Roche Sorts It Out

March 1, 2002

James G. Roche, Secretary of the Air Force, met with the Defense Writers Group in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 18 to discuss issues facing the service as it continued engaging in combat in Afghanistan and planned future structure and strategy. These are excerpts of his remarks.

Noble Eagle: How Long

“Roughly, we have committed today 260 planes, 350 crews, and about 11,000 to 12,000 airmen for the defense of homeland. That includes three parts: the CAP [Combat Air Patrol by F-15s and F-16s flying over US cities], AWACS [Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft], and the fact that we have C-130s pre-positioned around the country to aid any emergency action team–the sensible things you would expect of us.”

“With regard to the CAP, do you recall why it was done? It was done after the 11th, when we didn’t have airport security the way it is now, when we didn’t have strengthened [cockpit] doors on airliners, a series of things like that. And you went to the last resort, which is to potentially deflect or shoot down a plane. That was never intended to be a permanent thing. The issue is, at what point can we start to come back from the full package we’ve had out there to something that may be more easily managed?”

“Can we maintain the confidence of the government and the American people [without constant CAPs], recognizing that much has been done on the airliners, much has been done on airport security, and can we start to have a less burdensome posture?”


“The biggest hit we are having is on training. AWACS, for instance: … When they are free to do training, there are no fighters because the fighters are all tied up in CAP. When the fighters are free, the AWACS are busy. We can’t get the regular training.”

Caution About Lessons Learned

“Let me make the following points about the current conflict [in Afghanistan]. … We have had a very minimum air defense problem, to be very blunt. This is not a massively air-defended country. The air defense system was really taken out, what there was of it, in the first couple of days. And … we have had terrific weather. … You have to be careful with inferences you try and draw from the current conflict.”

More Bombers

“I am not wrestling with [the question of buying] more B-2s. … Bombers … are still superb going after a large collection of fixed-point targets. … But you don’t need as many bombers because you carry so many bombs per bomber and each of them is so accurate that you don’t have the problem of the old days where you had to drop a hundred to get a hit. [Now] you drop one and get a hit. … If it is a fixed point, we’ve got that solved, guys. … It is not the problem. The problem that we saw, beginning in the Gulf War and Kosovo and even here, is things that move and things that are interleaved with friendlies.”

Fighters vs. Bombers

“What we have found is that there is probably in the future going to be troops in a number of places, probably very distributed … and therefore also having aircraft that can also be distributed over the top of a hostile country is probably the best way to go. … Because we can hook to the troopers on the ground in ways we never could before, fighter-bombers take on a much greater importance.”

The Big Bomber UCAV …

“If big bombers carrying lots of [bombs] are going to go to fixed points in the sky and drop weapons against fixed points on the ground, why do we need pilots in them? So maybe the future bomber is the real UCAV [Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle]. … And then you say, ah, that has certain advantages. It can be bigger. How do you refuel a tiny little UCAV in the air?”

… And the Smaller UCAVs

“We tend to think of UCAVs … as small and highly maneuverable. … But that is just a two-way cruise missile. … Thebandwidth in your head is bigger than anything we know how to bring back right now. Because you have archival information, you have hunches. … Now if you try and bring all that back [in bandwidth] you are paying a fortune. Why don’t you just put somebody in the plane? So, where does a person make a real difference? … When the situation is more complex. … If you have one pilot per UCAV, how is this efficient? So, if they are small, you want to learn how to fly them in swarms. That starts to become a software issue, big time.”

Saudi Cooperation

“The Saudis have cooperated with the Air Force … in everything we have asked of them. … I have not been asked to look at alternatives [to using Saudi facilities], and so I genuinely can’t comment on it, other than that we have had fabulous use of Prince Sultan Air Base, especially the Combined Air Operations Center there.”

“I think it would be difficult [to replace capabilities in Saudi Arabia]: … PSAB, especially the air operations center. But that doesn’t mean you could not. One of the things about modern technology is that if you can control, from a military point of view, the airspace over Afghanistan for Army-Navy-Air Force-Marines from a combined center in PSAB, you could do that from a combined center [elsewhere].”

Working With the Ground Troops

“This is something we started working with the Army on, [with] special forces, back in the summer, really at [Deputy Defense Secretary] Paul Wolfowitz’s behest. He sort of chided me on, ‘Why can’t we work more closely with troops on the ground?’ I said I don’t understand why they couldn’t. I found nobody in the Army disagreed and nobody in the Air Force disagreed. We just hadn’t looked at it for awhile.”

“My idea, which is now starting to come to reality, is the trooper is inserted somewhere, special forces or Army, takes a pair of binoculars, which are built such that he pushes a button, he gets a laser on a target, and he knows instantaneously the GPS position of that target. And then he pushes another button–which he makes sure doesn’t communicate his own position–and communicates [the enemy] position. That simple.”

“Mistakes can be made. You don’t want him to send his own [position]. But we can deal with that by technology that says, no, you can’t send your own position unless, God forbid, you are in that position where you feel you absolutely have to, then we’ll make you go through three or four steps so that, consciously, you are bringing something down on you.”

Supporting the Ground Element

“I think our Air Force is thinking, more in the future, in a transformed military, we want to be able to support this light, dispersed Army, and we have now demonstrated we can do it. … We have found that we are able to do something that we have not been able to do for a very, very long time. And that is to relate airpower to troops on the ground.”

Hats Off to the CINC

“We have had [in Afghanistan] a CINC who has allowed us to do a lot of experimentation in the area of intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, putting lots of things together and try to fuse them and see best how to do that; and Gen. [Tommy R.] Franks really deserves credit for letting us do it.”

“Put … Rivet Joint, Joint STARS, U-2, Global Hawk, and Predator, … and … Navy P-3 … all in there and see how we can put information back and forth. … Never before have we brought all that into a Combined Air Operations Center with naval officers, special forces officers, Air Force officers.”

Goals for the Future

“We have … to achieve two goals. … Can we have intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance 24-hours-a-day, good weather/bad weather, seven days a week for a year? Can we do that for a particular part of the globe? And then, secondly, can we move, over a number of years, to develop capabilities to have almost instantaneous attack?”

Inward Look

“The FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] and the Air Force are both spending money to link the military radars and the civilian radars around the country. … We are trying to do it by hooking that which exists together to be able to give us a good enough picture … for the Air Force to respond to the FAA, … to be able to respond to an FAA ‘track of interest’ as needed. … And in areas of the country where we have a lot of radars–between the approach radars for airports, route radars, military radars–you can [watch domestic airspace] without AWACS. … Not that the Air Force would have any control over the airspace. That is the FAA’s role. … You wouldn’t want us to have that.”

Funding the F-22

“In [the Fiscal 2004 budget], will we look at some of the F-22? I don’t want to. I hope to take this program and produce–the most conservative numbers were 295 planes. If we can manage this thing well, we can build as many as 331. Under the program we’ve put forth with the Congress, the Congress is giving us the chance to take this challenge on. If we don’t get 331 planes, every plane we get less than that is no one’s fault but ours. And I like that kind of a deal. That means the better we are, the more planes we build. But we’ll build the planes. We have to.”

Bridging to the Joint Strike Fighter

“I don’t see [a Service Life Extension Program for the F-16 fleet] right now. The philosophy that I am employing is to not spend money on old technology but to spend money on new technology. … We are not buying attrition reserve F-16s anymore. We may be taking down numbers of F-16s per squadron to bridge to the Joint Strike Fighter. Now, if the Joint Strike Fighter should run into some crisis, we can change, because there is an international buy of F-16s that is going on. … That line will go for a number of years, so we have the flexibility to … buy back into the F-16.”


“How does lift look for the future? Pretty good. With the multiyear [buy] for the C-17, it looks very good. We are taking a look at multiyear for C-130s as well. … We are looking to refurbish some of the C-5Bs. In the process, we will take a look at one of the [C-5As] to see if the As are worth doing. … So the lift future picture seems quite sensible.”

No Commercial C-17s Just Now

“We are still looking to see if there is a way of reducing our costs by combining them with a production run from Boeing that could include some commercial ones, but it missed this cycle.”

Air Supremacy

“We still need air supremacy. We note the Su-27s/Su-30s have a level of technology that is very Western. … Therefore, the F-22 is going into production, fully funded. We have an incentive-based contract, incentive for [Lockheed Martin] and the Air Force that manages these things well on behalf of the taxpayer. If that is the case, we will do better.”

Harnessing Space

“We have to take a good look at space and harnessing space. … We want to think of space and each satellite not as something that has to do the job all by itself, but how does it work with things like Global Hawk, Joint STARS, Rivet Joint, etc.?”

Space Difficulties

“We are wondering why we are having some of the difficulties [of reducing the cost of space systems] and trying to go back and take a look. Is it a matter of basics? Is it a matter that we’ve lost a generation in the industry? Is it a matter that requirements have been too easily set? Is it a matter that we’ve assumed software can too easily be written? … These are systems that you cannot go and make a quick change to them, like you can aircraft. … These things are up there, so you’ve got to do it right to start with. We need to recognize that we have to go after these differently than we go at airplanes.”


“When we start something like space based radar, can we … make sure early on that we don’t fall into the same traps? … Do we demand too much of each space system? Do we assume the space system is supposed to do so many things, including curing world hunger? Or should we be thinking of space systems as part of a larger portfolio–and therefore not try to get the supermaximum, go way the hell out on the efficiency curve and therefore get the cost very high.”

That Horrible Expression

“The horrible expression: … My boss challenged me by saying, ‘What kind of an organization would create an expression like ‘high-demand, low-density’ and not fix the problem?’ We are looking at that. And there you heard us try to say, look, we think we have to migrate to a new platform.”

Tanker Mania

“The tanker has become critical. The average age of our tankers is 41 years. We have more 707s than I think anyone in the Air Force deserves in this century, and it is time to draw a line.”

“We would like to migrate to another vehicle, and one of the keys there is the intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance aircraft. … We have a nice series of those. And then the tankers, we recognize, are in the [operating] area. There is no reason they cannot have apertures, antennas, and become part of the intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance world. That is what we call ‘smart tankers.’ In the dumbest level of smart tanker, we’ll put a communications relay on it so we can get greater range from things and take some load off the satellites. That … is the track that you see us working on.”

Support Your Sister Service

“Currently, 55 percent of the [aerial refueling] tankings that we do in the Afghani situation are for Navy airplanes–which is absolutely appropriate, exactly as it should be. We should be supporting them because they are there. And then we also tank F-15s … and F-16s.”

Would Iraq Be Like Afghanistan

“It would be wrong to try … mapping from the Afghanistan situation to the Iraqi situation, should the government choose to look at it. One, there is an air defense system in Iraq. Two, there are a lot of military forces. Three, it is a much more populated country. And systems that they have are more dangerous and the quality of their pilots is better. The quality of their air defenses is better. There is a lot of investment. I don’t think you see much fiber optics in Afghanistan. You see a lot of fiber optics in Iraq. So you are talking about two very different levels.”

“What sort of things might translate? I think this notion of our aircraft being associated with Army forces or Marines on the ground.”

The Significance of the CAOC

“The significance is that [the data coming in are] fused. And now we are going to put links into the airplanes so we can more easily get right to the airplane, so we have an electronic picture in the cockpit of fused information that comes from all kinds of sensors, including that which is on board. One of the thoughts for the F-22 and the Joint Strike Fighter is, eventually, we will have people flying with us in the net. They will have a far less opaque understanding of the battlespace, but they won’t recognize whether that is from their own sensors [or] off-board sensors. Their own sensors, as they are traveling, will feed the net.”

The Aging KC-135

“The number of days to get one of those tankers through the depot is now 400 and some. We are asking of these [maintenance] people heroic efforts. If we could get that down by starting to replace the worst of them [KC-135s], so that the depot would deal with those that are newer … we can save a lot more money.”

Buy or Lease 767 Tankers

“We are spending an enormous amount of money on 707s [KC-135s]. … If we can replace some of them, especially the most expensive, we’ll save some money. So, that means a quicker acquisition of a new tanker saves us more money. Do we have the procurement funds to do the other things [as well as] a big acquisition [of tankers?] No. So what would you do in a company? Well, you’d lease.”

“All we asked for was authority to begin negotiating. The conditions that [Congress has] set in the various and sundry things that have come out of it are all subject to negotiation. If, in fact, we can’t get any relief from any of those [legislative] provisions, it may be impossible to do. … The point is to have the opportunity to do it and then to see if the savings are worth the cost of leasing, and how you can deal with the provisions that have been added. … If it looks like a good deal … we’ll go forward. … If it looks like we can’t get there, we won’t do it.”

Baby and Bath Water

“Transformation is a word that talks about adapting to the times we’re in. … [Defense Secretary] Don Rumsfeld is very clear. He said you don’t throw away something unless there is something better, and his natural sense of caution has paid off big time for us here because we maintained a lot of systems which we are using [in Afghanistan].”

“You always have an obligation not to the current force but to the force that will actually go into combat when you are long gone. We are still, under those circumstances, devoting an enormous amount of money to transformational things, … unattended vehicles. Taking something like the F-22 and making sure it works very closely with the trooper on the ground is all brand new. Smart tankers. Brand new ideas. Trying to go to ISR systems and fuse information. Brand new ideas.”