The Premium on Quality

Sept. 1, 1980
The focus of US military planning for the past nine months has been predominantly on the implications of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. I discussed this issue at some length with Senior Editor Edgar Ulsamer, as reported in the August issue of AIR FORCE Magazine. As I indicated in that interview, Soviet willingness to directly intervene in an area outside their traditional sphere of influence, and whose proximity to the Persian Gulf raises the specter of Soviet control of the critical energy supplies in this region, has had a significant impact on Air Force planning for contingency operations. In recent months, we have taken a number of steps to improve our preparedness to respond-and sustain that response-to meet any Soviet threat to US vital interests in Southwest Asia.

We are also making major adjustments, over the period of the Five Year Defense Plan, in the relative emphasis to be placed on force readiness vs. force modernization. The bold Soviet resort to military power to further their foreign-policy objectives has prompted us to place a premium on increasing the effectiveness of existing forces. Given present constraints on defense spending, this focus on near term readiness and sustainability has had to come at the expense of force acquisition. This choice is a painful one, especially in view of the fact that the Soviets are relentlessly both expanding and improving the quality of their military forces. We will, of course, continue to acquire more modern, capable weapon systems-but at a slower pace and in fewer numbers.

This shift in priorities has strong implications for everyone in our Air Force. It means we are going to have to wring every last bit of capability out of every weapon system we have in order to provide an effective deterrent against steadily improving Soviet strategic and general-purpose forces. That kind of challenge can only be met by emphasis on the most critical element in our readiness equation-quality people. Never have experienced, dedicated people been more important to our health and capability as an institution. Unfortunately, this premium on quality people comes just as we are experiencing severe losses of precisely these irreplaceable assets.

The continuing departure of experienced aviators, engineers, NCOs, and physicians from our ranks is my single greatest concern and has occupied a substantial portion of my time and attention over the past year. It was the principal item on the agenda of senior Air Force leaders defending the Fiscal Year 1981 Air Force Budget before the Congress this winter and spring. Great efforts have been made to heighten public awareness of this problem and the specific factors prompting career-minded military professionals to hang up their uniforms.

This situation is, in a word, intolerable. It cannot continue if the Air Force is to maintain an adequate fighting force. I sense that efforts to make this problem known, to publicize the skills and dedication of our people, and to prompt actions to alleviate the major causes of their dissatisfaction-loss at purchasing power and erosion 01 benefits-are: having effect. The nation, and its governing bodies, are coming to realize that today’s complex national security environment requires top-notch, technically competent people. We in the Air Force are especially dependent on the seasoned veterans who are steeped in, the lore of our profession.

This type of force cannot be had on I the cheap. Nor can it be provided by a I draft. In the final analysis, the Air Force, must be able to attract a broad cross section of talented young people and provide them with both a challenge and a quality of life that will enhance the appeal of a career commitment. The Air Force has the heritage, the array of career fields, and the demand for excellence that will excite and capture this type of commitment.

However, the quality of life in our Air Force has clearly eroded over the past several years. Of greatest concern is the loss in purchasing power our people have suffered due to the ravages of inflation and inadequate gains in compensation. Groups like the Air Force Association have done a tremendous job in carrying this message, as well as reporting on the superb capabilities of; I our Total Force-active, Guard, and Reserve.

To date, the Air Force has successfully weathered the storm of growing disenchantment with the quality of service life. We are an institution of professionals, a winning team, with a strong faith that the country is slowly but surely turning an important corner in attitudes I toward the role and contribution of its’ armed forces.

I believe that the future holds not only great challenge but great promise for: our nation and Our Air Force. Events have conspired to confront us with enormous demands, both personal and I professional. In my view, those demands represent a test and an opportunity. I have no doubt that we are equal to the test-and that we will seize, individually and collectively, the opportunity to grow both personally and an institution.