Global Force

Nov. 1, 1997

In the decades following World War II, the US Air Force became the nation’s first line of defense. Throughout the Cold War, the security and stability of the free world depended on the Strategic Triad, of which two principal elements were the Air Force’s long-range bombers and land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles. Our capabilities in air and space have been a unique source of national strength, enabling us to project power and influence around the world and to sustain our position of leadership in world affairs

In the opening years of the 21st century, aerospace power will be the strategic instrument of choice for the United States and the dominant element in armed conflict. The synergy of air and space assets will make it possible to find, fix, track, and target, without delay, anything that moves on the face of the earth. The inherent features of airpower will allow us to operate decisively, accurately, over long range, on short notice, while putting as few Americans in harm’s way as possible. Aerospace systems will provide us ready access as well as much of the information dominance that is a fundamental premise of Joint US military doctrine.

The defining characteristic of the US Air Force is that it is a global force. It begins with Global Reach/Global Power, projecting power over great distances and providing worldwide situational awareness and mobility. That basic concept then combines with the newer requirements of Global Engagement, reflecting the national policy that we will be increasingly engaged around the world in efforts to shape the strategic environment.

In its 50 years as a separate military service, the US Air Force has matured into the air and space force of today. It is on an evolutionary path toward becoming the space and air force of tomorrow, expressly prepared to support the national security and interests of the United States.

Although our nation’s first line of defense rests with the Air Force, the deepest force cuts have been relegated to the Air Force. These cuts come while the Administration increases the emphasis on and the scope of the Air Force mission. The result is an overburdened force without the necessary resources to do its assigned tasks and with attendant morale problems at all levels.

Missions and Strategies. The national defense strategy, as revised in the Quadrennial Defense Review, keeps the main focus on regional conflict. It is centered on the capability of US armed forces to prevail in two major theater wars, almost simultaneously. The broader mission is to prevent or deter conflict by the maintenance of military power and other measures and, if deterrence fails, to fight and win quickly, decisively, and with few casualties. The strategy prescribes overwhelming power, not parity or marginal advantage, for US forces.

The Air Force Association agrees with this strategy and with the focus on regional conflict. We believe that the two-conflict standard is a good benchmark for sizing the force and for estimating resources required.

However, the revised strategy puts greater emphasis than was the case before on peacekeeping, humanitarian activities, and military operations other than war. On this point, the Air Force Association urges caution and perspective. Noncombat missions are a consideration in structuring the force, but they are not the priority consideration. We must not forget that the primary purpose of the armed forces is to fight and win wars.

We are further concerned by the propensity of the national leadership to take on new commitments, even as force and budget reductions continue. The strategy and the force planning are inconsistent, particularly with respect to air and space forces. The defense program is underfunded. It forces trade-offs among readiness, modernization, and force structure, none of which is optional or dispensable.

The strategy must and does encompass more than regional conflict. The threat of global conflict and nuclear war is greatly diminished, but it is not gone. For post­Cold War Russia, for example, the importance of nuclear weapons has increased rather than declined. The deterrent strength of nuclear weapons is still needed for national security. The clamor for unilateral reduction of nuclear weapons or the premature abolition of them is unrealistic and ill-advised. A more relevant proposal is to get on with the deployment of a national missile defense.

Aerospace Power and Other Forces. Joint doctrine now acknowledges that we can achieve the military effects of mass without the actual massing of forces or the traditional sequencing of military operations. Airpower can strike directly and with great accuracy at critical parts of the enemy’s infrastructure and order of battle. Military effectiveness is no longer measured by battle lines on the ground.

In the Quadrennial Defense Review, the Department of Defense recognized that a prime operational requirement in theater war is to halt an enemy invasion force rapidly, short of its objective, and perhaps head off a long and costly counteroffensive to evict the enemy from captured territory. The “halt” phase of a regional conflict is almost completely a mission for airpower. Once the culminating point of halting the enemy has been achieved, the joint force commander has a number of options, including a ground offensive and a continuation of the air campaign. In some instances, the strategic objectives of the United States and its allies may have been achieved once the enemy no longer has the capability to advance and his strategic options are exhausted.

It is generally agreed that a Revolution in Military Affairs is changing the way US armed forces will fight in future wars, and that the key components of that revolution are information technology and precision strike, capabilities that are concentrated in air and space forces. Stealthy aircraft can penetrate deeply into hostile airspace with low probability of engagement by the enemy’s air defenses and strike critical objectives with far less risk to aircrews than is possible with conventional aircraft.

The power to gain, exploit, defend, and attack information has emerged as a critical dimension of warfare. It also represents a threat which did not exist before. For the information-intensive armed forces of the United States, aerospace forces especially, it brings both advantages and vulnerabilities. It is a new regime of conflict, and one in which we dare not rank second.

All this would suggest a greater emphasis on airpower and spacepower than will be found in the actions planned to implement the new strategy. We accept that the Air Force has concurred in the reductions allocated against it and has given assurance that its responsibilities can be met with the reduced force. Nevertheless, the Air Force Association finds it inexplicable that the Air Force took the deepest cuts of any service in the Quadrennial Defense Review.

Resources and Requirements. The United States continues to devise its national security posture on the basis of peacetime budget considerations rather than actual requirements. As a result, the present strategy must be regarded as ambitious and overly optimistic.

There were not enough forces and assets to respond, under the previous strategy, to two near-simultaneous regional conflicts. The revised strategy sets the mark even higher, covering two major theater wars that begin almost simultaneously, smaller-scale contingencies, expanded engagement in contingency operations, peacekeeping, and humanitarian activities.

The armed forces are expected to take on various contingency operations abroad and new obligations such as the responsibilities that come with NATO expansion–and they are expected to do this with diminished resources.

The Department of Defense has repeatedly postponed force modernization because of a so-called “chronic migration of funds” out of procurement accounts, attributable mainly to unprogrammed military operations other than war and to savings that have failed to materialize. Operations and Support accounts must be adequately and realistically funded. The Air Force, reduced in budgets and personnel, now operates at a level of activity four times that of the Cold War era. The government should acknowledge the costs of its global engagement policy and stop robbing other funding accounts to pay for these ongoing operations.

The accumulated effects of declining budgets, smaller forces, aging equipment, and increased deployments have begun to show up as training, readiness, and personnel problems. We believe that the fiscal assumptions underlying the latest round of reductions will lead inevitably to further problems and shortfalls.

Force Structure. The Air Force Association was already concerned about the adequacy of the previous force structure. We believe that thefurther reductions now planned are a big mistake and that they will undermine our professed strategy for national defense. In World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf, the United States severely underestimated the force structure that would be required. We do not know what the penalty may be if we repeat that mistake in the next conflict. The operations tempo and the workload under which military organizations are laboring in peacetime indicates that additional force structure, not less, may be required. Our forces must meet the requirement to cover two major theater wars by shifting nimbly from one conflict to the other. Yet the Administration proposes to cut forces still more, even as demands intensify on the units that remain.

We call on the Administration and Congress to look again at the proposed defense program and bring it into better alignment with declared strategy and actual requirements.

Reserve and National Guard components have been assigned a greater share of the contingency tasking and the total mission. The Air Force has adjusted to this change better than the other services, both because of the quality of its Reserve and Guard forces and because it has integrated and used its reserve components well. The contributions of the Air Force Reserve and the Air National Guard have been outstanding, but like the active forces, they are strained by the level of current operations.

Related to the reduction in force structure is the continuing decline of the defense industrial base. The capability for surge production is essentially lost. Most defense needs will be met by the commercial market. However, it is vital that the Air Force maintain a cooperative relationship with industry, which will be the source of the revolutionary technological advancements that the global air and space forces of the future will require.

Force Modernization. US military doctrine is predicated on “full spectrum dominance,” and that depends to great extent on the quality of our airpower and spacepower. Technological leadership is perishable. If we do not modernize our capabilities, we will be overtaken and surpassed.

Our strength in the 21st century depends on a commitment now to research and development and to critical military investments, including stealthy aircraft–bombers, air-superiority fighters, and deep strike aircraft–precision-strike weapons, space systems, surveillance and reconnaissance, information superiority, and air mobility. We also believe the arguments are compelling for the development and exploration of the revolutionary potential of such systems as the Airborne Laser and unmanned aerospace vehicles.

People. Turbulence and uncertainty make this a difficult time for people in the active-duty, reserve, and civil-service components of the force. More reductions in force lie ahead, creating hardships for both those who must leave and those who will stay, as the unremitting workload is borne by a force that has already been cut by a third. There are increasing indications of retention, recruiting, and morale problems that the nation would be exceedingly unwise to ignore.

We must do better in providing for our people in matters ranging from compensation (which, for military personnel, now trails the private sector by more than 13 percent) to the services available to help families when military members are away on deployment.

However, the most critical issue, for active-duty and retired members alike, is health care. The Air Force Association believes it imperative that a variety of options for affordable, portable, and accessible health care be made available to redeem the obligations of the government to those who have served and to provide adequately for those now serving. Quality health care is a promise upon which the government must deliver–and on which it presently is falling short.

Global Perspective. The Air Force has demonstrated that it can respond promptly to distant crises and project power from intercontinental distances. Airpower 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.

The missions of all services are increasingly reliant on information and communications from space, and spacepower is now becoming a factor in its own right. We must achieve and hold the command of space as surely as we have held command of the air. We must prepare for the eventuality that military operations–and probably combat–will occur in space.

The nation needs a full range of military capabilities, including forces on land and at sea. That said, airpower and spacepower are already the prime elements in national defense, and they are likely to become even more pivotal as the future unfolds.

The Air Force is molded by a strategic perspective, combining the capabilities of Global Reach/Global Power with the requirements of Global Engagement. It is a force well suited to the needs of an aerospace nation. It is a global force.