The Fighting Force in Europe

Nov. 1, 2000

Gen. Gregory S. Martin, head of US Air Forces in Europe, says his command today falls far short of the level of precision guided munitions it would need to be able to conduct another Major Theater War such as Operation Allied Force. Restocking the bins that were depleted by that 1999 air campaign over the Balkans could well take up to a decade, he added.

Precision guided and standoff weapons have become the “preferred” munitions for conducting aerial attacks, but only one-quarter to one-third of the required number actually is on hand, according to the USAFE commander.

Martin delivered his views in a September interview with Air Force Magazine and in extended remarks to the Defense Writers Group in Washington, D.C.

USAFE is, “in the precision weapons area, [at] about 25 percent of the need we would have in a Major Theater War in Europe,” Martin reported. Funds in the pipeline would, within a few years, raise that level to “50 to 60 percent” of requirements, with the remainder to be funded in the out-years.

“That’s a general view of where I would say our precision ordnance is now,” Martin added.

He also discussed readiness issues confronting USAFE, technology efforts under way by allies, the nature of NATO war planning in the post-Cold War era, the availability of training ranges, and his perceptions of what NATO allies think about continued US military presence in Europe.

The shortfall in precision guided munitions stems from two main factors. First, only PGMs were used in the early phases of the Balkans conflict, when pinpoint accuracy was considered critical. Stocks-which were not at full levels to begin with-were drawn down rapidly. Second, continued success of precision weapons in conflicts throughout the last decade has caused USAFE to rethink the question of how many of the smart munitions it needs to fight a war. It wants more.

The Joint Direct Attack Munition, for example, was still technically completing its test phase when it was called on for the Balkans conflict. The satellite-guided weapon consistently performed better than specification, typically hitting within a few feet of its intended impact point in all weather, and strike planners clamored for as many JDAM missions as they could get. Halfway through the 78-day conflict, JDAMs had to be rationed for critical targets requiring the munition’s unique capabilities.

Robbing Peter …

USAFE “may actually have enough to prosecute three months’ worth of war” if it tapped rounds slated for test and training as well as those held in reserve for another conflict close on the heels of the first, Martin noted. These other rounds would be pressed into operational service. However, when they were gone, “then there wouldn’t be [any] … left over.”

USAFE would have to “ask some of the other theaters to provide weapons if we’re in a Major Theater War,” Martin admitted.

The calculus of how many weapons are needed is conducted under a process called the Non-Nuclear Consumables Analysis, he explained. The NNCA is “a method by which we determine what the right numbers of each type of weapon are and ultimately where they should be distributed,” he told the DWG, “but those numbers change based on our experience.”

The high degree of success achieved by PGMs, coupled with an increasing intolerance for stray weapons of any kind, means greater and greater reliance on them, explained Martin.

“Before, we used [precision guided munitions] for specialized targets” and used general-purpose bombs-of which “we have plenty”–for the bulk of airstrikes, said Martin. “What we’re finding now is the kinds of targets we want to go after now require more precision.”

“The numbers of weapons that we want-we haven’t achieved those inventories yet,” Martin said. Procurement rates have been increased, but the total number desired may take “five to 10 years to ultimately procure.”

One key program is to upgrade the many laser-guided bombs in the inventory with Global Positioning System capability. This improvement will allow a precision strike mission to go forward even if the target area is obscured by smoke or bad weather, thus improving the speed and efficiency of an air campaign.

Martin also eagerly anticipates receiving the new Joint Standoff Weapon. This stealthy glide bomb will be able to carry the BLU-108 sensor fuzed weapon, which can target many ground vehicles at once, and “will become very important,” said the USAFE chief. “They will begin to help us with the mobile target business.”

The BLU-108, he explained, lays down “a pattern of ordnance that will destroy moving targets.” The JSOW is in production but has not yet entered the inventory in significant numbers.

A key lesson of Allied Force was that NATO allies needed to more aggressively pursue the acquisition of precision weapons for their inventories, and Martin said that is happening-slowly.

“With respect to filling up their stores, … we’re seeing that they are spending a certain amount of resources to try and replenish, particularly, those precision weapons,” he said.

However, he added, “It’s going to take years-several years. And they’re working very hard to make the most prudent decisions that will have the most bang for the buck, because they have fewer bucks.”

“White Paper” Exercise

After the Balkans war, Martin noted, the UK raised its defense budget by about $3 billion, but “that doesn’t appear to have been the case in many of the other NATO countries.”

Martin contended that the allies over the last two years have gone through a “white paper” process-that is, an analysis of defense forces and requirements.

“Most of those reports … tend to talk about reduced size and force structure,” he noted.

Shortfalls in allied air forces included precision weapons, command-and-control systems, and secure communications. Martin said, “They will also tell you that they are short in the area of tankers and lift and they are not able to pursue some of the actions they’d like to pursue without using American lift and tankers. Those are the areas that I think they’ve felt a little behind in.” He added that “I think they are pursuing many of those areas but not quite as rapidly as we are.”

With the exception of the UK, he continued, “I think almost all of the [NATO partners] have either reduced their defense budget or have flat lined it, and there are no indications that they are willing to turn that around and spend more money on some of these programs” that need attention. And, observed Martin, “They’d rather not just ‘buy American.’ They have an industry … that must be sustained.”

However, he pointed out that most of the allies are keeping up with modernization of systems, noting that the F-16 partner countries had recently installed the midlife update, which blends the maneuverability of an F-16 Block 15 fighter with the displays and avionics of a Block 50.

“Those guys are good,” Martin said of the Allied forces equipped with these systems. “When it comes to training and proficiency … there is absolutely no question” about the commitment of NATO allies. “They’ve got good systems [and] they are proud of them. … They are … very professional.”

Mission Capable Rates Up

The munitions situation aside, Martin said USAFE is in good shape, in terms of readiness. Mission capable rates of USAFE aircraft are running higher than that for Stateside bases, though he admitted that USAFE gets “a little higher priority in terms of the effort for spares and parts,” so that the European­based units get a “full complement.”

The mission capable rate for USAFE aircraft is “very close in many of our areas” to the Air Force-wide standards. The standard for fighters is 80 to 85 percent. Maintaining such a rate means that, within a day or so, given a surge effort, “somewhere between 90 and 95 percent” of aircraft can be brought to bear in a conflict. Dropping too far below the 80 percent level “slows your reaction time,” Martin asserted. The 80 percent level is “about right” in that it doesn’t overstress the workforce, he added.

Air Force-wide, Martin said, fighters have a mission capable rate of 75 to 80 percent. The C-5 fleet is about 60 to 65 percent mission capable, well under the standard of 70 to 75 percent. The C-130 force is at 75 to 80 percent in overseas locations, lower in the States. The C-17s are “significantly higher; they’re doing fine.”

The decline in spares that characterized most of the 1990s has been “arrested,” Martin said.

“We have not turned the corner and filled up the spares to the point where we have the flexibility that we want,” he cautioned. “Some units are in pretty good shape. Others don’t quite have enough to give them the confidence that they can pursue a major activity for a length of time … without having to pull from other units.”

Martin said the Air Force leadership simply failed to foresee the onset of the spare parts problems that plagued USAF in the mid-1990s. He was frank to acknowledge that he was a part of that leadership. He explained that the Air Force in the post-Cold War years began to draw down from 36 wings to 20 wings, which meant “we had lots of parts left over.” The remaining force was able to live off of these parts for quite a while, and the Air Force did not have to put much money into operations and maintenance accounts. At the same time, additional people were available to fix airplanes.

“While opstempo was going up, we had excess people, we had excess parts, and these were very capable people that disguised the fact that we were running out of those parts,” Martin explained. “It wasn’t until 1995 that we bottomed out and began to see the parts were gone, the people [were] gone, the opstempo was up, and we [were] in pretty big trouble.”

Even so, it was hard justifying a strong reinvestment in spares because diligent ground crews continued to work around shortages and turn in better mission capable rates on their aircraft. Martin noted that, without “unimpeachable data” to point to, it was difficult to raise alarm about the spares shortages.

“There is a reluctance to say the sky is falling, until you have really got the facts there to establish it,” he said. “We are taken to task every time we make an exaggerated statement.”

Recovery funding got “turned on” in about 1996, but there is generally a two-year lag time between funding for spares and the time they begin showing up in parts bins. In 1998, spares began arriving, but then operations began to heat up.

In Allied Force, “we flew a year’s flying hours in two-and-a-half months,” Martin said, putting a major dent in the progress toward recovering readiness.

Projections for readiness and mission capable rates looked rosy in 1998, but the Balkans conflict and the ongoing strikes against Iraq have blunted the healing power of the added funds.

Diversion of Funds

“We basically got the system turned on,” said Martin. “It started responding and then we used up that surge for the war. … Now, we are not ahead of the game. We have arrested the decline. … We are not filling up those spares and war reserve materiel stocks as quickly as I think the 1998 projection would have led you to believe.”

He said that “we are probably a year behind in our readiness recovery” due to combat action in Yugoslavia and Iraq.

Readiness, however, is more than just spare parts and munitions. Martin added that his people, while highly capable and proficient at what they do, are suffering from two problems: a shortage of mid-level supervisors and neglect of USAFE installations throughout the 1990s.

The supervisory ranks are “thinner than we’d like,” and the problem is being worked by accelerating the training and promotion of some junior people as well as by putting funds into retention programs.

When the armed forces began to be drawn down in the early 1990s, very little money was applied to shoring up European facilities, because no one at that point knew which ones would be closed, Martin explained. As defense budgets grew tight, plus-ups in the budget added by Congress went mainly to home districts, not to overseas locations.

Now, though, he says members of Congress who have seen the problem in firsthand visits are giving support to halting the decay of USAFE bases.

“We’ve gotten great support from both the Administration and Congress in our family housing program, and in the military construction, we are beginning to turn the corners,” Martin asserted. The troops feel they are being noticed again, he said.

“The people over there, now, they have a pretty good attitude about where we are going,” said Martin. “People are seeing that the country is behind them, and it is making a difference.” Martin pointed to gains in retirement and pay, medical coverage, facilities refurbishment “and now, very importantly, education” as strong motivators helping with retention.

He noted that USAFE enjoys better retention rates than other commands. One reason is that some airmen are on controlled tours of duty and therefore cannot retire out of USAFE. Also, the hot job market that attracts many is an ocean away in the US. Finally, USAFE people get great satisfaction from being on the front lines, performing a mission “where they feel they are making a difference,” said Martin.

Today’s Scenarios

Martin said NATO and USAFE no longer plan for war with Russia as such. Today’s war plans have “nowhere near the elegance of the set piece” plans that had been drawn up for a possible world war in Europe against the forces of the Warsaw Pact.

“We are still in a period … of definition and transformation,” Martin said, from a posture of pure defense of NATO territory to one of “out of area” operations in places such as the Balkans.

NATO still does some planning for generic scenarios against a possible peer competitor “that may look a lot like … Russia or China,” but “it’s fairly dangerous to announce that you have decided to do some deliberative planning against a specific country [with whom] … you’re now fostering a relationship.”

Instead, NATO conducts “an appropriate series of exercises” that works the command-and-control sinews of the alliance and refines tactics, techniques, and procedures while not directing it all against any particular threat.

He reported recently returning from NATO Air Meet 2000, in which Poland played a large air role for the first time.

There are scenarios for out-of-area action, Martin acknowledged, and there has been “what if” consideration given to how NATO would react to conflict between Serbia and Montenegro, but Martin emphasized that NATO’s “focus is not pre-emption.”

In the Balkans, if there was some sort of a “flare-up” NATO has contingency plans for “what kind of air commitment that the NATO Alliance should provide and have on call or in theater.”

Martin believes the new members of NATO that are strapped for cash and need new systems to better integrate with the allies would do well to team up and buy systems together.

“Cooperative development is an area of opportunity that industry needs to grab onto and make it work,” said Martin. “That gives us the best opportunity for interoperability, at the most reasonable cost for everyone.”

Buy Together

He said the places where the alliance would benefit from coordination in buying single systems together are those where no one country has a solution yet to a technological military problem. However, the new members could save significant amounts in support and operating costs if they would buy something off-the-shelf.

“There are six nations right now that are looking at a supersonic interim fighter” and are considering the Swedish Gripen, the US F-16 and F/A-18, and the French Mirage 2000.

“What if they all came together and chose one, and industry supported that? Then, all of a sudden, their … costs go down [in] … software integration, their weapons certification, their training, their depot, their … sustainment.”

Martin held out the NATO Airborne Warning and Control System and the F-16 aircraft multinational efforts as good examples of how NATO can coordinate on systems, but he added, “I’ve got to be real careful when I use those examples, because it makes it look like I’m saying, ‘Buy American.’ ” In fact, he said, he’s more interested in interoperable, capable systems than that they be of any particular type.

Martin will be launching a series of symposia, including alliance members and “industry from all over the aerospace world,” to “see if we can get some of these juices flowing for the potential of coalition.”

He also noted that the former Warsaw Pact nations may have a harder time doing cooperative projects because of their experience in the Cold War.

“NATO is a significantly different animal than the Warsaw Pact,” he said. Whereas NATO has evolved with an elaborate–and sometimes tortuous–set of multilateral and bilateral arrangements between member countries, the Warsaw Pact members typically worked only with Moscow.

“The Soviets seemed to work on more of a bilateral basis with each of the countries, and [they] did not necessarily coordinate, communicate, and cooperate among themselves,” Martin observed.

To get the new member countries to cooperate, there will have to be constant confidence-building measures and “a constant drumbeat and a demonstration and a series of successes,” Martin said.

Mobile targets and advanced, “double digit” surface-to-air missiles continue to be the biggest operational challenge to USAFE, Martin said. For four or five years, he said, the Air Force has been working on technologies for hitting mobile targets-like Scud launchers and anti-aircraft missiles. The same techniques for finding Scuds apply to hunting mobile SAMs. He noted, “You pattern them, you look for a footprint, you look for … their maneuvers, movements, their signals, and you cue the systems.”

Part and parcel of the mobile targets challenge is Martin’s biggest headache: trying to lash together the various sensors, command-and-control systems, surveillance and reconnaissance assets within the command to form an integrated picture of the battlespace.

Martin noted that his predecessor, Gen. John P. Jumper, now commander of Air Combat Command, first voiced this problem and has provided money in an effort to solve it. This fall’s Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment was focused on trying to resolve the issue. It highlighted the fact that the air operations center is becoming a weapon system in its own right.

However, said Martin, “you’ve got to be careful that you don’t turn your whole Air Force upside down for that one objective, because if you do, you’ll miss some other very important areas.”

In a broader sense, Martin is grappling with disparate intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems throughout NATO. The various systems are “stovepiped,” he said.

“It is not integrated, fused, and displayed in a holistic way.” He said work is proceeding on a NATO airborne command-and-control system “which will ultimately be in all their air operations centers and be connected to our battle management platforms.” This, he said, is an example of the alliance “trying to come to a common solution” on a hardware issue where no one country has solved the problem, yet.

The Way, Not the Will

Martin expressed his concern with the notion that airstrikes can be targeted against an enemy’s “will” to conduct war. Rather, he believes the emphasis should be on depriving the enemy of the ability to make war-and leave it up to him as to whether he wants to capitulate.

“I’m going after his capability to prosecute war,” said Martin. “He’ll make up his mind later if he’s going to prosecute the war or not. I’m not going to guess about whether this will affect his will.”

Targets that matter most, Martin said, are communications, command-and-control nodes, ground forces, ammunition storage, and manufacturing areas-and industry, if it is critical to an enemy’s ability to operate as a nation and produce war materiel.

For Martin, a serious emerging problem concerns finding good ranges for pilot training. Very little flying training is done in Germany anymore. Ever since the Cavalese accident (in which a Marine EA-6B aircraft sliced through the cable of a mountain tramcar, killing 20 Europeans), range training in Italy has become a “sensitive” subject, Martin said.

He said USAFE pilots get range training in Morocco, Poland, Turkey, and the UK and lately have been getting good training at the Kuchyna range near Malacky airfield in Slovakia.

Denmark has opened up to more training opportunities and hosted this year’s NATO Air Meet 2000, which Martin likened to a Red Flag exercise. Norway will host the event next year.

USAFE provides the forces behind Northern Watch, the no-fly zone operation over northern Iraq. As a result, USAFE watches Iraq very closely, said Martin, but “we haven’t seen changes in movements that are things we haven’t seen before.”

Operations Northern and Southern Watch have made frequent strikes against provocative systems that endanger aircraft patrolling the no-fly zone, Martin said.

“I think we have been very effective at reducing significant numbers of … his missile systems,” he added. However, Saddam Hussein is, overall, “probably not significantly different [in capability] than where he’s been.”

Europeans are more receptive to having Americans garrisoned in their nations than they were in the 1970s, Martin said.

At that time, “we had many more Americans over there than we do today. We had just come out of the Vietnam War, and there were nations there that did not support what we were doing” in Southeast Asia.

“It’s different today,” he asserted. Efforts at producing an outside-NATO European Security and Defense Identity so far have not borne fruit. The Europeans he encounters say, ” ‘We need you,’ and ‘We want Americans here.’ ” They never then say, ” ‘And we want them to behave,’ … but that’s implied.”

The Europeans also say they want Americans “to be agreeable to [their] way of doing things,” Martin asserted.

“Americans have a tendency to be very aggressive in terms of leadership positions. But in the end, it’s my impression that most of the nations I’ve dealt with are glad we’re there, want us to be good guests, believe that we enhance security, but they don’t want us to try to control them.”