Kosovo Retrospective

April 1, 2000

The Air Force Association held its annual Aerial Warfare Symposium Feb. 24-25 in Orlando, Fla. The principal topic was Operation Allied Force, the 1999 NATO action in the Balkans. Speakers addressed the conduct of the air war, lessons learned, and the implications of NATO’s first armed conflict for the future of aerospace power, but they also discussed Gulf operations, recruiting and retention, and USAF’s budget, among other topics.

F. Whitten Peters

Operation Allied Force showed that the Air Force has been investing wisely in a careful balance of systems, people, and infrastructure, Secretary of the Air Force F. Whitten Peters said. To be successful in the future, USAF must avoid overemphasizing any one element of the “system of systems” that led to the lopsided victory over Yugoslavia.

The Air Force must find balance between “its mix of space, manned air, and unmanned air,” according to Peters. The USAF budget “needs to be balanced by time and … ensure that the key infrastructures on which we rely daily are in place” to support the nation’s military. Paraphrasing Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan’s famous reference to the stock market, Peters warned against “irrational exuberance” about any particular platform, since all Air Force capabilities are interdependent.

To illustrate, Peters noted that B-2 bombers would not have been so successful in the Balkans without tankers to refuel them en route to the target or without the Joint Direct Attack Munition. JDAM, in turn, relies on targeting data from sensor platforms like the E-8 Joint STARS radar aircraft and guidance from Global Positioning System satellites. The satellites must be put in orbit by affordable launch vehicles.

“None of our platforms is, must, or should be designed to be a Swiss army knife–a self-contained platform that brings all things to the battlefield,” Peters asserted.

An extraordinary infrastructure of airlift, skilled personnel, communications, and other capabilities enabled USAF, “in a matter of hours and days, to establish 21 expeditionary bases where there had been no base before.”

This “herculean effort” was “executed so smoothly that it has deserved no mention in any of the lessons learned [studies],” Peters noted.

Allied Force marked the first time the Air Force employed reachback capabilities for intelligence and logistics support, Peters also noted. Through e-mail, video teleconferencing, and other methods, forward based troops were able to tap the expertise of troops remaining Stateside to obtain greater effectiveness.

He cited intelligence collected by U-2s over Yugoslavia making the round-trip to Beale AFB, Calif., then Ft. Meade, Md., for analysis, and then back to the theater “in 10 minutes or less.” Likewise, 93 percent of spare parts requested by forward units arrived in less than four days, and overall, USAF combat units achieved a 92 percent mission capable rate-a rate not seen “since the early 1990s.”

“Reachback is important because it reduces lift requirements, reduces the number of airmen who must deploy into harm’s way–which is absolutely critical as we face the asymmetric threats of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction–and it allows our airmen to work at home where their families are located, No. 1, and the sophisticated computer gear that makes a lot of this possible is also located.”

Another notable first from the Kosovo conflict was the integrated use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in targeting; work has been stepped up to add more UAVs for reconnaissance and surveillance, as well as for suppressing enemy air defenses, Peters reported.

Making the investment balance work with insufficient funds has been a challenge, however. Peters noted a $4 billion backlog in maintenance of real property at Air Force bases and installations and insisted the only way to afford keeping bases up to par is by reducing their number. He urged Congressional approval of two more rounds of the Base Realignment and Closure process.

Peters broke down the budget as follows: 36 percent going to attack platforms, meaning fighters and bombers but including the sensors and reconnaissance systems that go with dropping munitions and firing weapons; 31 percent to space; and 26 percent to airlift, with the remainder primarily to weapons development.

A problem area is recruiting. USAF has missed its goal in 1999 “for the first time in 20 years.” The recruiting staff will be doubled, and TV advertising was bought for the first time last year, but these efforts and the new military pay raise have yet to show solid results in recruiting and retention.

Peters also warned that the Air Force’s laboratories are graying: 30 percent of their civilian engineers and scientists will be eligible to retire in the next five years. Only 2 percent of the civilian lab work force is under 30.

Finally, Peters pitched for no further delays in procurement of needed aircraft.

Even if all the aircraft now on the books are delivered as planned, the average age of Air Force aircraft will increase nine months for every calendar year, he said. Peters added that operations and maintenance spending will increase “1 to 2 percent, in real terms,” every year, because aging aircraft need more service and repair.

As for USAF’s top priority, the F-22 fighter, “there is no inexpensive alternative” to it, Peters argued.

“The venerable F-15 simply will not go into the 2025 time period without extremely expensive modernization and [Service Life Enhancement Programs].” The Joint Strike Fighter is optimized for air-to-ground work and would need an expensive redesign to obtain the “leap-ahead technologies that the F-22 puts together.”

“We have got to continue it,” said Peters.

Gen. Michael E. Ryan

The Air Force budget is moving up slightly. This and the new Expeditionary Aerospace Force structure should help fix some chronic problems, Gen. Michael E. Ryan, Air Force Chief of Staff, asserted.

“For the first time in almost a decade and a half,” the Air Force budget will rise “at a rate of about 1 percent real growth,” something “that is dearly needed,” Ryan said.

During that period, “I believe we undershot very badly the needs of the Air Force. I don’t think any of us realized how very fragile readiness was … and how very small changes in funding and equipage and spare parts could affect the total force.”

Coming out of the Cold War, USAF planned and budgeted “to be located in only a dozen or so overseas bases,” Ryan said, but all the contingencies since then have driven the number of overseas operating locations to 44.

“We’d like to decrease it,” Ryan said.

The Air Force sent more than 500 aircraft and 20,000 people to Allied Force–a move that rippled through USAF’s entire European infrastructure–and “did it over a 78-day period, and then reconstituted the forces very rapidly,” Ryan observed. He added, “I think it looked too easy.”

This task was accomplished by a force that has been shrunk by 40 percent yet has seen its commitments and operating tempo expand 400 percent since the end of the Cold War, he added.

“If we continued at this optempo, we would have, I think, lost many of our valuable experienced people,” Ryan observed, noting that USAF is “about 5 percent overall below the retention rates that we would want.” Down the road, the Air Force may have some tough problems due to reduced depth of experience.

Though he said the service is “not betting on it yet,” he noted that the numbers on pilot retention are improving, thanks in part to improved pilot pay packages. The airlines are hiring four times as many pilots as the various services produce, so the competition is fierce.

The new Expeditionary Aerospace Force structure is designed to make the operating tempo more manageable, so the troops can have more predictability about when they’ll be gone and be assured of getting proper training and schools at the right times in their careers.

The Low Density/High Demand platforms remain a problem not fixed by the EAF structure. Ryan said he hopes to buy training tools that would allow crews to train at home without using the actual platforms, which could all deploy forward. He also suggested higher crew ratios would leaven the personnel tempo problem, which is acute in LD/HD systems.

An infusion of money two years ago to pay for spare parts has not translated into “mission capability turnaround yet,” he said, but the 100 percent funding level for spares indicates “we at least put our money where our mouth was” and that the Air Force effort to fix the chronic problem of empty spares bins “should start paying off.”

Gen. John P. Jumper

As superlative as its performance in the Balkans was, the Air Force does a poor job of training its top leaders and should make it a priority to do better at preparing its senior officers for the rigors of war, said Gen. John P. Jumper, commander, US Air Forces in Europe (now commander, Air Combat Command).

Lt. Gen. Michael C. Short, the Joint Force Air Component Commander of Operation Allied Force, “trained himself in the operational level of warfare,” Jumper said. Most of those in the Air Force leadership “trained ourselves, because our system did not train us.”

Blue Flag, the exercise in which USAF generals are supposed to hone their skills, forces them to deal with the laborious task of managing an Air Tasking Order, Jumper explained.

“We never got to the part where colonels and generals were required to mass and concentrate forces to shift centers of gravity or to do the things that Mike Short was required to do in real time,” he said.

Tools need to be developed that will better integrate information into a “decision-quality” picture on which commanders can base decisions about how to fight in a changing situation, Jumper asserted. Leaders should no longer have to integrate a lot of raw data in their heads. The technology to integrate and coherently display such information–which would be analogous to the God’s-eye displays that will be available to the next generation of fighters–already exists, Jumper asserted.

“We need to put some energy into making that happen–and making it happen soon.” He added, “We need to think of our [Air Operations Center] as a weapon system.” Commanders would train with such technology so they are well familiar with it in a real operation, Jumper said.

“One thing we have to keep straight when we are talking about process and product: Our product in war is dead targets, and our product in peace is all that goes into generating the warrior proficiency that kills those targets in wartime.”

For example, the Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance world “grew up where we paid most homage to the collection process,” Jumper noted. It turned out “not to be very agile” in warfare. There is an effort to move up the targeting cycle so that retargeting of an airplane en route to a strike can be done “in single-digit minutes.”

“We will have conquered this problem when we understand that no target ever died in the collection process.”

Finally, Jumper exhorted Air Force leadership to better explain to the troops the value of what they are doing.

“There are no greater rewards than the rewards associated with being a part of something that is bigger than yourself,” he said. In Allied Force, USAF people “did something very profound. They saved hundreds of thousands of lives in Kosovo. Today, whole families are alive who would otherwise have been brutally murdered. … We need to make our people understand how very special they are.”

Gen. Charles T. Robertson Jr.

The way the Air Force responds to crises has changed in the last decade, and the change signals even bigger challenges for airlift, according to Gen. Charles T. Robertson Jr., commander in chief, US Transportation Command, and commander, Air Mobility Command.

In Desert Storm, he said, 9.6 percent of the cargo was moved by air. However, “the demand for responsiveness has gotten so significant that in Kosovo, that number is now 62.4 percent of the cargo … moved by air.”

The regional commanders in chief, he said, “want it there yesterday, and the only way to get it there yesterday is to use … air mobility force to respond.”

Allied Force also showed up the “tremendous tanker involvement” needed for the air operation. There were 160 tankers deployed to 11 locations around Europe, Robertson said, and 390 aircrews laid on to operate them.

“Every time there is a major air operation–which means every major contingency that we are going to face in the years to come”–it will require a massive tanker effort, he said.

Robertson said he could not foresee when the KC-135 will need to be replaced, since most of the type have all-new cockpits and fairly new engines and average a 96 percent reliability rate.

The Balkan War also stressed the mobility force by demanding a multipronged approach to airlift throughout the operation. The logical progression of deploying forces, sustaining them, and then bringing them home, fanned out to include simultaneous operations in deploying forces from the US, humanitarian relief, intratheater airlift of Task Force Hawk, and then retrieving everything once the operation was done, even as airlift deployed the NATO peacekeeping force troops.

Given the ever-increasing demand for lift, Robertson pointed out that USAF is trading in 217 C-141s for 135 C-17s and that a “one for two” swap will cause problems. Despite the C-17’s lifting capacity, “one airplane can’t be in two places at the same time. … What we have is a significant loss of flexibility and capability in peacetime to serve all those customers.”

Because the C-5 has so much life left in it, Robertson said he’s inclined to fix, rather than replace, the airplane. A new high-pressure turbine will cut engine overhauls in half and pay for itself in three years. A new cockpit is being installed, and the first airplane so-equipped will roll out “in about a year.”

For the long run, a new engine with greater thrust would go a long way to solving the C-5’s reliability problems, but it would be expensive to do, Robertson said. Until then, the C-5 won’t be able to take off with a full load on hot days and may not be able to climb fast enough to get into new international air traffic patterns.

A “select” number of C-17s and C-130s will get a new infrared countermeasures system to defend against shoulder-fired missiles at some austere locations where the threat is judged to warrant it, Robertson reported.

He also said he is keeping closely in touch with the Army as it overhauls its forces with the idea of becoming lighter and more deployable. An Army goal is that future vehicles will be transportable in C-17s and C-130s.

Lt. Gen. Michael C. Short

Working within coalitions of airpower represents the likely future for the Air Force, but the US needs to do a better job of working with its partners than it did in Allied Force, said Lt. Gen. Michael C. Short, commander, 16th Air Force, and commander, Allied Air Forces Southern Europe.

In the 14 years since the Goldwater­Nichols Act, the US military has “spent a great deal of time talking and thinking and working at joint operations, and I believe … we are there,” Short asserted. While there may be situations in the future where the US will want to act on its own, militarily, it usually will “try to cobble together a coalition, because we want to fight that way, because we want to share the burden, and because we want the cloak of legitimacy” that a coalition affords.

He said the US will probably lead any coalition it enters but that it should set the terms of its participation up front. Any coalition effort should be given clear political objectives, translated into clear military objectives, and a plan for the desired end state. These were lacking in Allied Force, he asserted.

“We began bombing the first night with our objective being to demonstrate NATO resolve. That is tough to tell the kids at Aviano to go out and put it on the line to ‘demonstrate resolve.’ We need to know what our military objectives are, and we need to understand what we are trying to accomplish.”

NATO achieved its five objectives in Kosovo “to some degree by happenstance rather than by design.” It’s not clear yet “if we won,” Short said, because the desired end state has never been articulated.

In future air wars, politicians should be briefed by an airman on what an air campaign will entail.

Short said, “Our politicians need to understand that this isn’t going to be clean. There is going to be collateral damage. There will be unintended civilian casualties. We will do our level best to prevent both, but they’ve got to grit their teeth and stay with us. We can’t cut and run the first time we hit the wrong end of a bridge.” The reaction to scenes of unintended destruction “placed our kids at greater risk and made it more difficult to do our job,” Short said.

(Short’s statement provoked a riposte from a theater commander, Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, commander in chief of US Central Command. See box above)

For their part, coalition partners must make it clear up front what they believe to be “a valid military target” and what they don’t, Short said. He was frustrated during the war at having aircraft pulled off targets at the last minute because of a political decision by one ally.

Short said he “failed miserably” at building a true coalition command structure. He said he made the air war team leadership almost entirely American, displacing an alliance command structure that “had been there for 50 years.”

“Had I to do it over again,” Short said, “there would be Dutchmen and Brits and Italians at that level of command. … We should never again … run a US-only command structure inside of a NATO alliance. … We can never do that again to our allies or we will not have allies.”

He also urged that future US commanders “shoot straight” with their partners and make them aware of what the US is going to do. There should not be an alliance Air Tasking Order and a US­only ATO, he said. Allies weren’t allowed to know what the B-2 and F-117 would be doing, due to “concerns for technology … and timing,” but Short said those issues can be overcome without jeopardizing operational security.

Intelligence should also be more liberally shared with coalition partners, so they know “what is out there. We don’t have to reveal the source.”

Short noted that “there are not lessons learned from Kosovo. There are lessons. … Whether we are able to act on those lessons will be an issue of resources and political will. I believe the jury is still out on that.”

Lt. Gen. Charles F. Wald

Ongoing strikes against Iraq are having a telling effect, and, despite tough conditions, morale among USAF troops deployed in the Middle East is high, according to Lt. Gen. Charles F. Wald, commander, 9th Air Force, and commander, US Central Command Air Forces.

Since Operation Desert Fox in December 1998, the Air Force has racked up 30,000 sorties maintaining the aerial blockade of Iraq, Wald said. In that time, coalition pilots have either been illuminated by Iraqi radar or shot at about 500 times.

Since Desert Fox, “we have had the ability to retaliate,” Wald said. For each Iraqi violation of the no-fly zones, the retaliation equates to “three to four days of [airstrikes] if we had to go back and do [another] Desert Storm.”

“It is working,” he reported. “Saddam [Hussein] has basically been cleared out” south of the 32nd parallel and north of the 36th parallel. … Airpower is what is making that policy work in the Gulf today.”

Wald also noted that advances in weaponry since the Gulf War-the JDAM and Joint Standoff Weapon munitions and the range and penetrating ability of the B-1 and B-2-have drastically changed the airpower equation.

“Today, and from home base, you can [have] the same effect as you would if you had several squadrons forward deployed for a long period of time.”

Gulf deployments by the Air Force are “not going to end,” Wald predicted. Some countries in the area may exhaust their oil reserves in just a few decades, and the resulting shift in standards of living will cause “a lot of social unrest.”

“We need to start thinking of ourselves as almost a permanent presence in a semipermanent way,” Wald observed. He also noted that Kurdistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan have been added to Central Command’s area of responsibility in the last year.

The morale of Gulf­deployed USAF troops is high, Wald asserted.

“They are fired up,” he said, because they believe the senior Air Force leadership is doing things “to make their life better,” such as the EAF concept. The troops are talking less about quality-of-life issues than about spare parts and having modern equipment.

“These young folks sincerely believe the US Air Force is going to deliver on [its] promises. That is a really big change. That will [help] retention for us.”

High-level training exercises now include Information Operations to be conducted alongside airstrikes, with the information attacks and defensive operations “folded right into the Air Tasking Order,” Wald noted.

IO is getting so good that an enemy will have to be told “how bad off he has it. We are actually going to have to tell him because he won’t be able to figure it out himself.”

Wald also noted that Pentagon wargames still have not caught up to current technology and that USAF still does not get credit for having weapons like JDAM and the JSOW, which sharply increase its effectiveness.

From Gulf Commander, Great Expectations for Airpower

“Airpower has played the most significant role” in post-Cold War military operations and has made the most significant strides in both technology and doctrine, according to Marine Corps Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, commander in chief, US Central Command.

Zinni gave the perspective of a joint force commander. He said that, from Desert Storm in the Gulf through Allied Force in the Balkans, airpower has provided more technological innovation than any other dimension of warfare and has, as well, paved the way for joint concepts that are now beginning to filter into other aspects of the force.

He noted that “there is a lot of blood on the floor” from early intraservice debates about the Joint Force Air Component Commander.

“Now, you hear nothing about JFACC. I don’t hear any gripes or complaints or … fears or lack of trust” from the other services that a single coordinator of airpower is anything but a sensible approach to organizing for war, Zinni said.

Zinni, in fact, took issue with a claim by USAF Lt. Gen. Michael C. Short implying that only an airman could adequately brief national leaders on aspects of an air campign. “I would never, ever have an airman go up to Camp David to brief the air campaign,” said Zinni. “I would never, ever have an infantryman or artilleryman go up to Camp David to brief the ground campaign. I would never, ever have a sailor [go] to Camp David … and brief the naval campaign. If I can’t do it, I ought to be fired.”

He thinks “we are almost there” on a conceptual counterpart for land forces. After that, joint logistics will be the “bear that I am going to leave for my successor.”

He worries that the success of airpower has set the bar too high for future operations. “The expectations are so great now: zero … casualties, perfect execution, completely flawless,” Zinni said. However, the technology advances–“precision ordnance, standoff weapon systems, increase in ISR capabilities, space-based systems, and what they give us in terms of accuracy, command and control, visibility of the battlefield”–mean “we can do a lot more with fewer assets.” It has been hard to convince some that forces do not have to be immediately at hand, but simply available, to meet the mission, Zinni said.

“Our ability to deploy and get to the scene … in a short time and meet the requirement … has been demonstrated” both in the Balkans and the Middle East, he said.

Zinni praised the new Expeditionary Aerospace Force concept as a “clear, dramatic, bold recognition” of the state of the world and asserted that the Air Force has made “the greatest adaptation” to new joint force commander requirements.

“We demand for you to be expeditionary now, to build very bare-based environments, to do this on a short term. This has required significant change in our entire approach. I have seen this change handled exceptionally well. … It fits exactly what we need to have happen.”

CENTCOM has been carrying out a “low-key … ho-hum” war against Iraq and left Saddam Hussein with an ever-shrinking capability, Zinni noted.

While coalition airpower has vaulted ahead in technology, said Zinni, “his technology has stagnated.” Zinni asserted, “He has obviously lost a lot of force structure.” He added that 30 percent of Iraq’s air defense capability has been destroyed with “minimal, if any, collateral damage.”

While the rolling attacks have gotten little attention, “slowly but surely, this guy is losing,” said Zinni. “He loses face. He loses capability. He loses the propaganda war. … He is leaving his forces completely uncovered and naked” both in Northern and Southern Watch areas.

Zinni expected Saddam to attempt some sort of action while the US was focused on the Balkans, but Zinni said, “I don’t feel [he] was able to get off the ground.” The fact that the US was “helping a beleaguered Moslem population … didn’t give him much traction in our region … or much sympathy.” Also, US forces in Central Command “never were drawn down to the point that we [felt] we couldn’t handle the mission.”

Despite the prowess of US forces, it would be foolish to assume “that we have enough of a technological advantage and we don’t need to pursue more.” He said he has supported the F-22 and continues to do so because “I, as a [commander in chief], want to keep this kind of edge. We can’t pay today’s bill at the price of tomorrow’s capability.”

Zinni warned against euphoria over the recent Iranian elections supporting a more moderate government. The clash of ideas and the struggle for power in Iran may turn violent, he said, and “it is not time yet” to assume that tensions with the West have eased.

“[Iran is] still the most dangerous country in our region,” he asserted.

Balkan Myths–and Mythmakers

Aerospace power has been proven to be decisive in joint military operations, and should be the centerpiece of such future actions, but myths have arisen, suggesting that it somehow failed in Operation Allied Force.

“I want to take on about nine of those myths,” said Rebecca Grant, president of IRIS, an independent research firm in Washington.

The first myth, “coming out from the Army,” targeted the Air Force’s concept of Rapid Halt with aerospace power. The critics claim Rapid Halt “failed and failed big time in Kosovo, with an implication that the Air Force really has not been telling the straight story all along,” Grant said.

Instead, she said that Serb and Kosovar forces were already in close combat “a year before the start of Allied Force.” When forces are already mixed together, and there is no line of separation between them, “there is not much of an opportunity for any force to achieve halt,” she asserted.

For “a number of reasons–some military and some political”–Rapid Halt couldn’t be applied in Kosovo, Grant said, but “we shouldn’t back away from it. We should understand the unique circumstances of this particular conflict.”

The second myth was that fielded forces don’t matter. Rather, Grant said, they do. “A theater commander usually wants to place heavy pressure on a fielded force, particularly one that is running amok as Milosevic’s force did in Kosovo.” Fielded forces also often tend to drive the size and duration of that air campaign, she said. Hitting a combination of fielded forces and strategic targets proved “the winning combination” in Desert Storm and Kosovo, she said.

The third myth was that the Yugoslav army escaped virtually unscathed, a comment still seen in press reports, Grant noted. Rather, the Yugoslav army was “hit hard,” she said, and added that “a good level of destruction was achieved,” including hundreds of tanks, artillery, and armored personnel carriers.

Likewise, myth No. 4–that decoys blunted the air campaign–bears no weight, Grant asserted. Out of 1,102 validated strikes, only 25 decoys were struck.

The fifth myth–that Milosevic caved because of the synergy of airpower with a ground force, in this case, the Kosovo Liberation Army–doesn’t hold up either, Grant said, because there was little correlation between damage done by airpower and the days of the KLA offensive. Indeed, tanks destroyed during the offensive were “all over Kosovo,” not confined to a specific area as they would be if they had been “flushed” into the open by ground troops.

Another myth–that Milosevic capitulated because he feared a NATO invasion–depends on faith in the idea that only ground forces can be decisive, rather than the evidence, Grant asserted.

“It really is a mythical statement for us to imagine [that] something that may have gone on in someone’s mind was more important than the real and physical effects of aerospace power going on throughout that battlespace day and night,” she said.

Myth No. 7–that a just war demands bloodshed by the US–ignores the fact that NATO had a moral principle, Grant said.

“A just war is one that is based on just principles, not on the degree or apportionment of bloodshed,” she said. Grant quoted Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel as saying that Allied Force ” ‘really was an important humanitarian operation.’ … This was, at its root, a just operation.”

An eighth myth–that Allied Force validated joint doctrine-assumes that such a doctrine for what happened exists, and it doesn’t, Grant asserted.

“Kosovo really looked … like this: shaping and controlling an engagement, done largely with air forces, also with maritime forces. … Finally, objectives achieved and the termination coming with air. Then … ground forces going in to monitor this operation and attempt to keep the peace.”

There is no joint doctrine that actually spells out “the way that [commanders in chief] constantly employ American military power: getting the optimum effect by using air all it can in shaping, controlling, and achieving the same objectives,” she argued.

The final myth Grant attacked was that maybe Kosovo was “an anomaly.” She argued that airpower has proven “indispensable … [in] the last three major operations.”

We have to “move beyond the myths and understand what it is that aerospace power really does for us today,” Grant said.