Air Force Seeks a COIN Flip
Air Force officials have started prepping the battlefield for a joint doctrine debate, expected in late 2007 or early 2008, over service roles in irregular warfare.
USAF’s leaders are speaking out forcefully on the issue. They want to make sure USAF’s critical—and largely unpublicized—contribution to today’s counterinsurgency effort isn’t ignored by joint doctrine writers. Their conclusions will have a major impact on future resource allocations.
Maj. Gen. Allen G. Peck, head of the Air Force Doctrine Center at Maxwell AFB, Ala., in June released “Airpower’s Crucial Role in Irregular Warfare.” In it, Peck claimed, “No one should dismiss IW as falling strictly within the purview of ground or special operations forces.”
Airpower, Peck went on, is an “invaluable enabler” for all forces undertaking any fight short of all-out war.
The paper was an apparent riposte to an Army-Marine Corps counterinsurgency (or COIN) paper released this year. The paper minimized USAF’s role in the COIN fight, portraying it as being little more than a taxi service for ground troops.
Peck pointed out that “the dominance of America’s airpower in traditional wars has not been lost on those who threaten our national interests” and that, as a result, enemies will “turn increasingly to irregular warfare” to achieve their ends. The Air Force has to be ready to deal with that fact, he said.
Earlier this year, Air Force Special Operations Command announced it would move to set up an “irregular warfare” wing, and specified a force of 44 transports, 20 helicopters, and 20 attack aircraft dedicated to COIN operations.
Gen. T. Michael Moseley, USAF Chief of Staff, recently said he might consider assigning a squadron of A-10 attack aircraft as those dedicated COIN fighters.
USAF does indeed have a central role to play in irregular wars, counterinsurgencies, and urban warfare, but needs a better-explained doctrine for doing so, said the service’s Scientific Advisory Board in an earlier study. The SAB urged a new curriculum in IW down to the most basic levels of training.
In his paper, Peck acknowledged that irregular warfare dilutes traditional Air Force power to threaten enemy centers of gravity. Decentralized foes don’t offer lucrative targets such as command centers, industries, and massed forces.
Nevertheless, he said, experience over the last six years of combat in Southwest Asia has shown that airpower can easily adapt to the fight.
He noted that “Cold War-era bombers” can loiter over the battlefield and give close support to ground troops. Fighters can double as reconnaissance platforms, piping street-by-street imagery to ground troops. They also can strike the enemy with great accuracy, even in very close proximity to ground troops.
Unmanned aircraft, Peck said, not only provide long-endurance watch on suspected enemy hideouts, but they can either attack on their own with small missiles or laser-designate targets for heavier aircraft. Jamming aircraft can interfere with the signals used to set off ambush bombs.
Flying above it all are intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance sensors on both aircraft and spacecraft. They keep watch, detecting the enemy and coordinating attacks.
Airlift forces bring ground troops directly to the fight, and keep them supplied, and keep them off the dangerous roads, while SOF aircraft get special units in and out of the battle and support them with firepower.
Rising in importance in the IW battle will be cyber operations, Peck noted. Cyber capabilities in network attack can be applied “almost without regard for geography or artificial surface boundaries.”
Aside from ISR contributions, USAF space assets support the IW battle by providing precision navigation, communication, and weather data.
Peck sought to blunt Army and Marine Corps claims that bombing is too blunt an instrument to use effectively in an IW environment, noting that precision strike, abetted by highly accurate guidance and “cockpit-selectable fuzes,” already permit airmen “to eliminate insurgents in close proximity to civilians or friendly ground forces, thus giving coalition forces a significant firepower advantage.” USAF, he added, can deliver “intended effects precisely while limiting unintended effects.”
The watchfulness of ISR, as well as the “mere visible or audible presence of airpower,” can demonstrate the US commitment to the population and limit insurgents’ freedom of movement, Peck said.
The Air Force is already moving to ensure that its airmen can handle any fight, even if it happens to be on the surface, he added. “Just as airmen can survive and kill the enemy at great distances from the air, so must they have the training and motivation to survive and kill at close range on the ground,” he said.
Troops Now at Pay Comparability
A years-long march to make military pay comparable to that of civilians has overshot the mark, and military compensation now actually “compares favorably” with that received by civilians, claims the Congressional Budget Office.
CBO said that, while it is difficult to make apples-to-apples comparisons of military and civilian pay, today’s military personnel are by most yardsticks doing well in comparison to civilian counterparts.
The CBO report, released in June, said it now costs about $138,000 a year to field one enlisted person, on average, versus $90,000 just three years ago. The growth has occurred because Congress, in each of the past six years, has raised military pay one-half of a percentage point above inflation.
Then came the caveats. CBO noted, appropriately, that military jobs are “more hazardous” than most civilian jobs, require “frequent moves, and are less flexible than civilian jobs in the same field.” Uniformed personnel are subject to military justice and are “unable to resign, change jobs at will, or negotiate pay.”
Still, the pay situation has so sharply turned around that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) asked Congress not to add the extra half-percentage point increase in Fiscal 2008, as it would impose an unplanned $7 billion claim on the Pentagon’s budget. The White House said pay is now adequate to maintain recruiting and retention levels, and is competitive with civilian employers. Furthermore, the OMB said the money is needed for urgently required equipment.
In its report, CBO claimed that 2006 compensation for enlisted military persons surpasses that earned by 70 percent of civilians with comparable education and work experience. Today’s military pay, said CBO, also “compared favorably with the earnings of male federal white-collar employees of comparable ages, education, and experience.”
When one adds in “noncash benefits”—retirement after 20 years of service, family health care, subsidized groceries and child care, and so on—“the military package [is] substantially larger than comparable civilian packages,” the CBO said.
Military people receive government-paid education and training that they can take with them when they leave, plus family support programs and benefits.
The percentage of overall military compensation paid in cash is about 39 percent, highly consistent with CBO’s 2004 estimate of 40 percent.
The CBO did not factor in compensation such as retention bonuses, hazardous duty pay, flight pay, or other career incentive pays, nor family separation allowances, higher housing allowances in expensive areas, or other add-on payments. It noted that enlisted retention bonuses in some in-demand fields can run as high as $150,000.
“A 20-year-old high school graduate with no dependents who had reached the pay grade of E-3 earned about $33,000 in cash compensation last year, as well as $28,000 in noncash and deferred benefits,” for a total $61,000 overall, the CBO said.
An E-6 with 12 years of service and no family received “about $96,000 in pay and benefits, and a 40-year-old E-8 earned total compensation of about $127,000.”
On average, those enlisted personnel with families received additional compensation worth between $16,000 and $20,000. Enlisted service members also tend to be promoted more quickly than their civilian counterparts, with raises that can increase their earnings by more than 10 percent per year.
Taking into account bonuses, skill pays, and other allowances, special operations forces got the highest enlisted pay. They were followed by medical sergeants in the special operations forces.
Wanted: Straight C-17 Answers
USAF has been trying to keep open an option to acquire additional C-17 airlifters even as it awaits the outcomes of some mobility studies and technical evaluations of a C-5 upgrade. The stalling tactic may now be at an end, though.
Three Senators are demanding a straight answer to a straight question: Does the Air Force want more C-17s, or not
In a July letter to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, the three—Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.)—demanded to know just what the Air Force has in mind regarding the C-17.
Their interest was piqued by Boeing’s recent decision to keep the C-17 line open—with its own funds—despite the absence of any further orders or Air Force requirements.
In a related move, Senate backers of both the C-17 and the C-5 upgrade amended the 2008 DOD authorization bill to require an outside analysis of the nation’s strategic airlift situation.
The report would be due by February 2009 and take into account current and future missions, expanded ground forces, and the special requirements attending the deployment of the Army’s Future Combat System.
The amendment was added by Sen. Claire C. McCaskill (D-Mo.).
Kennedy, McCain, and Carper, however, asked Gates whether USAF somehow “induced” Boeing to take this action. They said it would be “inappropriate, especially if it exposes taxpayers to liability in the event that Congress declines to purchase additional C-17 aircraft.”
“The question we want answered,” Carper said in a statement, “is whether the Air Force is planning to expand its C-17 program beyond what’s been proposed … or authorized by Congress.” If the service wants more C-17s, he said, “then why hasn’t it requested this additional funding from Congress?” If it plans to buy no more, “then why is Boeing instructing its suppliers to resume work on parts for 10 new C-17s?”
Boeing, in announcing its decision to keep the C-17 line open, said it was basing its action on “increasing signs that the US Air Force has a requirement for 30 additional C-17s.” The company also cited “increased bipartisan support” for the idea.
In response, the three Senators said, “As far as we know, [Boeing’s] statements, as reported by the press, are inaccurate.”
Air Force leaders have indeed wondered out loud whether to cut back on its C-5 re-engining and structural upgrade and divert those funds to 30 new C-17s. Back-of-the-envelope calculations also indicate that USAF may need as many as 35 more strategic airlifters to haul an expanded Army and Marine Corps and their gear.
Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne praised Boeing’s move as “a very good gesture.” He had previously expressed irritation that Boeing was openly discussing a line shutdown—and thus forcing the C-17 issue—at a time when USAF couldn’t afford to buy any more of the aircraft.
The Senators demanded that Gates give them a definitive, official yes-or-no answer on whether the Air Force requires more C-17s. If there are “increasing signs” of such a need, as Boeing has said, they want an explanation.
Moreover, the Senators said the Air Force has brought to Capitol Hill briefings on the option to purchase 10 to 30 more C-17s. They want to know whether Gates thinks such briefings are appropriate, given the lack of stated requirement.
Finally, the lawmakers want to know what the Air Force would cut out of its own budget to pay for any new airlifters.
The F-22 Learning Curve
The chances that the F-22 Raptor will stay in production beyond the 183rd aircraft increased in July, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates approved a multiyear contract for the last 60 aircraft now on order.
The move continues production of the F-22 into the next Presidential Administration, which Air Force leaders hope will be inclined to expand the program.
Gates’ decision was based on a RAND Corp. analysis verifying Air Force and Lockheed Martin claims that a multiyear contract would yield substantial savings on the aircraft. RAND determined that the multiyear deal would save between $274 million and $643 million. That was enough to convince Gates to proceed.
Congress approved the plan—in which several annual lots of production are guaranteed in advance—last year, but on condition that claimed savings be vetted independently. RAND completed its analysis in June.
Congress usually does not like to enter such arrangements because it obligates future appropriations and crimps lawmakers’ ability to tinker with programs.
The multiyear deal will keep the F-22 line in operation through 2009. The program was repeatedly challenged by then-Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and his aides. They cut the planned buy of Raptors from 339 to 183 aircraft, even though the Air Force’s minimum requirement is 381 fighters.
Rumsfeld never even took a briefing on the program, despite its status for years as the Pentagon’s top procurement priority.
The Air Force is hoping a new Administration will reconsider the service’s long-standing requirement for 381 Raptors. The figure has survived intense Pentagon scrutiny. Pentagon leaders openly admit that capping the program at 183 aircraft was based on finances, not validated requirements.
In the multiyear deal, roughly 70 percent of the savings will result from reduced labor costs, bulk part buying, and the elimination of several years’ worth of supplier uncertainty, RAND’s National Defense Research Institute said in its report.
“Achieving subcontractor and vendor quantity discounts is a key factor in obtaining savings on multiyear procurement programs,” it noted.
RAND based its numbers on three separate scenarios.
First, it extrapolated future savings from learning curve cost reductions on all of the first six lots of production, which yielded the $274 million savings figure.
Second, it projected savings based only on the cost-cutting performance in lots five and six, which yielded the most likely amount of $411 million.
Third, it assumed future savings based on cost decreases achieved in Lot 6 alone, which would be $643 million on the last 60 airplanes, or more than $10 million each. The savings were stated in then-year, or actual, dollars spent.
“As a percentage of the total contract, savings under each of the three assumptions are 3.1 percent, 4.5 percent, and 6.9 percent, respectively,” RAND noted.
Congress also wanted to know if F-22 savings would be in the same ballpark as those of other aircraft programs that were bought in multiyear contracts, and specifically when compared with previous fighter-attack aircraft.
The RAND savings estimates “are high by historical standards for fighter and attack aircraft, but well within the historical range for all aircraft with multiyear contracts since 1982,” the think tank said in its report.
“This can be partially explained by the higher unit cost of the F-22A compared with other fighters,” RAND’s report added.
RAND concluded that the savings claimed by the Air Force and Lockheed Martin on the F-22 multiyear contract “appear to be reasonable.”
Gen. Ronald E. Keys, head of Air Combat Command, has said that the current limit of 183 aircraft means the Air Force will stop buying F-22s just at the moment when the production line starts producing “the cheapest ones,” which benefit both from learning curve savings and amortization of development and facility costs.