Strategic Dominance From Air and Space

Nov. 1, 2001

The military strength of the United States is defined primarily by the global vigilance, reach, and power that we derive from our capabilities in air and space.

To an extent no other nation can match, US forces look deep, reach far and fast, penetrate hostile territory, maintain a global situational awareness, and strike with precision. More often than not, holding the combat advantage will depend on our systems operating in air and space.

The other services contribute to this advantage, but the preponderance of the nation’s aerospace power is created and maintained by the US Air Force.

This is the force the nation will look to first for long-range power projection and for rapid response in time of crisis.

Today’s capabilities are largely the product of investments made during the 1980s in technology and force modernization. However, the investment has not been sustained in recent years.

Our margin is now diminishing, and new threats and requirements have begun to emerge. We must be able to operate in increasingly challenging and lethal environments and in such emerging regimes as cyberwar, space control, and homeland defense.

Accordingly and properly, the armed forces have been called upon to transform themselves, evolve from their Cold War doctrines and configurations, exploit the technological Revolution in Military Affairs, and develop advanced capabilities attuned to the coming needs of the 21st century.

A major problem-among others-is that transformation must compete for resources with other demands that include readiness, personnel needs, and recapitalization of aging weapon systems and deteriorating base facilities.

All of the services are in bad shape. They have been underfunded and overused. They have been unable to retire or replace equipment as it wore out. Force modernization has been curtailed or postponed. Readiness and personnel retention are down. The problems are getting worse.

Thus far, expectations of adequate funding for defense have not been met and national defense planning is still driven by budgetary rather than strategic considerations. In our view, defense simply must command a higher priority.

Otherwise, there will be no transformation, and the armed forces will slip further into decline.

Strategic Aerospace Dominance. We believe the Air Force should pursue a strategic concept of dominance from air and space.

To be effective, the response to crisis must be rapid. The time lines of warfare are shortening. Adversaries will know that if they are to succeed, they must achieve their objectives before the US and its allies can respond.

The concept includes the aerospace assets of all services and allied forces but depends primarily on the US Air Force.

We must be prepared to dominate major conflict in and from aerospace. When operating in aerospace, we must dominate air-to-air, air-to-space, space-to-space, and space-to-air. When operating from aerospace, the goal will be to dominate surface operations by attacking fixed and mobile targets.

Although aerospace power will be the dominant element in most conflicts, we do not believe in single dimension strategies. Surface forces will remain critical, and the nation will need a balance of land, sea, and air capabilities.

Joint and combined forces, paced by strategic dominance from air and space, must cover the spectrum of operations from peacetime contingencies to major conflict.

Transformation. The Revolution in Military Affairs-the main elements of which are stealth, long-range precision strike, and information dominance-has introduced alternatives to the attrition model of warfare.

In many cases, we can achieve the effects of mass without the actual massing of forces and defeat an enemy at a lower cost of lives and resources on both sides. This happened in a series of military operations in the 1990s, beginning with the Gulf War. Transformation also puts greater emphasis on space and on the power to obtain, use, defend, and attack information.

Aerospace power leads this transformation. It further leads in the transition to effects-based operations, in which the objective is not to destroy the enemy but to gain a strategic result. That is the ultimate aim of all warfare. The precision of long-range airpower and information from sensors in air and space have increased our strategic options. Possibilities include halting, disabling, neutralizing, constraining, or deterring the enemy. In these cases, or in the event that destruction of the enemy force is required, aerospace power will be a prominent part of the solution.

Transformation is not a new experience for the Air Force, which has been transforming steadily since its creation. Its entire history has been one of change, constantly seeking greater speed, range, payload, stealthiness, and accuracy. Airpower has matured into aerospace power.

Except for those with a vested interest in perpetuating the attrition model of warfare, there is a general recognition that aerospace forces can and should carry more of the burden in modern conflict. Transformation strategies and budgets can be judged in part on how well they reflect that basic change.

Readiness and Recapitalization. In the past five years, Air Force readiness has fallen by 23 percent and the cost per flying hour per aircraft has almost doubled. In both instances, a principal reason has been the extent of maintenance required by the oldest aircraft fleet in Air Force history. With older aircraft, problems occur more often and in less predictable ways, repairs are more complicated, and spare parts are more expensive and difficult to find.

The average age of Air Force aircraft today is 22 years. Even if the Air Force executed every modernization program planned, with no delays or reductions, the average age would continue to rise and by 2020 would be reaching the level of 30 years.

The difficulty is acute with the old KC-135 tankers. At any given time, almost a third of the fleet is in the depot for maintenance, and on average, these aircraft remain in the depot for more than a year. Substantial numbers of F-16 fighters are forecast to wear out and leave service before Joint Strike Fighter replacements are available.

Spare parts and munitions have been depleted and stock levels have not been restored. Delayed maintenance of real property is now generating additional maintenance problems on its own.

This is an accumulated problem, brought on by the neglect of the armed forces in the 1990s. Correcting it will be a major expense but one that can no longer be put off.

The Resource Gap. To maintain the current force and to avoid falling further behind in readiness and recapitalization, the services need more than $50 billion a year in additional funding above the Fiscal Year 2000 baseline. Such an increase would not address the cost of force modernization and transformation, which would be extra.

Budget proposals through 2002 make only a dent in the problem. Although other priorities are undoubtedly important, adequate funding and a credible commitment to properly support the armed forces are essential.

It has been suggested that transformation might be funded by savings and reductions to the present defense program. This is not realistic. No doubt some savings are possible, but not enough to cover readiness, recapitalization, and transformation. We cannot save ourselves rich, and we cannot stand down the force of today to reinvest the money in the force of tomorrow.

The nation must spend enough on defense to support its strategic interests, and it can afford to do so. On average, over the past 60 years, the United States has allocated eight percent of GDP for defense. In 1995, for the first time in almost 50 years, defense slipped below four percent of GDP. Since then, the worst of the deterioration now evident in the armed forces has occurred. The current allocation is about three percent.

We believe that four percent of GDP is an affordable goal and that we should begin increasing the defense allocation toward that level.

Force Structure. We support the exploration for a better standard for sizing the armed forces. We also support the need to prepare for future conflict while preserving capabilities to deal with near-term crisis. However, we believe that the approach used in recent years-sizing the armed forces to fight two regional conflicts simultaneously-is basically sound. The main problem is that it is not funded adequately.

Too often, criticism of the two-conflict standard has been accompanied by proposals for force cuts. We should be open to consideration of a different force sizing standard but take care to be sure the replacement is not a reduction mechanism in disguise, especially in regard to aerospace power.

In major conflicts of the 20th century-World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf-actual requirements for airpower seriously exceeded prewar estimates, even though quality improvements made it possible for each unit of airpower to deliver more results. The limited air war over Serbia in 1999 took more of the Air Force’s combat force structure than expected, and a period of reconstitution was needed when it was over.

At present, the Aerospace Expeditionary Forces are not fully fleshed out, some of them lacking in such capabilities as long-range standoff precision strike and suppression of enemy air defenses.

Ultimately, US forces must be sized to fight and win across the spectrum of conflict, including major theater war, and not be so stripped that we are vulnerable to attack elsewhere. The two-conflict standard has met that specification, and we should be certain that any replacement does so as well.

Forces and Requirements. Oddly, the effort to refocus and restructure the armed forces began prior to the promulgation of a new national security strategy. Even so, certain requirements would be in effect across a broad range of strategies.

Long-range precision strike is a defining element of the Revolution in Military Affairs. Despite this, it has received insufficient attention in recent years in both Department of Defense and Air Force plans.

Therefore, we urge the upgrade of existing bombers and weapons, especially the B-2, the accelerated development of improved munitions, such as the small diameter bomb, which will act as multipliers for the bomber fleet, and fielding a new long-range strike platform sooner than 2037, as is now projected.

Fighter modernization is essential, especially the F-22, which combines the advantages of leading-edge stealth, supercruise, higher operating altitudes, and advanced avionics. This program has already been cut too much. Increasing the number of F-22s to be procured would be a wise move for a transformation-minded Administration. We also need the Joint Strike Fighter, which will work in cooperation with the F-22 in any conflict that persists for an extended time.

The present shortfall in airlift is about to get worse as the demand for mobility grows. No one believes that a lesser capability is acceptable. The acquisition of a third more new airlifters than initially planned becomes essential. The tanker fleet simply must be replaced, and soon.

The space-based radar will be the linchpin of the future force. It will keep vast expanses of territory under surveillance, focusing in closely when required, and it will be the means by which our intelligence perspective is truly transformed from regional to global.

We believe that unmanned aerial vehicles have great potential, both for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance and in direct combat roles. This is an area deserving special focus in research and development.

The Air Force Association has long supported defense against ballistic missiles of all ranges as a capability the nation must vigorously pursue. Technology has now brought us closer to that goal. We do not, however, agree that ballistic missile defense must be or should be funded at the expense of other vital defense requirements. The emerging option of this technology is yet another reason why the nation needs to increase its investment in defense.

Directed energy weapons offer great potential, especially in the area of missile defense. We strongly support the development and deployment of the Airborne Laser and later on the Space-Based Laser.

As we develop missile defenses, it is critical to maintain our shield of nuclear deterrence. That objective should be achieved with the least possible numbers of nuclear weapons consistent with our national security needs, but we urge the nation’s leaders to proceed with the greatest caution, especially if considering a unilateral nuclear drawdown.

Even at the reduced levels of nuclear weapons being considered, we believe the Strategic Triad of bombers and land- and sea-based ballistic missiles should be sustained.

The Aerospace Force. We applaud the decision to establish the Air Force as the executive agent for space for the Department of Defense. We believe that all concerned will be well-served by this arrangement, and the Air Force is positioned to demonstrate its capability and commitment to space.

We continue to believe in an integrated operational domain of aerospace, stretching from the Earth’s surface to the outer reaches of space. This concept requires the recognition of space as a full partner in the aerospace domain. It also obliges the Air Force to foster cultural change that fully embraces aerospace power and to develop leaders who can fulfill the challenge.

The mission is an expanding one that will eventually include not only force support and enhancement from space but also space control and space force application.

Military aerospace capabilities are important to the nation, and all services benefit from them. For example, space communications requirements over the next decade are projected to increase 15- to 20-fold. This calls for a corresponding increase in resources. The Air Force should not be expected to fund joint service requirements of ever-rising magnitude out of a constant share of the defense budget.

We also believe the time has come to amend Title 10 of the US Code, as proposed by the Congressionally chartered Space Commission, to assign the Air Force the responsibility to organize, train, and equip forces for defensive and offensive space operations as well as air operations.

People. The paramount importance of people was recognized as limited budget increases have been channeled toward recruiting and retention concerns. The funding is helpful, and so is the attitude behind it, but until funding shortfalls are resolved in other critical areas affecting quality of service, the problems will continue.

The gap between compensation in the private sector and in the armed forces continues to pull many of the best people away. Dollar-for-dollar comparability is not feasible, but military compensation has to be perceived as reasonable and fair. We must reduce the pay gap and eliminate out-of-pocket expenses military people incur whenever they move from one station to another.

We must restore the dilapidated base facilities and housing, which are fast becoming a disgrace to the nation. Most of all, we must make the troops know their service is recognized, honored, and valued. The All-Volunteer Force is a benefit to our nation, but the nation must be willing to pay the cost.

Problems persist in the Tricare military health program, which has not yet lived up to its advance billings. Tricare network costs are now draining funds away from military treatment facilities at an alarming rate. At the same time, Tricare has not proved to be best way of delivering care to all constituencies. The options should be kept open, especially for retirees, who should be offered a wider range of choices, as other federal retirees already are.

We support the Air Force’s civilian workforce shaping initiatives. Forty percent of the civilian employees will be eligible for retirement in the next five years, and force drawdowns of recent years have skewed the skill mix. The civilian force must be rebuilt and care must be taken to do it right.

Total Force. In contingencies, deployments, and conflicts, it is difficult to distinguish the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command components from the active Air Force elements. The Guard and Reserve are programmed to contribute 10 percent of the strength of the Aerospace Expeditionary Forces. They often exceed that, especially in aerial refueling and intratheater airlift.

The Air Force continues to lead the way with Total Force initiatives. Another example is seen in recent programs where active forces draw on the depth and strength of the Guard and Reserve for such resources as instructor pilots.

The value of the Air Guard and Reserve forces is extraordinary, but the pressures on them grow along with their rising participation in the Air Force mission. It is vital to recognize those pressures when assigning shares of the workload. We should also ensure that modernization of Guard and Reserve equipment keeps pace with that of the active force.

The Air Force Association expresses its appreciation for the support of the employers of Guard and Reserve members. Without their cooperation, the strength of the Total Force would not be possible.

Areas of Specific Concern:

  • Research and Development. Orderly investments in research and development are the lifeblood of the future. For reasons ranging from inadequate funding to insufficient priority, both the Air Force and the Department of Defense are underinvested in science and technology.
  • Industrial Base. The defense industry that sustained the armed forces in past wars has diminished and its operating profits have continued to decline. The “Arsenal of Democracy” that once existed is gone, and it is imperative that we sustain what remains of the defense industrial base. We do that in part by contracting and business practices that are reasonable and fair and by creating a climate in which a mutually beneficial partnership can thrive.

    We also recognize an internal Air Force industrial base, consisting of the air logistics centers. A substantial part of the maintenance and repair workload can be and should be contracted out to the private sector, but we must preserve a ready and controlled source of depot maintenance. That makes it imperative that we maintain a viable core capability in the air logistics centers.

  • Infrastructure. Force reductions have left all of the services with an excess of base infrastructure. At the same time vital facilities are deteriorating for lack of maintenance, the services are spending money they cannot afford to keep unneeded facilities open. A new round of base realignments and closures is essential and inevitable. This Administration should learn from the mistakes of the last one and not politicize the process.
  • Balancing Requirements and Resources. Whatever the strategy and the force-sizing standard are, they must be fully funded. The present level of requirements-even before transformation begins-cannot be sustained without more money. If we persist in this mismatch, the price for our mistake will be paid by the force and our people.

The Centrality of Aerospace Power. We do not claim that aerospace power will be decisive in every instance. However, it is the hardest-hitting, longest-reaching, and most flexible force the nation possesses.

Aerospace power can support surface operations, but it can also achieve strategic, operational, or tactical objectives independent of surface power or with land or sea forces in support. It is difficult to imagine a conflict of any major scope in which land power or sea power could survive, much less be decisive, without aerospace power.

Aerospace power is central to our nation’s security. Our capabilities in air and space have been unique sources of strength for the United States as well as incomparable instruments of national power. Aerospace power also represents those capabilities in which we hold and will continue to hold the greatest marginal advantage over potential adversaries.

Through its core competencies of aerospace superiority, information superiority, global attack, precision engagement, rapid global mobility, and agile combat support, the US Air Force will support and defend the United States in peace and war.

In time of crisis, aerospace power will continue to be the force of choice for rapid response with minimum risk to US personnel and noncombatants.