Washington Watch

June 1, 2007

“Redlining” Scarce Airmen

As Air Force end strength shrinks, USAF will lose its current ability to lend airmen for ground force taskings “in lieu of” Army and Marine Corps troops. It will have no such capability at all in another three years.

That’s the warning from the Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. T. Michael Moseley.

At present, plans call for cutting Air Force end strength from 349,000 in 2006 to 316,000 in 2009.

Moseley told defense reporters in April that “as we get closer to 316,000 end strength in the Air Force, there will be less and less capability for [USAF] people to do something outside the competencies of the Air Force.”

He added that “as you get to 316 [thousand], there will be zero opportunity.”

The Air Force has about 5,000 people assigned to the US Central Command area of operations, backfilling Army and Marine Corps personnel who are either needed in infantry-type jobs or who have rotated back to the US for rest. The airmen so assigned have been performing a wide variety of duties ranging from driving gun trucks to guarding prisoners. Many have ended up in ground combat. Moseley said more than 20,000 airmen have at some point filled ground taskings.

Moseley said he is beginning to draw some “redlines” around personnel he will no longer make available for the “in lieu of” taskings. It’s a phrase he dislikes because, he said, it implies Air Force people “have nothing to do, that they’re sitting around waiting for somebody to give them something ‘in lieu of’ what they’re doing, so I reject that term.”

He noted that the Air Force sent a surgeon to help fill out the Army’s needs. On arrival at her assigned Army unit, she was told that a surgeon was not needed, but was asked if she could type.

The off-limits personnel will be those being asked to do things “way outside of our [core] competencies,” Moseley said, but he would continue to send airmen to “contribute with the things that are in our competencies,” such as drivers, logisticians, and explosive ordnance disposal.

He also said the other services have put the arm on the Air Force so much because it alone among the services has the ability to identify every person in its ranks with certain specialties.

“I can tell you where every driver is in the Air Force,” he said. “I can tell you her or his marital status, education status, deployment history, medical records. I can drag all of that out in minutes. … The other services don’t necessarily have that capability.”

USAF, Navy Would Handle War 3

The US military, though heavily engaged in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, could still take on another big war if it had to do so, says the nation’s top military man, but the burden would fall squarely on the Air Force and Navy.

Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said USAF and Navy forces would have to handle much of the initial fighting in a new conflict. Pace, speaking with reporters in April, put it this way in answer to a question:

“If another [war] popped up tomorrow, regardless of where, … you would have the Navy and the Air Force being able to get there very quickly” and at “full strength.”

He went on to say that it would take “longer” to get the Army and Marine Corps into the new fight, because those services are so deeply committed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pace acknowledged that the ground services are “stretched.”

However, he warned US adversaries not to interpret US immersion in the Middle East and America’s struggle to keep its forces properly equipped, trained, and funded as a sign that the nation could not prosecute another war.

“There’s about 220,000 US armed forces in the [Persian] Gulf region right now, out of 2.4 million,” Pace said. He argued that the larger number—comprising active, Guard, and Reserve forces of all services—shows there’s plenty of capacity to deal with a new opponent in Korea, Iran, or elsewhere.

“The nation has about two million individuals … who are available, plus the full strength of your Navy and the full strength of your Air Force,” Pace noted.

The Pentagon is trying to get its ground units back on a schedule in which they are deployed for one year and are home for two, Pace said, although right now the ratio is more like one year overseas for one year home.

“That is totally different from responding to another threat to our national interests,” said Pace. If there was indeed such a threat, he added, “we would remobilize and we would use everything in our arsenal to defend ourselves.”

An additional fight would be “more brute force” than the Pentagon prefers to use, because “some of our assets—precision strike—are already tied up.” Still, he warned any opportunistic opponents not to “miscalculate the enormous residual capacity of the United States military.”

All Jointness Is Situational

In the April session with Washington reporters, Pace was asked what he thought about the Air Force’s recent push to become the Pentagon’s executive agent for unmanned aerial vehicles. (See “Editorial: A Better UAV Flight Plan,” April, p. 2.)

The Chairman didn’t give a direct answer.

On one hand, Pace agreed “it makes absolute good sense” to include UAVs flying above 3,500 feet on the air tasking order, where flights of UAVs and manned aircraft could be “deconflicted” under the auspices of a joint force air component commander. This post, noted Pace, “normally” goes to an Air Force officer.

“If you’re talking about airspace control, it makes sense to have somebody in charge,” he said.

On the other hand, Pace maintained that there was a danger, that a push to rationalize UAVs department-wide might lead to the creation and installation of a “generic package” of sensors on UAVs, one that might not fit the unique requirements of, for example, US special operations forces.

The Air Force’s proposal has drawn heated and at times bitter complaints and opposition from the other armed services, the Army in particular. The other services worry that the Air Force would gain too much control over their systems.

The Air Force has noted the strange fact that the Army, which feels free to train and assign thousands of its soldiers to operate unmanned aircraft, has called on the Air Force to make available some 5,000 of its airmen to perform soldier tasks in Iraq and other war zones. The stated reason for this diversion of airmen to “ground force taskings” was that the Army was short of troops.

Pace agreed that, if USAF people can take over UAV operations and free up ground troops, then it is “not a bad idea to take a look at all UAV operations to see who ought to be on the control stick, so to speak, for those operations.”

In April, the Air Force called a defense-wide meeting to discuss UAV operations in a roles-and-missions context. It drew in participants from various combatant organizations such as US Northern Command, US Southern Command, US Special Operations Command, and US Strategic Command.

However, only the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the commander of the UAV Joint Center of Excellence sent representatives. The Air Force was stiffed by the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps.

They “declined to attend,” an Air Force spokesman said. The Air Force planned more such meetings.

F-22 Message for Washington Critics

The F-22’s performance on its first foreign deployment should go a long way toward silencing critics who insist that the aircraft is too complicated to hold up to the rigors of real-world operations.

On a three-month deployment to Kadena AB, Japan, 12 F-22s turned in a mission capable rate of 71 percent, a readiness rate of 98 percent, and a utilization rate of 23.6, which is “pretty incredible for any fielded weapon system,” 27th Fighter Squadron commander Lt. Col. Wade Tolliver said.

The fighters were based on the island of Okinawa. It was the acid test of the new system’s deployment abilities.

The 12 aircraft flew more than 600 sorties during the visit, verifying the Raptor’s ability to deploy over very long distances and perform well on the other end. The deployment from Langley AFB, Va., to Japan took nearly 12 hours of flying.

In Japan, the F-22s flew not only against the F-15s that are stationed at Kadena but also against Japan Air Self-Defense Force F-4s and F-15s and United States Navy and Marine Corps F/A-18s stationed in Japan.

The visit also allowed the F-22s to work with E-3 AWACS, Marine AV-8B Harriers, and KC-135 tankers, aircraft that usually are not available to the Langley-based squadron, Tolliver reported.

“One of our goals here was to educate the region on the F-22,” Tolliver said. That was done through the flying training as well as “three open house tours” for US and Japanese military and dependents. More than 4,000 visitors to Kadena got to see the F-22 up close.

Tolliver said each deployment—groups of F-22s have gone to Red Flag-Nellis, the Northern Edge exercise in Alaska, and weapon trials at Eglin AFB, Fla., and Tyndall AFB, Fla.—has led to more “lessons learned” about what it takes to deploy a Raptor unit.

“Every time we deploy, we learn quite a bit about what we need, or even what we don’t need,” Tolliver noted. “We learn which spare parts to carry, how many people do we really need to maintain operations, etc. This deployment is no different.” So far, after each deployment, “we got better at it.”

Tolliver said the F-22’s ability to generate sorties routinely went “better than I personally expected,” given that the unit was so far from its support base and regular maintenance facilities.

Two things he would have liked to see go better, though. One was that the unit didn’t get to participate in any large force exercises. The other was a software glitch during the flight to Kadena that wound up grabbing headlines.

When crossing the international dateline, the F-22s suffered software problems that led Tolliver to turn the aircraft around and land in Hawaii.

“Our jet is very integrated, and everything in it talks to each other,” he said. As it turned out, a time change in one system led to computer disagreements with other elements and manifested as program crashes in the airplane.

In Hawaii, Tolliver said, he was “amazed at the turnaround time for a fix.” Contractors and blue-suits alike figured out the problem and solved it in a couple of days.

“That’s why we fly airplanes,” Tolliver asserted. “You can’t make stuff like that up. You don’t know, until you deploy … what you don’t know. You can simulate all you want, but until you get your butt in that airplane and you physically do it, that’s the only [way] you’re really going to know: Can you do it? … Can you generate sorties? Does your supply chain work? And that’s why we do this.”

The War of Global Warming

The US defense community should start planning now for security problems likely to result from global warming, a group of 11 former top generals and admirals warned in April.

The ex-military men don’t think it’s wise to wait for incontrovertible proof that climates are changing. They warn that climate change will be a “threat multiplier” for the US in this century, and preparations to deal with its attending security problems should begin at once.

The panel’s findings were incorporated into a report, “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change,” prepared by the Center for Naval Analyses in the Washington, D.C., area.

The report marks the first major statement on the effects of climate change offered by career military professionals from all the services.

The panel wrote that, while “debate continues” about how swiftly or dramatically the global climate will change as a result of increasing levels of carbon in the atmosphere, “the trends are clear.” Such changes are on the way, the panel said. The military should prepare to deal with “sustained natural and humanitarian disasters on a scale far beyond those we see today” which will overwhelm some of the affected nations and drag the US into responses.

“Grave implications” for national security include “extreme weather events, drought, flooding, sea level rise, … and the increased spread of life-threatening diseases,” the group said in the 63-page report. Climate change will influence “the organization, training, equipping, and planning” of the armed forces, and their “ability to execute [their] missions in support of national security objectives.”

The panel was chaired by retired Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, former Chief of Staff of the Army. Other members include Adm. Frank Bowman, USN (Ret.); Lt. Gen. Lawrence P. Farrell Jr., USAF (Ret.); Vice Adm. Paul G. Gaffney II, USN (Ret.); Gen. Paul J. Kern, US Army (Ret.); Adm. T. Joseph Lopez, USN (Ret.); Adm. Donald L. Pilling, USN (Ret.); Adm. Joseph W. Prueher, USN (Ret.); Vice Adm. Richard H. Truly, USN (Ret.); Gen. Charles F. Wald, USAF (Ret.); and Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, USMC (Ret.).

Alone or in concert with allies, the US may find itself frequently drawn into helping afflicted countries deal with a situation, providing “stability and reconstruction efforts” before conditions worsen “and are exploited by extremists,” the panel said.

The group suggested the US fully integrate climate change into national defense strategy; commit itself to a “stronger national and international role” in mitigating climate change; help poor countries prepare for climate change; force the defense establishment to reduce energy consumption; and study the armed forces’ own vulnerability to climate change.