had a better explanation–or a better-accepted one, at any rate–of their operational capabilities.

The Air Force hopes to plug that gap with “Global Engagement Operations,” a comprehensive new formulation of its capabilities and strategy in the post-Cold War environment.

An important characteristic of GEO is that its framework is linked explicitly to the three elements of the National Military Strategy: shaping the international environment, responding to the full spectrum of crises, and preparing for an uncertain future.

GEO casts the Air Force strategic concept into five stages: shape, deter, halt, win, and re-shape.

The direct hook to the National Military Strategy is one of several steps the Air Staff is taking to make GEO as “joint friendly” as possible. The Air Force is trying its best to explain the advantages of aerospace power in a manner that is cooperative rather than confrontational.

“GEO is about joint aerospace power in all its forms, from all the services,” said Lt. Gen. Marvin R. Esmond, USAF deputy chief of staff for air and space operations. “Some estimate that spending by the services for aerospace power amounts to 60 to 70 percent of the entire Department of Defense budget-from Air Force aerospace expeditionary forces to Navy carrier battle groups and Army aviation and missile units. If we can make the obvious case that every service makes contributions to deterring, halting, and winning, GEO will gain acceptance on its own.”

Not every crisis scenario will include all five phases. In the traditional model, early-arriving airpower might hit the enemy hard, but its role was to buy time for the Army to get there. GEO makes provision for a classic joint force counteroffensive but it proposes more options-including some that are airpower intensive-for the national command authorities and the theater commander.

For example, if airpower can stop the enemy force, fix it in place, and deprive it of strategic and operational initiatives, there may not be a need to proceed with a ground battle and take the casualties that go with it. That depends on whether it is necessary to destroy the enemy or if it is enough to render him incapable of further action.

A Task From Fogleman

The roots of GEO go back to the spring of 1996. Increasingly concerned about the “ground-centric” use of airpower in joint operations plans, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman directed the Air Staff to develop a strategic analysis that was “air-dominant rather than land-centric.”

About the same time, in a speech to an Air Force Association symposium in Orlando, Fla., Fogleman said that a “new American way of war” was making it possible to break free of “brute force” attrition campaigns and move toward “a concept that leverages our sophisticated military capabilities to achieve US objectives by applying what I’d like to refer to as an asymmetric strategy.”

In November 1996, Fogleman and Secretary of the Air Force Sheila E. Widnall announced “Global Engagement: A Vision for the 21st Century Air Force,” which emphasized the core capabilities of the force and predicted a greater emphasis on space operations in years ahead.

Reporters asked Fogleman about an assertion in the new “Army Vision 2010” that land power makes permanent “the otherwise transitory advantages achieved by air and naval forces.” Fogleman replied that “those who say only ground forces can be decisive” in conflicts of the future “are clearly wrong.”

Operational concepts with airpower in an expanded role were field-tested in the Quadrennial Defense Review in 1996-97 and in National Defense Panel deliberations in 1997. Two of the main concepts of “Joint Vision 2010,” put out by the Joint Chiefs of Staff just before the QDR got under way, were “dominant maneuver” and “precision engagement.”

In the big defense reviews, dominant maneuver became associated with the Army and was pitted, in the bureaucratic infighting that ensued, against precision engagement, which was associated with the Air Force. The real sticking point, though, was the halt phase.

The idea had sprung from the Bottom-Up Review of 1993, in which Secretary of Defense Les Aspin said that the first phase of US combat operations would typically be to halt a moving enemy in a distant theater where the United States did not have sufficient forces in place to do the job.

That requirement had airpower written all over it. Moreover, in the interval since the Bottom­Up Review, the Air Force had made considerable progress in long-range strike capability-and in the attendant effects it could wreak on an invasion force.

The QDR-NDP Split

In the spring of 1997, the Quadrennial Defense Review recognized the value of the halt phase. The QDR said that a prime operational requirement was halting an enemy force rapidly, short of its objective, and perhaps avoiding a costly and bloody ground campaign to evict the enemy from captured territory.

However, the National Defense Panel report later that year excluded any mention of the halt phase. Its exclusion was largely due to behind-the-scenes work by the Army, which was opposed to giving airpower (obviously pivotal to the halt phase) too prominent a role.

Interservice differences are still pronounced, but GEO explores for points on which both sides can agree. For example, an early-arriving aerospace expeditionary force may get to the crisis quickly, within days of unambiguous warning but before the enemy invasion force gets rolling. Its arrival may dissuade the enemy from making an attack. This situation-“enhanced deterrence” in GEO parlance-is comparable to an existing Army concept.

“The Army has a term called ‘strategic pre-emption’ where one side can act so quickly that the other side’s options or potential for success are nil,” Esmond said. “Essentially, under GEO, the growing expeditionary capability and lethality of all the services will contribute to the capabilities of the ‘deter’ phase and the ‘halt’ phase. The joint capability to ‘halt’ may stop an invasion, and the perception of that capability may prevent an enemy from even trying to invade.”

GEO Across the Spectrum

GEO goes all the way across the spectrum of conflict, applying to peacetime operations and Smaller-Scale Contingencies as well as to Major Theater War. Although the emphasis is on the response to conflict and the contribution of aerospace forces to deterring, halting, or winning it, the “bookends” of the concept–shape and re-shape–get serious attention.

“Shaping the international environment” is the continuous effort to maintain security and stability and to head off situations that lead to crisis. It includes building trust with friendly nations, contributing to alliances, sustaining regional stability, demonstrating commitment, and showing resolve.

Among the Air Force efforts in the shape stage are the peacetime deterrence of both nuclear and conventional war, global awareness from air and space, air mobility to underwrite global presence, and air expeditionary forces for contingency deployments and operations short of war.

The deter phase of GEO is the lowest level of response to crisis. It may include the live demonstration of military power. The lean, lethal aerospace expeditionary forces into which the Air Force is organizing its combat units are ideally suited for such missions.

As the Air Force concentrates its intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities in the deter stage, it establishes a dominant situational awareness in which a close watch is kept on the adversary’s movements and order of battle. Deployment of combat forces in the deter phase can help to reassure coalition allies and create for the enemy a perceived fait accompli of defeat.

Operation Vigilant Warrior some four years ago was an example of the deterrent capabilities of aerospace power in a peacetime engagement. On Oct. 6, 1994, US Air Force satellites and U-2 aircraft detected two Iraqi Republican Guard divisions moving south toward Kuwait. USAF fighters deployed from the United States and US-based B-52s struck targets in view of the Iraqi army. On Oct. 10, Iraq announced that its troops would be withdrawn from border areas.

If Deterrence Fails

If deterrence doesn’t do the job, affairs move on to the halt phase, in which the objective will be to gain control and fix the enemy’s forces in place so that he can no longer mass combat power.

An example of halting the enemy in a small-scale conflict was Operation Deliberate Force, the three-week air campaign in Bosnia in 1995 that was the decisive factor in bringing the Bosnian Serbs to the peace talks in Dayton. Earlier use of airpower had been sporadic, incremental, and ineffective, but on Aug. 30, NATO began sustained and serious airstrikes against Bosnian Serb military positions. By Sept. 14, the Serbs had had enough. They agreed to agree to comply with UN demands and enter the negotiations at Dayton.

The Battle of Khafji, in January 1991, was an instance of airpower halting an armored advance in a Major Theater War. On the night of Jan. 29, Iraq launched its only offensive of the Gulf War, moving armored divisions against the lightly defended town of Khafji, just across the border in Saudi Arabia. Their intent was to lure coalition forces into a ground battle. What they got was more coalition airpower, which hammered the oncoming tanks, turned them, and harried them relentlessly during their retreat. One tank brigade, caught in the open, was practically destroyed from the air.

“In the context of a Major Theater War, we would hope that at the end of the halt phase-with the adversary’s objectives denied and a US-led coalition in control of air, space, land, and sea-that a rational enemy would conclude that continuing military operations is senseless,” said Esmond. “Unfortunately, even rational enemies will sometimes continue hostilities, and that is where the ‘win’ phase comes in.”

The win phase continues the effort without a break in the action and with whatever force is required to defeat the enemy decisively. Among the joint force commander’s options are to intensify operations against the adversary’s remaining capabilities with precision attack and information warfare. Another option is to integrate aerospace forces into an all-arms combined counteroffensive.

Once the enemy is defeated, operations would move into the re-shape phase, in which the objectives will be to consolidate the victory, stabilize the situation, and take measures to prevent the crisis from breaking out again.

GEO Goes On From Here

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael E. Ryan has signed off on GEO, and it was briefed to the service’s three- and four-star generals at their Corona Top conference last June.

The Air Staff has used the “Thunder” campaign model to run a computer analysis of GEO against scenarios in the Defense Planning Guidance, with good results. Even more encouraging, GEO simulations run by 7th Air Force have led to modification of the joint operations plan for the Korean theater to include provision for a halt phase.

In November, the Air Force’s premier wargame, held at Maxwell AFB, Ala., used GEO as the “operational template” for a week of simulated and computerized conflict in which three “blue” teams took on three “red” teams. The basic scenario tested the response of aerospace expeditionary forces to a Smaller-Scale Contingency that escalates to include an enemy cross-border incursion.

Another application coming up for GEO will be the Air Force’s use of it in the debate on revision of Joint Pub 3-0, “Doctrine for Joint Operations,” the top-rung statement of joint operational policy, this year. Last summer, Joint Pub 3-09, “Doctrine for Joint Fire Support”-a new product, and lower on the policy ladder than Joint Pub 3-0-was published with the provision that the surface commander holds “primacy” over operations and control of “fires” within his area of operations, which may reach for a considerable distance. Questions about the relationship of air forces and land forces have flowed forward to consideration for Joint Pub 3-0.

There is missionary and diplomatic work to be done on other joint fronts as well. The joint simulation model, Tacwar, rates the effectiveness of airpower at less than a third of its actual effectiveness demonstrated in combat. It also throttles airpower back arbitrarily in the early part of theater conflict.

A Tacwar simulation of a theoretical future conflict in Korea, run for the Deep Attack Weapons Mix Study in July 1996, for example, allocated about 3,000 air attack sorties a day to halt the enemy in the first two weeks of conflict. That level of sorties in the simulation produced a sharp drop in the enemy’s military capabilities.

But then Tacwar cut the sortie rate to 1,500 a day in order that the Air Force would not run out of preferred munitions before the joint counteroffensive could begin. The enemy’s military effectiveness rate leveled out and did not begin falling again until weeks later, when sorties were again raised to 3,000 a day when allied ground forces were in place and ready.

Similarly, wargames at the Army training center at Ft. Irwin, Calif., and elsewhere routinely restrict air operations in the early parts of theater conflict scenarios, holding back until ground forces can arrive to begin an air-land counteroffensive with the Army taking the dominant role.

The Air Force has taken GEO concepts to the “Army After Next” wargame, where it generated interest, and has conducted several briefings for people from other services. The reception so far has been pretty good, according to people who were there.

If GEO lives up to expectations, it will be a strategic conception that helps make the case for airpower beyond the circles of those who are already convinced.

“The Army had Territorial Conquest and Clausewitz and the Navy had Sea Control and Mahan,” said an Air Staff officer working on the issue. “At best, we had Desert Storm and Warden [USAF Col. John Warden, now retired, author of The Air Campaign in 1988], which was a start, but airmen were more defined by our stovepipes and controversies than by a unifying vision of aerospace power.”

The Air Force believes that GEO is its best bet to improve that situation.