The New View of Airpower

Aug. 1, 1997

Maj. Gen. Charles D. Link was special assistant to the USAF Chief of Staff for the national defense review (199697) and as such was the point man for the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). He was also the Chief’s representative to the Commission on Roles and Missions (199495). Thus, Link was a key Air Force figure in the most recent defense reassessments. On May 22, 1997, he met with the Defense Writers Group in Washington, D.C.

USAF’s View of QDR

“At the end of the day, here, I think the Air Force is satisfied with the impact of the QDR on the Air Force–in fact, probably well satisfied. But it would be important to point out that that satisfaction doesn’t grow out of any increased confidence in our ability to analyze the problem and produce illuminating results. . . . I come to the end of this effort still disappointed in our ability to model, simulate, and understand modern joint warfare and, particularly, the contribution that modern airpower can make. . . .

“I am now convinced that the preference for air-, land-, or seapower solutions to national security problems is largely a matter of belief much more than a matter of science. I’ve watched science attack these problems in the forms of models and analyses, and at the end of the day, beliefs sort of come back to rule how one makes decisions.”

Emphasis on “Halt” Phase

“The [QDR] strategy implores us to be able to halt aggression twice, one rapidly followed by the other. It implores us to defeat [the enemy] in two conflicts [Major Theater Wars, or MTWs] in overlapping time frames.

“It appropriately recognizes that, when we halt aggression, it’s not a stalemate-halt him short of his objectives. The enemy then has to figure out either how he lives in friendly territory under aerial bombardment from now on or how he gets back into some place where he’s no longer threatened.

“We can do that, pretty much, with modern airpower. Once you have him stopped, you can then keep him from regaining any military effectiveness with a smaller amount of force than it took you to stop him. . . .

“That counteroffensive, which we used to think had to happen in ‘x’ number of days, is no longer as time- sensitive. . . . It’s no longer just a point in the military plan that has to be honored because somebody says, ‘We’re going to do it on Day 62.’ “

Revolutionary Thought

“A lot of people think [the Revolution in Military Affairs] is about video to the foxhole. I like to think it’s about using America’s technology edge to reduce the military capability of a foe before we put too many American sons and daughters in a conflict. . . .

“We ought not to be working so hard to put large numbers of young Americans within range of enemy fire as soon as possible in the conflict, which sort of characterizes what we’ve been doing for 40 years. We ought to be working harder to find out how to find, fix, and kill moving enemy forces and [to be] reducing their military effectiveness before we expose too many folks on the ground to their fire.”

Chief’s F-22 Sacrifice

“Frankly, I think [General Fogleman] was responding to concerns about defense spending [when he volunteered in the QDR to cut the top-priority F-22 program from 438 to 339 fighters].

“I think he feels strongly the responsibility to deliver to the American people the security they require in the most economic set of conditions he can achieve. As he looked down the road, he saw a possibility here to reduce the number of F-22s dedicated to air superiority. . . .

“Seeing an environment in which circumstances were fairly dire, and realizing that he did have a capability that was significantly improved over the capability that he was replacing-the F-22 compared to the F-15C-he felt fairly comfortable in trimming one wing of F-22s in the air-superiority role.”

No More Stretch-outs

“The Chief said we believe that, with prudent risk, we can replace four air-superiority wings of F-15Cs with three air-superiority wings of F-22s. When the decision made by the [Secretary of Defense] included some other adjustments [e.g., an F-22 stretch-out], I think those other adjustments gave the Chief pause.

“If it gave him a lot of pause-I mean, if it gave him the kind of pause where he felt the program, as presently structured, is now in trouble-I think he would take that up with the SECDEF. I think what he’s saying is that any further adjustments to this program are unsupportable.”

F-22 in Good Health

“I would suggest that anybody who is worried about the health of the [F-22] program, or the intent on the part of the Department of Defense with regard to the program, go back and carefully review [Defense Secretary Cohen’s] and [Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Shalikashvili’s] words in testimony. I am personally convinced that both those gentlemen understand that the future of American military superiority hinges on the F-22. . . .

“I haven’t seen any anti F-22 rhetoric that concerns me in the last month or so. It’s important to remember how the F-22 got identified as being too expensive. For a short, unfortunate period of time, advocates of the [Navy F/A-18E/F] Super Hornet were holding it up as if it had some kind of similar capability. And, in the numbers in which the Super Hornet was projected to be bought, its unit cost made it look as if it were relatively inexpensive. That in turn made the F-22 look like an expensive airplane. We’ve sorted through most of those problems . . . and so I don’t hear that much anti F-22 rhetoric occurring.”

JSF for Deep Attack

“I’ve never heard that [assertions that some senior USAF officers view the Joint Strike Fighter as a possible replacement for the F-15E and F-117 aircraft]. . . . I guess it would be hard to argue with that, if you could buy that kind of long-range, deep interdiction capability in the same airframe you’re buying for the high-quantity, low-end of the combat area. I can tell you, having been around this discussion a long time, that it never occurred to me that we could replace the F-117 and F-15E kind of capability with the JSF, unless the JSF turns out to be somehow much more capable and much cheaper than our experience to date would indicate is possible.”

DAWMS and the B-2

“The atmospherics around the [Deep Attack Weapons Mix Study] Part II required [the Pentagon] to produce a full round of analysis [of the B-2 bomber in comparison with other deep-attack systems]. . . . I got an opportunity to look at every piece of it, and frankly we questioned some of it and had some of it redone. . . . So, they did some more work, and we were satisfied that the work that they did [led to] the conclusion that the B-2 is an extraordinarily valuable asset in the halt phase, but that the trade-offs that one has to make in order to buy more of them within a given DoD top line would give up some capability that [is] not otherwise provided by the additional B-2s, and then there’s the capability gap to worry about.”

Carriers vs. B-2s

“It’s hard to trade B-2s and carriers across the spectrum of their unique contributions. On the one hand we inherit the notion that somehow a carrier in the vicinity helps in shaping [events in a foreign environment]. On the other hand a carrier only helps in the area to which it has immediate access. The B-2, held in a secure reserve, can threaten anybody’s valued assets anywhere on the globe.”

Enthused About PGMs

“Overall, there’s a much broader consensus [after completion of the DAWMS] that investment in munitions is a good idea. I can’t tell you that it’s reflected in the program today, but I can tell you that it is reflected in the intellects of the people who will design the programs of tomorrow. Degradations in the ability of airpower to be effective in the course of a campaign, which were due to munitions shortfalls, are not appropriately compensated by the addition of other kinds of forces. They are appropriately compensated by the purchase of additional munitions.”

Crazy Analytic Models

“At one point [in the DAWMS], it looked as if we would be very foolish to buy any [Joint Standoff Weapon], and we ought to buy as much [Wind-Corrected Munitions Dispenser] as we possibly could. As we looked at it, we said, ‘Why would the model consistently choose wind-corrected munitions over the Joint Standoff Weapon?’ Finally, we realized it was because the model couldn’t distinguish between standoff at altitude and standoff horizontal. We had to go back in and say, ‘There simply are targets that you don’t want to fly over.’ We had to try to find a way to tell the model that there are tactical needs for certain kinds of munitions. We never did get the model fixed.”

E-8 Joint STARS

“Since the Joint STARS construct was developed, the idea that you would always rely on ground forces to target enemy armor has lost some of its luster. The idea that you have to fly aboard Joint STARS all of the things that we now fly is being rethought. Maybe in the future we could reduce it, just flying the antenna, and leave the battle-management function somewhere else.

“This is one of those problems we always have. . . . Those of us who have day-to-day accountability for the U-2s’ operational mission are reluctant to sell it off in order to invest in the high-tech follow-on UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle]. . . . We could probably come up in a few years with a better way of doing the same mission-one that is perhaps less vulnerable, more easily deployed, and less costly.”

Army Goes Along

“I see that decision [the QDR’s call to cut the planned Joint STARS fleet from 19 to 13] probably as a hedge against investing more money than might be necessary in what could quickly be older technologies.

“I have to tell you, the Air Force didn’t propose cuts in Joint STARS. When the primary Joint STARS customer-the United States Army-was comfortable with the cuts that were proposed, we went back and looked at [the question], ‘Will this significantly reduce our ability to be effective in the halt phase,’ which was receiving some increased emphasis in the strategy. We concluded that that would not, because the halt phase is going to go fairly rapidly, and then we would swing the Joint STARS assets to another area if we needed to.”