The High-Risk Military Strategy

Sept. 1, 1994

For several weeks in the summer of 1993, Secretary of Defense Les Aspin tested public opinion with a proposal for a sequential military strategy called “Win-Hold-Win.” The reaction to it was overwhelmingly negative. Mr. Aspin was in a fix of his own making. He was searching for a program that would match the radical defense spending cuts that he and President Clinton had already announced, before investigating the impact they would have on force capability. Details were to be worked out in a “Bottom-Up Review” to follow.

The initial Bottom-Up Review analysis of defense requirements pointed to a larger force than could be covered by the Clinton budget. That led to the Win-Hold-Win proposal, a strategy for US forces to prosecute fully one regional conflict but conduct a holding action on a second front until more forces could arrive. When that plan went down under fire, Mr. Aspin proclaimed a “two-MRC” strategy—US forces prepared to fight and win two major regional conflicts “nearly simultaneously.”

Four months later, Mr. Aspin announced the new force structure with which the US would try to implement this strategy. It marked a steep drop from the “Base Force” proposed by the Bush Administration. The Air Force, for example, would field twenty fighter wings rather than 26.5. The Army would have ten active-duty divisions instead of twelve. Concern about the Aspin two-conflict strategy has not abated.

The argument is not with the basic concept—on which there is fairly general agreement—but about the force levels and budgets proposed to go with it.

The forces, requirements, and strategy issue has three parts, which can be expressed as questions: Is the new strategy sound? What does the strategy require? Is the strategy credible

Soundness of the Strategy

As a form of planning shorthand, strategies are frequently described in terms of the number of wars or conflicts the armed forces are supposedly prepared to fight. Obviously, conflicts differ in scope and intensity. Definitions of “war” and “conflict” may vary as well.

Origins. The “two and a half war” standard was the basis for United States conventional force planning in the years 1961–68. It supposedly covered simultaneous response to a Soviet/Warsaw Pact invasion in Europe, an attack by China in Asia, and a “lesser contingency” elsewhere. The lesser contingency, or “half-war,” was Vietnam—which was the equivalent certainly, and perhaps then some, to a full-up major regional conflict as defined today.

The “one and a half war” strategy, spanning the years 1969–81, was adopted initially by the Nixon Administration in response to the rupture of Sino-Soviet political and military relations. It was based on the declared capability to repel a Warsaw Pact invasion of Europe and fight a half-war elsewhere, e.g., a Chinese-sponsored North Korean invasion of South Korea.

The “no number” strategy was in effect during 1982–90. At the beginning of the Reagan rearmament program, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger rejected “mechanistic assumptions” about numbers of wars to be fought and said force structure would be based on “much broader and more fundamental judgments.” The next two Defense Secretaries, Frank C. Carlucci and Dick Cheney, took generally the same approach. No specific number of conflicts was publicly stated as an element of strategy, but it always was clear that the defense posture was intended to cover multiple threats.

In 1990, just before the Persian Gulf War began, the US switched to a new strategy. It had a sharp new focus on regional conflicts and was built around smaller forces, fewer deployments overseas, and the assumption that the primary threats would be regional rather than global, as was the Soviet threat during the Cold War era. The reduced configuration of the armed forces was to be called the Base Force. The Base Force strategy was intended to cover “multiple regional crises.”

Secretary Cheney said that even while the US was engaged in a prolonged operation, “our forces must remain able to deter or respond rapidly to other crises or to expand an initial crisis deployment in the event of escalation, also on short notice.”

A critical turn en route to the next strategy came in March 1993, when Secretary Aspin announced the Clinton Administration’s first defense budget, covering Fiscal 1994–98. The plan roughly doubled the budget cuts that the Bush Administration had planned for this period, with force and program decisions to come later. The general inspiration for the new defense plan was a set of force and budget options—notably one called “Option C”—that Mr. Aspin developed while serving in Congress as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

In the summer of 1993, after the budget had been cut, the Joint Staff worked on force-structure options to match up with the Administration’s arbitrary 1994–98 projections. Details of the work in progress leaked and were published by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and other newspapers. That was the first revelation of the Win-Hold-Win concept, and it was met with withering criticism.

Within weeks, advocacy of it had become untenable. On June 24, Mr. Aspin finally gave up on Win-Hold-Win. In a major speech, he declared, “After much discussion, we’ve come to the conclusion that our forces must be able to fight and win two major regional conflicts, and nearly simultaneously.”

Necessity. The negative reactions to Win-Hold-Win—and Mr. Aspin’s fundamental retreat from it—indicate a fairly broad base of opinion that a stronger defense posture is required. While the two-MRC strategy was not Secretary Aspin’s first choice, his stated logic for it was sound.

“ There was concern,” Mr. Aspin said in his 1994 Annual Report to Congress, “that if the United States was drawn into a war with one regional aggressor, another could well be tempted to attack its neighbors—especially if they were convinced that the United States and its allies did not have enough military power to deal with more than one MRC at a time. Moreover, sizing US forces for more than one MRC will provide a hedge against the possibility that a future adversary might one day mount a larger-than-expected threat.”

The Rand Corp., in its assessment, pointed out yet another consideration: “A larger force structure provides flexibility and some margin for responding to the unexpected—both valuable qualities when dealing with something as inherently uncertain as military operations ten to twenty years in the future.”

There is, to be sure, a body of opinion that holds a two-conflict strategy to be unnecessary, questionable, or excessive. In February, for example, the New York Times objected to the supposedly unrealistic requirement that US forces be ready to fight two nearly simultaneous MRCs. Within the month, the Clinton Administration had put both Serbia and North Korea, more or less simultaneously, on what sounded very much like warnings of war.

Some commentators speak of regional conflicts as if they would be little fights and local affairs, not amounting to much. The fact is that MRCs are not easy, as the US learned in Vietnam and as the Soviet Union learned in Afghanistan.

The United States has a fairly consistent history of underestimating in peacetime the forces that it will require in wartime. The Persian Gulf War, for example, ultimately required a third more fighter forces than the strategy had estimated. It required most of USAF’s best aircraft and the largest coalition air fleet to see combat since World War II. Rand Corp. analysts, studying regional conflict for the Pentagon, discerned a pattern of imperfect US forecasts; it said peak US deployments needed to fight in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq “exceeded planners’ prewar expectations by a factor of two in critical areas.”

The danger of global war has diminished, but there has been a corresponding increase in the probability of regional conflict. In some instances, such conflicts may have implications reaching beyond the region. The potential for escalation to larger, wider wars is always present. Early visions of a “new world order” to follow the Cold War were optimistic. It is now clear that the new order is characterized by instability, regional power struggles, and violence that in some cases had been restrained when the superpowers exerted more influence on lesser powers.

Five years ago, it was considered almost eccentric to worry about North Korea as a military threat. Nobody is smirking today. Five years ago, before the breakup of the Warsaw Pact and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the prospects of near-term conflict in Europe were rated as virtually nil. Few would make that judgment today with the same confidence, having seen the relentless animosity unleashed in the Balkans and the tensions at play among the new nations of the former USSR. It does not take a hyperactive imagination to conceive of trouble originating in—or spreading from—the old Soviet Union.

In times of peace, an austere defense posture can seem adequate. Cuts in defense may seem harmless, even wise. A limited crisis, well short of war, can upset such perceptions overnight. It is a safe bet that if a major crisis began, the nation would feel less secure in its defense arrangements than it does today. The standard for defense planning must be the level of capability the nation would need and want in wartime, not the posture that seems sufficient in the tranquility of peacetime.

Strategy’s Airpower Requirements

The Bottom-Up Review concluded that the Pentagon should expect the aggressor in a typical MRC to have up to 750,000 troops, some 4,000 tanks, 1,000 combat aircraft, and 1,000 Scud-class ballistic missiles. Moreover, it concluded that the US should expect to respond to such a crisis in four operational stages:

Phase 1. Halt the invasion. Keep to a minimum the territory and critical facilities an invader can capture. Deploy US forces rapidly to the theater and enter battle as quickly as possible.

Phase 2. Build up US combat power in the theater while reducing the enemy’s. Insert land, sea, and air forces to ensure the enemy does not regain the initiative. Mount sustained attacks to reduce enemy capabilities in preparation for a counteroffensive.

Phase 3. Decisively defeat the enemy. Conduct a large-scale air-land counteroffensive, retake territory, destroy enemy war-making capabilities, and achieve other objectives.

Phase 4. Provide for postwar stability. Maintain forces in the region to ensure that adverse conditions do not recur.

The plan’s heavy reliance on airpower is obvious. Less evident is the extent to which the US would depend on landbased bombers and strike aircraft for early destruction of critical targets. One assessment by Rand analysts is summarized in Table 1 above. The figures can be—and have been—challenged. However, they are consistent with the experience of Operation Desert Storm, where USAF aircraft delivered ninety percent of US precision guided munitions (PGMs) and seventy-two percent of US gravity bombs.

The Bottom-Up Review was not the first effort to size a force for a major regional conflict. Considerable analysis had been done before and after the nation converted to Base Force strategy in 1990. The Base Force estimate—as well as most others that preceded the budget-driven Bottom-Up Review—found a requirement for a force substantially larger than the one projected by the Clinton Administration in its Fiscal 1995–99 budget plans.

The Base Force called for 26.5 fighter wing equivalents. However, the Joint Chiefs of Staff saw even the Base Force as having significant limitations. In a 1992 assessment, the chiefs concluded, “the Base Force is capable of resolving quickly—with low risk—only one major regional crisis at a time. For two crises occurring close together, the United States would have to employ economy of force and sequential operations and make strategic choices. The risk to US objectives in either case is no more than moderate, but there is little margin for unfavorable circumstances.” [Emphasis added.]

Rand also looked at the requirements question before the Bottom-Up Review got under way. Rand found that even the Base Force would not have enough assets in some categories to cover two MRCs. In Desert Storm, the Air Force used about thirty percent of its total fighter assets, but nearly all long-range fighter-bombers and C3I elements were committed. Rand’s conclusions:

• A single MRC requires ten fighter wings, eighty heavy bombers, and ninety percent of US airlift.

• A second MRC would entail shuttling and shifting.

• Each MRC would require three aircraft carriers.

In the summer of 1993, the Joint Staff studied requirements for carrying out three strategies: a true “two simultaneous MRC” plan, a “Win-Hold-Win” plan, and a one-MRC plan. The Joint Staff initially came up with numbers displayed in Table 2 on this page.

The cost of the preferred two-MRC strategy was too high to match the “thin air” budget. To keep the two-MRC strategy and stay within budget, therefore, Mr. Aspin and his colleagues inserted “nearly” before “simultaneously”—and dropped four fighter wings. Note that the number of fighter wing equivalents eventually adopted for the two-MRC strategy is identical to that proposed for the discredited Win-Hold-Win. The Bottom-Up Review did not project airlift requirements or plans.

Eventually the corporate Air Force signed up to the budgeted force of twenty FWEs and only 100 operational bombers. Gen. Merrill A. McPeak, USAF Chief of Staff, endorsed that projection personally but said that until the B-2 and adequate quantities of PGMs are available, “the force structure will be pretty well stretched to accomplish the two-MRC strategy.”

Gen. John Michael Loh, commander of Air Combat Command, has said he needs to know more about the nature and timing of the potential conflicts on which the strategy and force structures are predicated. For example, he asked, “what do we mean by ‘nearly simultaneously’? And what do we mean by ‘two MRCs’? Do we mean two Desert Storms? Do we mean a Desert Storm and a Panama?”

Questions about the bomber force have been particularly acute. In February, General McPeak told reporters, “Our analysis indicates we can service the entire target set that comes at you from two major regional contingencies, near simultaneously, with a bomber force of about 100 deployable bombers equipped with PGMs” and that the Air Force was “on a path” to having that PGM capability around the turn of the century.

General McPeak told the Senate Armed Services Committee in March that the Bottom-Up Review “set a requirement for bombers that [we already cannot meet] because the budget doesn’t support the Bottom-Up Review bomber force structure. So for me, the Bottom-Up Review force structure is an abstraction. . . . The budget is a reality.” He said the Air Force “backed into bomber cuts” to meet lower budget ceilings and that nothing had changed to alter prior Air Force analyses, which called for a force of 184 bombers to cover critical targets early in a conflict.

For the past several years, the strong performance of US forces in the Gulf War has been cited often as evidence that capabilities are adequate or excessive.

Testifying to Congress in 1994, Robert D. Reischauer, director of the Congressional Budget Office, cited Gulf War success to suggest the feasibility of making new reductions below levels now projected.

“ Given the superiority that US forces demonstrated in Desert Storm,” he said, “it might be possible to eliminate some duplicative forces without endangering US national security.”

As Mr. Reischauer knows (or should know), the force that won the Gulf War no longer exists. It was reduced by the Bush Administration in its Base Force planning, and the Bottom-Up Review cut more. The superiority US forces demonstrated in Desert Storm is not a guaranteed element in planning for future wars.

Major Combat and Support Aircraft

Fighters. Beginning in 1976 and continuing into the 1980s, the Air Force officially was building toward a force of forty combat-coded fighter and attack wings. The forty-wing goal was somewhat arbitrary, representing a compromise between official requirements and available budgets. The requirement actually indicated by the analysis was about forty-four wings.

In 1987, the Air Force dropped its goal to thirty-seven wings, stating it would concentrate on supporting those wings properly. In February 1991, the Pentagon announced plans to again reduce USAF fighter structure—this time to twenty-six wings. In March 1993, the Pentagon’s annual budget announcement said the Base Force would be reduced to 24.3 FWE, the only major force-structure change Mr. Aspin announced at that time. The Bottom-Up Review, of course, dropped the fighter force structure to its lowest point yet—twenty combat-coded fighter and attack wings.

Tables 3, 4, and 5 show the diminishing level of Air Force fighter wing equivalents, the intended composition of the future force by mission and aircraft, and where that force will be based. Consequences of the drawdown include a reduction overseas of fifty-eight percent in aircraft and fifty-three percent in bases.

Table 6 on p. 40 shows the steady decrease in numbers of fighter and attack aircraft operated by the Air Force. Fiscal Year 1994 is a benchmark of note, since the active-duty fighter fleet will slip below 1,000 aircraft.

The Clinton force structure grew out of a set of options—the favored one being “Option C”—that Mr. Aspin devised in 1992 when he chaired the House Armed Services Committee. Option C used as its benchmark a “Desert Storm Equivalent.” The assumption was that the force employed in the Gulf War would be approximately the force required for a major regional conflict in the future.

Mr. Aspin said “the basic Desert Storm Equivalent—the ‘force that mattered’ ”—had, in addition to land and naval forces, the equivalent of twenty-four USAF fighter squadrons. General McPeak said Mr. Aspin’s numbers added up to “Desert Drizzle,” not Desert Storm. The actual Desert Storm force, said the General, comprised thirty-three Air Force fighter squadrons (eleven FWE) plus the equivalent of twenty-four coalition fighter squadrons, for a total of fifty-seven squadrons.

The Rand Corp. says, “Historically, the Air Force has deployed an average of ten fighter wings [about thirty squadrons] to the three major post–World War II conflicts: Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq.” Air Force operations data break it out more precisely, as can be seen in Table 7 below.

Bombers. The Bottom-Up Review said the US required 100 heavy bombers per MRC (but projected a total of 184 bombers for the two-war strategy).

In Senate testimony, Rudy de Leon, under secretary of the Air Force, sought to clear up confusion over the requirements. “The analysis supporting the Bottom-Up Review assumed a [total] bomber force of 184 [with] 158 [PAA bombers] in 1999,” he said. “The analysis concluded that deploying 100 bombers forward with two crews per bomber would, in conjunction with other forces, including fifty-four F-111Fs, be sufficient to fight two nearly simultaneous major regional conflicts. The deployed bombers were shifted from the first to the second MRC, so that the total needed for the two-MRC scenario was still 100 bombers.”

The Fiscal 1995–99 budget clearly does not fund 184 total bombers, as seen in Table 8 at right. The operational numbers also are uncertain. The budget funds 126 total bombers, according to USAF figures provided to Sen. Kent Conrad (D–N. D). Of these 126, said the senator, only eighty-seven would be combat-coded.

There are numerous estimates of the bomber requirement, but three main ones—all done since the end of the Cold War and Desert Storm and all predicated on the assumption that PGMs will be available—are of particular interest.

• The Air Force’s June 1992 Bomber Roadmap revised the bomber requirement, projecting a fleet of 211 compared to the 300 or so B-52s and B-1s the Air Force had at the time. The B-1 was seen as the workhorse, to be employed against the bulk of defended, time-critical targets. The Air Force further noted that, in a Desert Storm–like war, the 1992 bomber fleet could destroy only twenty-four percent of priority targets in the first five days, whereas the projected fleet would be able to destroy 100 percent. Drawing on a classified “combat forces roadmap,” ACC’s General Loh told Congress in June 1993 that “we need about 180 to 200 operational bombers,” thus “a total bomber force of between 210 and 230” to allow for attrition, training, and downtime for maintaining and upgrading the operational fleet.

• A 1993 Rand study, “The New Calculus,” had considerable influence on the Bottom-Up Review. To MRC I, it allocated eighty bombers (sixteen PAA B-2s, sixty-four PAA B-1s). It said selected forces—including the B-2s—would shift to MRC II. Rand figured the force for the second MRC would be smaller but have the “ability to blunt an invasion successfully and conduct strategic strikes.” However, it noted, “US capabilities for conducting an attack of surface forces and strategic targets simultaneously are reduced.” (This sounds not unlike Win-Hold-Win.)

• Another Rand paper, “Providing an Effective Bomber Force for the Future,” released in May, states that given adequate weapons and suitable modifications, the programmed bomber force of sixty B-1s, forty B-52s, and twenty B-2s should be able to handle “a stressing regional conflict.” Rand says, however, that there is no reserve for nuclear use, little margin for attrition, no margin for tradeoff, no extra firepower for the unexpected, and only a limited capability to support a second MRC. The report adds that a force of sixty suitably equipped B-2s and forty B-52s would have more capability in a stressing major conflict as well as a moderately demanding, nearly simultaneous second MRC.

Transports. Rand, in a 1993 analysis of theater airpower requirements, war-gamed a response when one crisis was followed by another in five days. It found that “constraints on lift and tankers would make such operations implausible.” To make the two-MRC strategy work, the scenario had to separate the two crises by twenty-one days—the time needed for the first sealift ships to arrive. This scenario shifted eighty percent of organic airlift and twenty percent of Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) aircraft to MRC II.

A new mobility requirements study prescribed airlift of fifty-seven million ton-miles per day (mtm/d). Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman, commander in chief of US Transportation Command and commander of Air Mobility Command, said AMC’s “current ‘advertised’ capability” is 49.2 mtm/d. “However,” he noted, “to reach this figure we must completely activate the reserve component and the full Civil Reserve Air Fleet. . . . Our nonmobilized capability is less than seventeen mtm/d. In other words, extended periods of high OPTEMPO during peacetime places great strain on active-duty forces and limits our capability to respond to nonmobilized, surge operations.”

How much airlift is needed per MRC? General Fogleman said that in the Gulf War “we averaged fifteen to seventeen million ton-miles per day into Saudi Arabia—after we had activated the Guard and Reserve, after we had called up the CRAF.”

“ Airlift in this country is broken right now,” Gen. Joseph P. Hoar, commander in chief of US Central Command, told Congress in March. “I’m not sure it’s workable for one major regional contingency.” General Fogleman acknowledged, “I cannot provide the lift for two major regional contingencies. I can do it for one . . . although even there, there are some fairly heroic assumptions that are made with regard to activation of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet.”

The critical issue is finding a replacement for the aged C-141 as the core airlifter. Rand noted that if the C-141 is not replaced when it reaches retirement “early in the next decade,” organic airlift capacity will be reduced by about fifty percent.

The Air Force’s choice is the C-17. The initial planned buy of 210 was lowered to 120 in 1991. In late 1993, the Pentagon capped the program at forty, pending correction of acquisition problems. General Fogleman told House members in May that his analysis still confirms 120 as the best option, but he stunned listeners with his rock-bottom estimate: He said the Air Force could meet minimum outsize cargo requirements with seventy to eighty C-17s.

Deputy Defense Secretary John M. Deutch rejected that number. He said the Pentagon might halt at forty or press on to 120, but he could not see settling for seventy to eighty. General Fogleman said later, “The whole point that I was trying to make was not that I wanted to come down to eighty planes from 120 but [that] forty was not enough. You cannot stop at forty and have any kind of a viable core airlifter fleet.”

Credibility of the Strategy

A multitude of reasons contributes to doubt that the armed forces are prepared to execute a two-conflict strategy. There is manifest disagreement about requirements. Chosen solutions smack more of fiscal expedience than of hard-eyed analysis. The projected defense budget is insufficient to fund even today’s lower force levels. The program is based on questionable assumptions.

Requirements. The Administration’s program developed in a strange order. First, in March 1993, came a decision on an overall budget total. Then the Bottom-Up Review began working to determine the defense requirements. This was followed by a declaration of the new strategy midway through the requirements review. Only after these steps were the actual force projections and corresponding budget allocations made public.

The capability to fight and win two major regional wars at nearly the same time is the basis for planning, but it is not the only task facing the armed forces. They have other missions, including direct defense of the US and its treaty allies and an expanding package of tasks termed “missions other than war.” The Administration has shown a proclivity for multilateral peacekeeping operations. US forces may be employed for “limited objectives,” and the standards for committing troops to combat are less restrictive than in the previous administration.

Dollars. On September 1, 1993, Mr. Aspin announced the force projections stemming from the Bottom-Up Review but said “we don’t have the dollar figures today” to explain funding allocations to elements of the force decided upon. Dollar figures were announced six weeks later, on October 15. Mr. Aspin conceded the budget was $13 billion short of covering the “Bottom-Up Review Force.”

In the month of December 1993, Administration officials first said the funding gap was $50 billion, then $31 billion, then—with the addition of $10 billion to the account—resolved. It was reliably reported that senior officials in the Pentagon and in the Office of Management and Budget were saying privately that the defense program was underfunded by at least $100 billion. William J. Perry, who succeeded Mr. Aspin, said the plan was about $20 billion short. It is little wonder that belief persists that the two-conflict force is seriously underfunded.

Assumptions. The new defense strategy is awash in assumptions—some stated, some not stated; some correct, some not correct. For example, optimistic analyses assume extended warning and preparation time, similar to the five-month buildup before the shooting started in Iraq. There is no guarantee that an invader will pause as Saddam Hussein did after the invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. In fact, one probably should presume that a militarily competent aggressor would keep rolling while he still had advantages in surprise and numbers.

Mr. Aspin’s original strategy statement, the Bottom-Up Review, and other assessments assumed—explicitly or implicitly—a sufficiency of American airlift. That is a very big assumption, considering that senior officers of all services declare strategic lift to be a major concern and that airlift is the primary factor limiting global deployments.

Mr. Aspin’s designating a “Desert Storm Equivalent” as the benchmark for regional conflict contained an implicit assumption about circumstances of combat. Such benchmarks cannot be taken too literally; circumstances will vary. In the Gulf War, for example, US forces had the advantage of deploying without active opposition upon arrival. Things would have been different had they been obliged to fight their way into the battle area.

The Base Force strategy assumed reconstitution of forces as a main pillar and as a basic condition for reducing forces. The nation would preserve the means to rebuild forces from scratch if the threat worsened. In 1991, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said “reconstitution may well prove to be the linchpin of America’s long-term security.” However, current defense policy virtually ignores reconstitution. The prevailing assumption seems to be that the armed forces can replace their losses by reactivating equipment mothballed during the force reductions.

Complexity. The complexity of deploying and sustaining a large battle force is often underestimated by laymen, and the effect of change in a single variable of the operation is greater than popularly imagined. Combat is more than guns and bullets. At one point in the Gulf War, empty cargo pallets were piling up in the war zone while a pallet shortage loomed at supply centers in the United States. This was not a trivial problem, and it illustrates the extraordinary number of details that must fit together to make a force deployment work.

Without three staging bases—Lajes in the Azores, Torrejon in Spain, and Rhein-Main in Germany—US airlift throughput to southwest Asia would have been reduced by forty-six percent, and force closure time would have increased by forty-eight percent. The Air Force left Torrejon in 1992 and is returning most of its facilities at Rhein-Main to Germany. When the drawdown is over, the Air Force will have less than half the number of bases in Europe it once did. The number of other sites where supplies are prepositioned in Europe has dropped from seventy to nineteen.

Overall, the defense program is figured much too tightly to support the declared strategy. It is not possible to calibrate war that way—counting on the last bullet to kill the last enemy on the last day of the fighting. The new strategy hangs on too many optimistic assumptions about sufficiency of forces, timing, coordination of widely separated operations, and the shuttling of critical assets between conflicts. Without more depth in the force structure, it is not convincing enough to be credible.

flict standard is a reasonable basis for force planning and posture. It is appropriatealso as the central focus of defense strategy. Implementation requires a more realistic force structure, both to carry out the tasks imposed by the strategy and to serve as a clear deterrent to aggression.

It is impractical to believe the force structure will be determined purely by military requirements. A balance inevitably will be struck with political and budgetary considerations. The goal must be a force that reaches the threshold of credibility and keeps risks to US security and interests within reasonable limits. The conventional US Air Force component of such a force structure would include:

• Not less than twenty-four combat-coded fighter and attack wings, modernized and properly equipped.

• At least 184 operational bombers, equipped with modern, precision guided munitions.

• A full complement of 120 C-17 airlifters—assuming the problems in the procurement program can be resolved.

1. Airpower Against High-Value Objectives in Early Phases of Major Regional Conflict

Objective Measure of Evaluation Percent by Landbased Airpower
Destroy enemy’s war-making capacity by destroying fixed assets Precision ordnance deliverable against fixed targets 91%
Halt and destroy the invading force Precision ordnance deliverable against moving targets 7%
Destroy dug-in forces Kill potential against revetted armor 74%

Source: David Ochmanek and John Bordeaux, “The Lion’s Share of Power Projection,” Air Force Magazine, June 1993.

2. Initial Joint Chiefs of Staff Force Computation

(Summer 1993)

Strategy Force Structure
Two MRCs simultaneously 24 FWE

12 active Army divisions

12 carriers

Win-Hold-Win 20 FWE

10 active Army divisions

10 carriers

One MRC at a time 16 FWE

8 active Army divisions

8 carriers

3. The USAF Fighter Force in 1996

Mission Aircraft Total FWE Active-Duty FWE Reserve FWE
Air Superiority F-15C/D 4.1 3.5 0.6
Long-range attack F-15E


2.6 1.9


Multirole F-16C/D 10.25 5.05 5.2
Attack F-117 0.5 0.5 0
Defense suppression F-4G 0.5 0.3 0.2
Close air support A-10 2.0 1.0 1.0
All 20.0 13.0 7.0

4. USAF Fighter Wings 1999, Regional Projection

Europe Pacific US Active-Duty US Air Reserve Components Total
Air Superiority 0.5 1.25 1.75 0.6 4.1
Long-range interdiction 0.6 0.25 1.5 N/A 2.35
Short-range interdiction/CAS 1.2 1.7 4.25 6.4 13.55
Total 2.3 3.2 7.5 7.0 20.0

5. FWE Levels and Projections

Force level in 1990 24 active, 12 reserve
Base Force projection 15.25 active, 11.25 reserve
Win-Hold-Win projection 13 active, 7 reserve
Force level in 1994 13.4 active, 8.7 reserve
FY 1995 budget projection 13 active, 7 reserve

6. Air Force Fighter and Attack Aircraft PAA

(Primary Aircraft Authorized)

Active-Duty Reserve Total
FY 1990 1,722 873 2,595
FY 1991 1,560 861 2,421
FY 1992 1,254 924 2,178
FY 1993 1,131 816 1,947
FY 1994 963 627 1,590
FY 1995 936 504 1,440
FY 1996 936 484 1,420

7. Force Size: MRC Experience


July 1953


December 1968

Desert Storm

February 1991

10.4 FWE 10.6 FWE 10.6 FWE

8. Air Force Long-Range Bombers

(DoD Projection, January 1994)

Aircraft PAA FY 1994 FY 1995 FY 1996 FY 1997
B-52H 64 40 40 40
B-1B 84 60 60 60
B-2 4 7 11 12
Total 152 107 111 112