The Four-Year Sprint

Oct. 1, 2005
Gen. John P. Jumper’s agenda for his term as Air Force Chief of Staff didn’t change very much when one of his first days on the job—Sept. 11, 2001—turned out differently from what anyone expected.

Given the stresses caused by the terrorist attacks and challenging back-to-back major military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, it would have been easy to defer plans for reinventing the Air Force until things calmed down. Instead Jumper thought it even more urgent to push “effects-based programming.”

It was a dramatic change in service culture, aimed at meeting new USAF requirements, whenever possible, with innovative ideas and existing capabilities, not with expansive demands for new weapons and hardware.

The approach dovetailed well with the ongoing war effort and with the Pentagon’s wider attempt to reinvent itself for the new century. Jumper believes the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have vindicated the goal and that the service is better off for having pursued it.

As Jumper approached his planned Sept. 2 retirement date, the Chief sat for a series of interviews in which he reflected on his four eventful years at the head of the uniformed Air Force as it wrestled with day-to-day combat operations as well as the need to lay a foundation for longer-term success.

In his view, the Air Force is more powerful and savvy than it was four years ago. He sees it as battle tested, streamlined, and more efficient. He also notes with pride that, despite a high operating tempo, the morale of the force is high and retention continues strong.

However, problems remain. The fleet is old, and launching replacement programs is proving to be a tough sell. The Air Force is finding itself in an often bruising debate in the ongoing Quadrennial Defense Review.

Jumper insists the service is getting a fair shake in the review, but he sometimes isn’t happy with the way the service’s arguments are presented. The Air Force’s top fighter programs seem to be under constant attack, even as it embarks on a long-planned divestiture of older systems. The stakes remain high.

Origins of an Agenda

Jumper came to his post after being the head of Air Combat Command, and many of the initiatives he launched there he brought with him to the Chief’s office.

“We had already started a fairly aggressive campaign in Air Combat Command to talk about concepts of operation,” Jumper recalled. “I had a strong plan to immediately start work to get the concepts of operations turned into ‘effects-based programming’ as part of transformation.”

The term “transformation” was the buzzword and goal of the Pentagon early under the leadership of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Few at first could define what it meant, other than that the vestiges of Cold War thinking needed to be swept aside. Although the Air Force was not credited with it, Rumsfeld and his lieutenants quickly picked up on “effects-based planning” as a smart way to approach an overhaul of the US military. The notion called for an emphasis on desired effects, rather than on the systems that created them.

The headliner among the new concepts Jumper brought forth was the Global Strike Task Force, which called for USAF to kick down the door into any theater of operations using its unique capabilities in stealth, long-range attack, and precision strike, then keeping up the pressure on an enemy while the rest of the US military could flow its forces into the region.

Next up was to tackle the maddeningly complicated lines of communication between the service’s various communities, whose special abilities had to be coordinated in wartime. Jumper had seen, close-up, the difficulties in doing so when he was commander of US Air Forces in Europe, during the Balkan campaign in 1999.

In his early speeches as Chief, Jumper railed against the difficulties of translating the “tribal languages” of various Air Force specialties into “actionable information.” He ranted against the “stovepipes” that needlessly fed perishable knowledge into bureaucratic dead ends, instead of to the warriors who needed it for battle.

Horizontal Integration

Jumper capsulized his vision by announcing that USAF was determined to achieve “horizontal integration” of systems. Toward this end, it would create “machine-to-machine interfaces,” in which battle information would be passed automatically from sensors to shooters and that, ultimately, the purpose of all the intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance power of the Air Force ought to be focused simply on getting a “cursor over the target.”

These phrases, Jumper said, he used as “organizing principles” to help people visualize their direct role in the process of finding and defeating an enemy.

“I think we are well on the way” to realizing the vision, Jumper said. “I think we’re out of the intellectual ruts” that prevented extracting full value from the mountains of data already collected by air- and spaceborne sensors, he said.

His hope is that the Air Force will soon be able to present to anyone who needs it a view of the battlespace akin to that enjoyed by pilots of the F/A-22 Raptor, which has a “God’s-eye” display of all the friendlies, enemies, unknowns, and threats within a given operating area. That display is constructed not only by the F/A-22’s own sensors but by many offboard sources, from E-3 AWACS to satellites to listening posts, the data from which is fused into a coherent presentation.

“And we should be able to do this from the air operations center, too, or from any other platform,” he added. The display should not just be a comprehensive picture but one that reacts to instructions. Just as in the F/A-22, Jumper wants the AOC to be able to “put [a] cursor over the target and make things happen,” such as automatically dispatching the closest strike aircraft to destroy a pop-up target and deconflicting the aircraft with others in the vicinity. Jumper has labored to redefine the AOC as a weapon system in its own right.

The effort to make this vision a reality is under way, he said, but “because of … wartime necessity, we’ve really had to work it from the bottom up, sort of, application by application. … We now have to start taking a look at this from the top down, so we can characterize the whole battlespace.”

He anticipates it will not be long before an experimental version of what he has called the AOC “data wall” becomes a reality, “so we can get out of our platform-centric thinking and into more … visualizing the networking and integration that’s required.”

The realization of the big-picture display may take some time, and there may be setbacks, but “we can’t give up on it, because it is so very leveraging,” said Jumper.

Going into the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the approach was broadened to integrate not just varied parts of the Air Force but to improve connections with the other services as well. Afghanistan saw Air Force tankers refueling Navy carrier-based aircraft on six-hour missions in and out of the land-locked target area. Iraq saw dozens of disparate aircraft from all the services stacked up above ground combat zones, ready to provide any of a catalog of effects from above, whether it be bombs, radio jamming, a cut fiber-optic cable, or just a frightening sonic boom on demand.

Proof From War

On the whole, Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom illustrated both the value of old capabilities and the benefits of thinking about old systems in new ways, Jumper said.

“What we did show, in Afghanistan in particular, was, the only way you could get in there is by air. You can’t do it without big airlift airplanes, and you can’t do it without long-range bombers to be overhead and be ready” to dispense weapons when ground forces call for them, “and tankers, especially, … the whole team depends on [them].”

A rehearsal of the fight, in the deserts of Nevada, sharpened the war plan and allowed for drill of the coordination between systems and people who had to work together. Jumper marvels at “all the power that came from our ability to practice with those very precious assets and then take that same practice team and put them into combat.” It was a dramatic example of “the power of integration.”

The lesson was further driven home when ground forces in Iraq were mired in place by a devastating sandstorm. The enemy believed he could have respite from attack during the storm, but by “getting all the bombers and all the intelligence platforms networked together in the right way,” from the E-8 Joint STARS ground surveillance radar airplanes to Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles, the air forces were “able to zero in on the bad guys and make them just totally ineffective.”

He has since tried hard to use the real-world example to correct a damaging misperception about airpower. The Army has for years discounted the value of airpower, Jumper believes, because of the artificial way that combined arms are exercised. In wargames, the Air Force usually inflicts massive destruction on opposition ground forces, just as it did in Iraq. However, if those losses “counted,” the Army would have little opportunity to practice ground combat. Typically, the ground units destroyed by airpower are “brought back to life,” and the Army commences to have its battle. The problem is, ground commanders not aware of the reset have come to expect airpower to be ineffective. Iraqi Freedom should have dispelled that notion, Jumper has said, but not everyone has gotten the word.

It was Jumper who directed that Predator unmanned aerial vehicles be armed with Hellfire missiles—again, based on his frustrations in Allied Force, when Predators would spot a fleeting target and be helpless to do anything about it. It’s an innovation that has worked brilliantly in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. Constant trade-offs between the relative merits of UAVs versus manned aircraft have been a hallmark of his tenure.

In fact, getting acceptance of UAVs has turned out to be one of the unexpectedly easier aspects of his agenda, he said.

“Bringing lethality to what had always been assumed to be a surveillance and reconnaissance system … had a very quick payoff in combat operations,” he noted. “There were many who resisted that right up front, and that resistance sort of melted away” as the benefits became apparent.

Now Jumper sees UAVs as holding out considerable promise as the next wave in long-range strike.

There is a “continuing effort to discover whether the next generation is going to be manned or unmanned and see if we can combine the features of long-range strike [with] … persistence over the battlefield,”

umper said. An unmanned bomber would be able to fly long distances to a target area, and then loiter in the vicinity of ground troops for hours at a time, occasionally slipping back to a waiting tanker to refuel.


Jumper has been an outspoken advocate for making use of near-space, the region between 12 miles above the Earth and low Earth orbit. Used as data transfer or long-term surveillance platforms supplementing satellites, such craft “can save the nation a whole lot of money … and provide comprehensive coverage of areas for an extended period of time.”

However, he admits that such vehicles are a long way from becoming operational.

“I’m not sure the technology is there in the near term,” he said. “It’s very close, but I’m not sure it’s ‘there’ enough to be useful.”

Jumper said, “It’s hard to say what the right ratios” of unmanned and manned aircraft will be in the future. He has often said he doesn’t want to pursue UAVs for their own sake but would when they are the appropriate vehicle for the mission.

“We can do a lot more, unmanned,” particularly in reconnaissance, he said. So far, UAVs can’t defend themselves as well as “the greatest-trained pilots in the world,” but “when the technologies are there, they’ll have to compete.” He added that “we’ll make those transitions if it’s appropriate.”

He also pointed out that some missions are fungible and may swing between manned and unmanned aircraft. He said that some fighters in Iraq have used streaming video from targeting pods to walk ground troops toward the enemy, “just like the UAV.” However, they had “the added benefit that you’re talking to a guy in an airplane that’s got 12 or so bombs on board” and can “dash from place to place, and be where they need to be quickly, and respond quickly.” Such experience shows the continued value “of the supersonic fighter” even in a ground support role, Jumper said.

Although there’s been lots of talk about graduating to a new level of performance in long-range strike, perhaps using hypersonics, Jumper is cool on the idea.

Hypersonics is one of a number of technologies “that are good ideas waiting for an application,” he said.

“If we had hypersonic engines today, we still don’t have the materials that make the vehicles that … can make use of the hypersonics,” he explained.

The tradition of always reaching for “higher, faster, farther … is not an absolute measure. We have to figure out where it’s useful to us…. Can it carry a practical payload? Can it get there and return? Can you take advantage of all this velocity?”

He asserted that, today, “we have lots of ways” to conduct a strike, anywhere, worldwide, and “we can guarantee pretty much that they’ll get through. So, is it the right thing to do right now to spend a lot of money to invent another way? Or do we want to spend that money on something we can’t do?” In long-range strike, he believes, the biggest payback would be from developing the means to persist over the target, not in getting there faster.

Bomber Fleet OK

As for today’s fleet of bombers, Jumper said he sees no reason to alter its size or mix.

The B-52Hs now in service, he asserted, are the “best 100” of a fleet of 700 “that had been rebuilt three times in their lifetime.” He described them as “sound flying machines” and in far better condition than the service’s KC-135 tankers of the same vintage. The B-52 fleet is “going to be very good for a while.”

The B-1B continues to be “expensive” to operate, Jumper maintained, due to support costs, but “nothing in that reduction from 93 to 67 or so has hurt our combat capability.” Early in his tenure, Jumper succeeded in persuading Congress to allow the Air Force to reduce the B-1 fleet, using the operating savings to invest in upgrades and support improvements.

Finally, the stealthy B-2 “continues to be the thing that we can get anywhere in the world, anytime we want to,” he said.

He acknowledged that some of the toughest potential adversaries the Air Force might face are half a world away, but “we’ve lived with challenges far overseas for, what, 15 years now? And there’s nothing in our experience that tells us we don’t have enough bombers.”

One issue that confronted Jumper from the beginning was low-density, high-demand (LD/HD) systems and people, those platforms or specialties constantly being requested by regional commanders but that were—and in most cases, remain—in short supply.

“There’s a supply side and a consumer side of that,” he explained, and we’re “working both ends.”

The Air Force is working with regional commanders to make sure that they have a genuine need for what they request, to “moderate the sum of these requests.” Some commanders demand a virtual constant presence of these capabilities, “regardless of whether the tension level is high, medium, or low.”

The other end of the equation is to generate more of the in-demand capabilities. In many mission areas, UAVs will supplement the overburdened forces.

Among the most requested LD/HDs are the E-3 AWACS airborne radar warning and control aircraft, the E-8C Joint STARS ground mapping aircraft, and the Rivet Joint signals intelligence aircraft. Jumper has pushed hard to replace these aging systems with a series of new ones on a Boeing 767 airframe, called the E-10, which would also be an airborne battle manager. He hasn’t had much success selling the idea to Congress.

E-10 On the Bubble

When asked if he is confident the Air Force will get the E-10, he said, candidly, “No,” but added, “I’m confident … that we need it. And I’m confident that it makes no sense to put an upgraded sensor on an old Boeing 707 platform.”

He said the Air Force will simply have to keep making its case for the E-10. “So far, it’s still in the budget and we’re still working hard on it.”

Personnel was another LD/HD concern, and obtaining the right mix of specialties in USAF is “a work in progress,” Jumper said.

The Air Force has succeeded in getting back down to its authorized end strength after exceeding it for several years due to the post-9/11 conflicts. However, while the numbers are right, “now we’ve got the balance wrong,” Jumper said. There are too many officers versus enlisted, and that has cramped his ability “to go and get the critical enlisted specialties that we need.”

It’s becoming apparent that Air Force retention goals—55 percent first term, 75 percent second term, and 95 percent career—“may not apply equally to all career fields and probably should be adjusted,” Jumper explained. For example, security forces may set lower retention goals to increase the number of younger people in the field, “so you don’t have … to put master sergeants out walking the guard duty on fence lines. What you want is … to get youngsters doing youngsters’ work,” he noted.

Of the QDR, Jumper said, “We are heard, there’s no doubt about it.” However, he said that “no one is ever happy with the way their argument is characterized as it goes through the system. … But that’s the way the system is designed. We have to make our arguments thoroughly and present them with analytical background.” He added, “I have no problem with that. … In the end, with the power of analysis, you’re able to make your case.”

When asked what the toughest challenge is that he’s leaving for his successor, Gen. T. Michael Moseley, Jumper said it is, without doubt, the recapitalization of the fleet.

“I am of course not happy with where we leave the acquisition system,” Jumper said.

“We still struggle to get ourselves around these contracts where we thought we could rely on commercial best practices to substitute for oversight. Quite frankly, it has not worked.”

The Air Force, he said, has “let go” too much in-house expertise in systems engineering and oversight, and “we have to rebuild those, … especially in space.” It will take a decade or more, he allowed.

Moreover, the system as it is now designed doesn’t easily adapt to new thinking. Jumper has long wanted to put data relay systems on aerial tankers since they are already airborne and in the battlespace and have a large unused internal volume.

However, “if I walk into the acquisition system we have now, putting those things on a tanker is defined as gold-plating, because it’s excess to what you need to buy new tankers.” Even though such an approach would enhance combat performance, save time and money, and create “a multitude of effects” on the battlefield, in a system that only understands “its down-to-the-last-penny value as a tanker, … it’s hard to sell that.”

As for the replacement of aging systems—a fighter fleet averaging more than 24 years old, sensors installed on used 707s more than 25 years old, and a tanker force older than 40 years, average age—Jumper said it must begin as soon as possible.

“We’ve got to find a way to get started,” he said. “We have to find a way to work our acquisition processes so that the spiraling costs of these things that we buy don’t present us with such ‘sticker shock’ that we only buy a handful of them and thus make the price go even higher. We’ve got to work these things with the Congress and here in the Department of Defense to get this under control.”

Jumper said he’s optimistic that some way will be found to accomplish the modernization of the fleet.

“I’m always optimistic because the nation has dominated the air and space in the last 15 years. We’ve seen it in spades. I think they’re proud of that, and I don’t think they want to see it deteriorated.”