Global Danger, Global Power

Nov. 1, 2002

Our world has changed. Terror-ist attacks have shown the vulnerability of the American homeland, with the prospect of even worse attacks to come. The security of the United States is at risk.

The war on terror is not optional for the United States. We have no choice but to fight. We have been targeted by a fanatic terrorist network committed to killing Americans and destroying our way of life. Either we get them or they get us.

Essentially, terrorism is not a law enforcement problem, nor is it a sociological misunderstanding. It is a life-or-death issue of national security.

We cannot protect the homeland by defensive measures alone. It is not possible to be on guard everywhere all the time. We must take the war to the enemy’s homeland, training camps, and sanctuaries. To the extent possible, we want to fight over there, not over here.

We agree fully with the policy that any nation harboring or supporting terrorists or terrorism will be regarded as a hostile regime and that we will hold open the option for pre-emptive action if that is necessary in order to forestall destructive acts against us.

Global power projection forces in air and space will have a prominent role in these endeavors, building on the lead they have taken in the conflicts of recent years.

This war comes in addition to, not instead of, previous national security requirements. We face a range of dangers, from terror attacks at home and abroad to the ever-present possibility of major theater conflict, as well as emerging challenges in space and cyberspace. We also face a range of potential adversaries, from nation states to transnational organizations and networks.

When the terrorists struck, US armed forces were already employed elsewhere in operations and deployments that kept them four times busier than they were during the Cold War, although the force is a third smaller and the budgets are less. These requirements have not gone away.

We must sustain the war on terror and at the same time restore the vitality of the armed forces, worn thin by a decade of neglect, and transform the services to prepare them for the demands of the future.

Transformation will focus on fast response, long reach, precision attack, and a high order of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. These capabilities are the hallmarks of air and space forces.

Aerospace power is the primary military tool allowing us to scale up and down from small operations to major theater conflicts and to respond with agility to all of the obligations in between. Only with adequate air and space power can we handle new, unforeseen operations rapidly and successfully.

The War on Terror

The Air Force Association, along with the nation, appreciates and salutes all of the armed forces for their service in the war on terror, and we are especially proud of the Air Force.

Within minutes of the terrorist hijackings, the Air Force had established combat air patrols across America. Since then, Air Force components have flown most of the subsequent air defense sorties in Operation Noble Eagle, with the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve Command flying 80 percent of the total missions.

To project power against the terrorist strongholds, the nation called first on its forces in air and space. In Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, Air Force bombers, fighters, and gunships delivered a majority of the ordnance and accounted for more than half of the targets.

Air Force tankers made the strike missions possible for aircraft from all of the services, and everything that went into Afghanistan went by airlift. Special operations forces added enormously to the effectiveness and accuracy of the strikes. Air Force spacecraft, aircraft, and unmanned aerial vehicles wrote a dramatic new chapter in the level of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.

Afghanistan demonstrated again that there is no place on Earth that cannot be touched within hours by American air and space power.

However, it would be a mistake to regard the operations there as a template for all conflicts of the future. In Afghanistan, for example, the enemy’s lack of modern air defenses made it possible for older aircraft to operate freely. We must regard this as an exceptional situation.

Combat under primitive conditions presents its own set of difficulties, but most wars of the future-in both the short term and the long term-will require far more advanced military capabilities.

We give credence at our peril to those who argue that 50-year-old bombers and 30-year-old fighters will be sufficient to our need in the conflicts to come.

Defense Strategy and Aerospace Power

The Quadrennial Defense Review adopted a new basis for national defense strategy and a new standard for sizing the armed forces.

Henceforth, the strategy will be “capabilities-based” rather than “threat-based,” focusing on how an adversary might fight instead of on who the adversary might be and when or where the war might occur.

Accordingly, planners will concentrate on the growing array of capabilities that adversaries might possess or could develop as well as determining the capabilities we will need ourselves.

The old force-sizing standard, which envisioned a force that would be able to fight two regional conflicts simultaneously, has been set aside.

The new standard prescribes a force that can defend the homeland, deter aggression forward in four critical theaters, and swiftly defeat aggressors in any two theaters at the same time.

The option is preserved for one massive counteroffensive to occupy an aggressor’s capital or to replace its regime, but the Department of Defense will now maintain one occupation force instead of two.

The Air Force Association concurs with these changes. It is sound strategy to prepare broadly for a range of threats that cannot always be specified exactly in advance.

These changes confirm and continue the trend in which air and space forces carry a heavier share of the burden in the nation’s wars. The new strategy and force-sizing standard point to an increase, not a decrease, in aerospace power.

The strategy relies fundamentally on long-range precision strike, global situational awareness, and mobility. Major operations will be led by stealthy aircraft and advanced electronic and information technology to overcome anti-access barriers and “kick down the door” to permit entry by follow-on forces, including surface forces and air forces that will sustain the attack and operate in other roles.

Recapitalization, Modernization, and Transformation

When the war on terror began, the services were already struggling to recover from the accumulated neglect of the 1990s, when force levels and defense budgets were cut repeatedly, modernization was postponed, programs were stretched out and underfunded, and capital equipment was not replaced as it wore out. Spare parts and munitions were in short supply.

Aging facilities and infrastructure were dilapidated and deteriorating. The aircraft fleet was concurrently getting older, less reliable, and more expensive to maintain. Our margin of advantage in military technology had begun to narrow.

On top of this accumulated backlog in recapitalization and modernization, the decision was made to “transform” the armed forces to better meet the needs of the future. It was also clear that transformation was essential in addition to, not instead of, the imperatives to recapitalize and modernize the force.

The problem has become far more difficult, now that we are in the midst of the war on terror with the attendant requirements for forces and resources.

Although improvements are desirable in all elements and aspects of the force, it is inevitable that transformation must emphasize air and space forces. The capabilities most critical to transformation are global awareness, long-range precision strike, and control of air and space. Mobility is the fundamental enabler.

For the Air Force, transforming to implement the national defense strategy will lead to a portfolio of capabilities–integrating air and space assets, manned and unmanned aircraft, new systems along with older ones–which may be used in new ways or to support innovative concepts of operation.

Resources for Defense

The pending increase in the defense budget is substantial, but a large portion of it goes for the war on terror and other current expenses and to keeping the force from sliding any deeper into the hole. It is not sufficient to overcome the “procurement holiday” of the 1990s or to pay for transformation.

It is often suggested that the defense budget deficit can be made up by cutting forces and programs and by shifting money from one military account to another.

That is the kind of thinking that caused the problem in the first place. Some economies and reallocations are always possible, but basically, it is not a matter of the program being too large–it is that the budget is too small to balance tasking with resources.

We believe that the nation can and must commit four percent of its Gross Domestic Product to defense. By historical standards, that would be a moderate burden. For 50 years prior to 1995, the United States regularly allotted more than four percent of GDP to national defense.

Force Structure and Strength

It should be obvious now that the force has been cut too much, both in force structure and in numbers of people. At the end of the Cold War, the Air Force pulled back from most of its overseas bases, lost a third of its personnel strength, and disbanded units of every kind, from major commands to fighter and attack wings.

Contrary to the popular expectation, though, the nation’s use of military forces increased rather than decreased. The drawn-down force was soon responding to one contingency after another and covering “temporary” operations abroad that went on for years. With infrastructure limited in remote locations, deployments typically had to include logistics and combat support elements as well as fighting elements.

To cope with surging operations tempo and personnel tempo, the Air Force reconfigured its combat capabilities into 10 “buckets of capability” called Aerospace Expeditionary Forces, or AEFs. This imposed some order and predictability, but the force structure was still too thin and there were still too few people.

There are not enough resources to fill out all 10 AEFs. The Department of Defense recognizes a “Low-Density/High-Demand” problem. This refers to such systems as the Airborne Warning and Control System and Joint STARS, which were not bought in sufficient quantities and which are now tasked at maximum levels. In addition, some of the AEFs are without some basic organic elements. For example, only three of them have precision standoff strike capability.

Even before the war on terror, expeditionary demands were taxing the reduced personnel strength. The Air Force has no units or forces assigned or held aside for AEF duty only. Forces to meet that requirement are drawn from the normal complement of active, Guard, and Reserve units. Relentless deployments often leave home bases shorthanded, especially in mission support areas.

The Air Force met strength requirements for Operations Noble Eagle and Enduring Freedom by a mobilization of reserve components and by “Stop-Loss” actions that prevented people from leaving service at the end of their normal commitments.

Unfortunately, the need for an increase in personnel strength is cast into competition with other defense priorities and presumed fiscal constraints. Talk continues about alternative solutions, such as internal force realignments, reduced commitments overseas, outsourcing of functions, and base closures.

The Air Force Association believes it is time to recognize the problem and deal with it: We need 10 AEFs, fully fleshed out, with the requisite increases in personnel strength.

Investing for the Future

The war on terror and conflicts of the near future will be fought with the weapons and forces we have now. Transformation will develop capabilities for use by later generations, just as investments made in the 1970s and 1980s provided the weapons that won the conflicts of the past 10 years.

The system that will typify the asymmetric US advantage in the decades ahead is the Air Force’s F-22. Its combination of speed, stealth, advanced avionics, and operating altitude will allow it to penetrate and survive in airspace deadly to any other aircraft. It will perform multiple missions, including air superiority, deep strike, and suppression of enemy air defenses.

The F-22 is under attack by people who want to kill or curtail it. The arguments against it are the same misguided ones made in the past by people who wanted to kill or curtail the F-15, AWACS, and the B-2, all of which went on to demonstrate their immense value to the nation.

We believe the F-22 program is critical to national defense and to transformation and that the fleet should be sufficient to allot two squadrons to each AEF. If the program is held below that level, we will create yet another Low-Density/High-Demand system.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is a natural partner with the F-22 and will be available in larger numbers to fly the bulk of attack missions if a conflict persists. It is urgently needed to replace F-16 fighters, which have been flown more than anticipated and are now wearing out ahead of schedule.

We have urged repeatedly that the Air Force accelerate its timetable for fielding of a new long-range strike system. Recent events have demonstrated again the worth of weapon systems that can strike from afar. In the meantime, existing bombers should be upgraded and improved munitions developed.

The strategic airlift issue is an object lesson in defense investment. The C-17 airlifter program was set originally at 220 aircraft but then was cut radically for budget reasons. Operational realities are now returning us by increments toward the original number, but instability from churning the program has added billions to the cost. We should learn from this mistake–in this program and in others–and this time, buy enough.

Aerial refueling is the lifeblood of global reach and power projection by all of the armed forces. Our tankers are wearing out. Replacement is critical and it will not wait. We should get on with it. Now.

One of the major trends shaping the future is that numerous missions, especially in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, will migrate to space. Some of the desired capabilities are not yet within easy reach, but it is essential that we maintain the emphasis and the investment. It is through systems in space that we will ultimately move from local and regional perspectives to one that is truly global, taking in great sweeps of geography at a single glance.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, which performed so spectacularly in Afghanistan, represent another wave of the future. They will soon move beyond reconnaissance roles and take on other missions, including attack of targets in areas where manned aircraft could not survive. We applaud the Air Force on its wisdom in nurturing UAV technologies thus far and we look forward to the emergence of even more impressive results from transformation initiatives.


In time of war, the public sees and honors the service rendered by men and women in uniform. Such recognition, occurring again during the present crisis, reinforces the bonds of mutual trust and respect between the armed forces and the nation.

Military people got a further signal about the value and importance of their service with the passage of the largest pay raise in 20 years and measures to reduce out-of-pocket expenses.

The environment of recurring expeditionary deployments and intense personnel tempo requires more emphasis on family support, including child care, the effective delivery of health care, and spouse employment initiatives.

Of particular concern is the condition of facilities in which our military people live and work. The condition of housing at many bases for both families and single members is a disgrace, and it is not uncommon that working conditions are better in temporary deployment locations than they are at home bases.

The Air Force Association supports further measures to improve the quality of life for military members and their families and to make the armed forces a desirable and rewarding career.

Total Force

As demonstrated in Operations Noble Eagle and Enduring Freedom, the Air Force could not go to war without the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command. Additionally, the Air Force would be severely hampered in conducting peacetime operations without its reserve components.

The Guard and Reserve currently provide 25 percent of the aviation and almost 30 percent of the combat support elements for steady state, peacetime deployments of the Aerospace Expeditionary Forces.

They also provide more than 65 percent of the Air Force’s tactical airlift capability, 35 percent of the strategic airlift, 60 percent of the air refueling, 38 percent of the fighters, and make significant contributions to rescue, bomber, and combat support missions.

We support the Air Force’s initiative, called Future Total Force, that will further capitalize on the caliber of these components in blended units that will integrate active duty, Guard, Reserve, and civilian members for greater effectiveness and flexibility.

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.

The civil service component of the Total Force needs special care and attention. Over the next five years, more than 40 percent of the career workforce will become eligible for retirement. Force reductions have already created problems with the skill mix. We support the Civilian Workforce Shaping initiative, which attempts to rebuild the civilian force in the right way. We applaud the integration of the military and civilian Air Force teams, which has added increased synergy to the force.

Areas of Specific Concern

  • Transformation and US leadership in military technology are obviously dependent on a strong science and technology effort. However, the Department of Defense has not been able to meet its own goal of allocating three percent of its overall budget to S&T. In the Air Force, the spending level is below the historical average. Furthermore, where the Air Force led all of the services in S&T spending for more than 30 years, it now trails both the Army and the Navy in that regard. We believe the priority on S&T should be higher.
  • The Department of Defense has designated the Air Force as its executive agent for space. The logical and desirable next step is 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 space operations as well as for air operations.
  • The Nuclear Posture Review has found that two-thirds of our nuclear warheads can be taken out of operational service by 2012. We regard this as a rock-bottom position. The nuclear threat is persistent, and we must maintain enough countervailing power for a credible deterrent.
  • We are vulnerable to attack by ballistic missiles of both intercontinental and theater range. We must pursue a comprehensive defense against these weapons, exploring directed energy solutions and other approaches. Contrary to proposals often heard, ballistic missile defense should not be funded at the expense of other defense programs. The defense budget must be large enough to cover all major national security requirements, of which this is one.
  • Without an industrial base, the armed forces cannot be sustained, much less modernized or transformed. However, the defense industrial base today is characterized by consolidation and shrinkage as the Department of Defense reduces programs and production.

We cannot bring back the “Arsenal of Democracy” that once existed, but we can and must reinforce the remaining industrial base by wise acquisition strategies, fair contracting and business practices, and a climate in which a mutually beneficial partnership can thrive.

The Air Force’s industrial base includes not only firms in the private sector but also the air logistics centers. To preserve a ready and controlled source of depot maintenance, we must strike a careful balance between the maintenance and repair workload that is contracted out and the portion performed by the air logistics centers.

Global Vigilance, Reach, and Power

Although air and space power will be the dominant elements in most conflicts, we do not believe in single dimension strategies. Surface forces will continue to be important, and we will need a combination of land, sea, and air capabilities.

We cannot know where the next crisis will occur. It may be a variation on previous terror operations, an attack on our vital national infrastructures, an outbreak of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or enhanced high explosive weapons, or a regional conflict with the requirement to halt and deal with an invasion force.

The nation makes a critical mistake if it fails to put sufficient emphasis on air and space forces. They uniquely define the military strength of the United States. They are the hardest-hitting, longest-reaching, and most flexible forces that we possess. They offer our best hope of transformational gain.

Operations Noble Eagle and Enduring Freedom were only the first rounds in a long and difficult conflict, but there is an excellent chance of winning the military part of the war on terrorism if the nation will stay the course and sustain the effort.

Whatever comes, the guiding military objective will be to find, fix, track, target, engage, and assess anything of consequence that moves on the surface of the Earth. This capability applies not only to the war on terrorism but also to whatever lies beyond.

In the 21st century, the United States will rely even more than it has in the past on its forces in air and space for global vigilance, global reach, and global power.

The foundations of the force are its people and its values. AFA has adopted the Air Force’s core values, which are manifest in the actions of its members.

  • Integrity first.
  • Service before self.
  • Excellence in all that we do.