Investing Now in Airpower for Tomorrow

Dec. 1, 2006

The United States Air Force is the world’s dominant source of air and space power. No one else comes close. Air Force men and women have produced an unsurpassed record of achievement. Our dedication of the Air Force Memorial in the nation’s capital in October 2006 salutes the service and sacrifice of those early airmen who founded our first aviation units, through the airmen who serve around the globe today in the world’s most capable Air Force.

The question at hand is how to preserve and extend that dominance in light of a multitude of challenges that face our nation and our Air Force.

The United States Air Force has been in continuous combat for 15 years. Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm featured a full spectrum of Air Force capabilities, dramatically demonstrating the value of airpower. Peace operations in Somalia, Haiti, and other venues depended on Air Force logistical and operational support. Operation Allied Force in Kosovo used airpower to achieve mission objectives without the use of US ground forces. Southern Watch and Northern Watch kept the forces of Saddam Hussein constrained within no-fly zones. Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom have seen the employment of close air support, precision aerial strikes, intelligence, reconnaissance missions, and critical logistical support.

Additionally, numerous disaster relief efforts and homeland defense missions have heavily taxed numerous entities within USAF’s portfolio. In each case, our active duty Air Force, Air National Guard, and Reserve team has performed superbly.

Never before has the nation’s ability to project military power depended so heavily on air and space capabilities. Whether it is the principal actor or a supporting force, USAF brings to the fight unsurpassed air, space, and cyberspace capabilities—adding strength, flexibility, and resilience to the joint force. In many cases, other US military branches would not be able to carry out their missions without the Air Force.

Much has changed over the years. The Air Force, for example, is flying unmanned aircraft over Iraq and Afghanistan controlled by airmen from bases in the United States and other remote locations around the world. Moreover, investments in air and space technologies have produced reachback capabilities and precision that would have been unimaginable even 15 years ago. Accuracy of weapons is now measured in mere feet from the target.

For all of its immense accomplishments, however, USAF faces formidable challenges as it enters the sixth year of the Global War on Terrorism, with the almost certain prospect that the war will go on for many years to come. The Air Force must continue to adapt to new fiscal, military, and political realities as it strives to reach the right balance of forces for this dangerous new century.

The Pentagon leadership has concluded, with Air Force concurrence, that a smaller force of highly modern systems can do the airpower job. The Air Force has adopted a strategy of divesting its least capable airframes, procuring advanced new aircraft, and modernizing what remains of the legacy force.

AFA strongly disagrees with any additional cuts in the end strength and has deep concerns regarding the increased demands being placed on the men and women of the Air Force. The nation must act now to preserve its air and space capabilities for the future challenge while ensuring we have the capability to support the Global War on Terrorism today.

The Long War

AFA believes the nation needs to fully understand the vital role the Air Force has played and continues to play in the Long War. Since 9/11, the Air Force has flown more than 144,000 air sorties over Afghanistan, about 80 percent of the coalition total. Since March 2003, when Iraqi Freedom began, the Air Force has flown more than 239,000 sorties over Iraq, again about 80 percent.

During this time, the Air Force shifted from scheduled air operations to on-call operations where it provides expansive coverage of the battlefield and has taken the fight directly to the enemy.

The Air Force continually puts up B-52 or B-1 bombers able to loiter for long periods, in order to precisely strike targets with remarkable speed. Fighter aircraft and AC-130 Gunships employ multiple systems and precision guided munitions to attack ground forces with little collateral damage. These weapon systems provide tremendous support to our ground forces.

The Air Force also operates field hospitals and provides daily aeromedical evacuations, which are significantly reducing battlefield losses. Our space and air teams are providing critical surveillance and reconnaissance, weather information, missile warning, and communications. Using satellites and air breathing platforms, this capability has provided key information to our field commanders. USAF combat controllers are carrying out critical missions, such as reconnaissance and strike control. Additionally, Air Force aircrews provide multiple daily airlift resupply support missions for the Army in order to reduce dangerous ground convoy requirements. Our strategic airlift and tanker aircraft provide worldwide critical capabilities for the joint team.

The use of unmanned systems such as Predator (armed and unarmed) and Global Hawk has given enormous assistance to ground forces by helping to locate and target roadside bombs, mortars, and weapons caches, as well as insurgents themselves.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the Air Force role has shifted from attacking large formations of forces to counterinsurgency raids, providing surveillance and security of roads used by truck convoys, and spotting roadside bombs. The Air Force presence in the war zone won’t be reduced even as commanders consider reducing ground forces. In fact, the reverse is true; the Air Force and air and space power will become even more important in the scheme of military operations once the ground presence is reduced.

Air Force battlefield airmen also are providing daily support missions in nontraditional roles such as ground convoy security teams and outside the perimeter security patrols. The Air Force role is continuing to expand in the Global War on Terrorism.

The Air Force is also playing an integral part in helping rebuild a country devastated by war. US airmen have begun training Iraqis in skills such as fire fighting, security, and support missions.

In Afghanistan, a significant presence of US special operations forces and coalition infantrymen along with our battlefield airmen, backed by air and space power, will be needed for some time. These forces must assist in internal security and nation building while continuing to conduct counterinsurgency operations.

AFA offers its unequivocal support for the American men and women of the US armed forces who collectively and individually perform above and beyond the call of duty. As they go about their duties, we are mindful that the goal of defeating worldwide terrorism is not solely a military effort.

We call for a greater national commitment in resources and integration of diplomatic, economic, and information instruments of power with the goal of neutralizing the threats we face.

Ancient Weapon Systems

The Air Force is operating the oldest aircraft fleet in the service’s history. This has come about mostly by neglect—brought on by the ill-advised “procurement holiday” of the 1990s and a near-continuous use of weapons systems since Sept. 11, 2001. The nation cannot expect USAF to maintain its current dominance of air, space, and cyberspace while operating with outdated technologies.

Existing platforms have reached the point where they are inefficient and less effective in carrying out their respective tasks. They have sustained considerable wear and tear from combat operations around the world. Many of the nation’s C-5 and C-130 airlifters are operating under flight restrictions, as are some F-15 fighters. In many areas, the Air Force can’t fully utilize the older KC-135E air refueling aircraft because they lack the power to take off with full loads of fuel in high temperature desert conditions.

The costs to maintain these platforms are soaring. Twenty percent of the Air Force’s procurement budget is being spent on modifications and upgrades, the highest percentage in the history of the Air Force.

The Air Force is today operating many aircraft saddled with flight restrictions significantly reducing combat capabilities. In fact, if the Air Force were called upon to fly all of its aircraft today, one-third would not be able to carry out their missions.

Legacy fighters are less and less capable of penetrating hostile airspace defended by double-digit SAMs and advanced fighters, which are readily available and proliferating around the world. In Operation Allied Force in the Balkans in 1999, Serbian gunners used fairly rudimentary systems to bring down an F-16 and even a stealthy F-117. Enemy air defense systems have improved dramatically since then.

Against this backdrop, the Air Force has been trying to divest itself of old aircraft, such as F-117s, B-52s, KC-135Es, C-130E/Hs, C-5As, and U-2s. Of the 1,033 aircraft slated for divestiture during the 2006-11 Future Years Defense Program (FYDP), 347 have been specifically blocked by legislative restrictions. More than a hundred of these aircraft have limited military utility because they have flight restrictions placed upon them due to structural and safety of flight issues. Dollars spent sustaining these aircraft in the operational inventory are therefore not available for acquisition of new aircraft or upgrades to more-useful legacy systems.

AFA believes the nation must prevent this situation from getting worse. It calls on members of Congress to put a stop to the practice of legislative restrictions and allow the Air Force to balance its force structure as operational requirements and fiscal restraints demand.

Vital Modernization

The continued maintenance of these legacy aircraft is putting a considerable drag on Air Force plans to acquire new and more-capable aircraft. The list of weapons systems requirements is long, owing to the fact that so few have been purchased in the last 20 years.

In the 2005-06 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), the Pentagon determined that USAF should make an immediate start to develop a new long-range strike system. This new capability, it said, should go well beyond what is offered by today’s fleet of B-1B, B-2, and B-52 bombers. Under QDR guidelines, the Air Force has until 2018 to get this new capability on the ramp. This means the Air Force must devote billions of dollars to the project over the next several years. AFA supports this initiative to field this important weapon system.

AFA believes that the need goes well beyond the bomber fleet. Acquisition of new fighter aircraft is extremely important. New aircraft slated for procurement include the stealthy F-22A air superiority fighter and F-35 multirole fighter to replace older F-15s, F-16s, and F-117s.

Mobility forces also have serious needs. A request for information has been issued to industry for a new tanker aircraft to replace the KC-135E tanker. The lift mission is being augmented by procurement of new C-130J and additional C-17 aircraft to meet the increasing demand for airlift. Legacy platforms slated to remain in the fleet, such as the C-5, will receive numerous capability and structural enhancements. In light of that reality, the USAF modernization program seems modest indeed.

AFA urges Congress to provide the resources necessary to provide adequate airlift and tanker capabilities.

Additionally, continued purchases of Predator and Global Hawk unmanned air vehicles will boost the critically important intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance fleet capabilities.

All signs are that for the next several years, the defense budget will remain flat or close to it. Air Force leaders will be hard-pressed to find enough funding to pay for even a modest modernization program. AFA believes that restricting the defense budget while at war is shortsighted and dangerous.

The cost of modernization isn’t the only problem. Actual operations have stretched financial accounts to a point where the Air Force has few remaining resources to support infrastructure upgrades, training, and operating costs while acquiring the new systems that are critical for the future of the force. Anyone who thinks this is an overly ambitious modernization program should think again. Even if the Air Force is able to procure all 612 aircraft slated for acquisition over the coming six years, the average age of the fleet still will go up, rising from 23.5 to 28 years.

The Defense “Burden”

AFA believes that the nation can and must provide more resources to fund its military. Even counting annual war costs of some $80 billion to $100 billion spent in Iraq and Afghanistan, the economic impact on the American public for defense spending is relatively light, consuming only about four percent of the nation’s $13 trillion gross domestic product. The “core” defense program—that is, the weapons, forces, and operations exclusive of actual war costs—is even lighter, taking only about 3.5 percent of GDP. By comparison, the nation devoted about 35 percent of GDP on military forces during World War II, about 10 percent of GDP during most of the Cold War, about nine percent during the Vietnam War, and more than five percent of GDP as recently as 1992, when the Cold War was winding down.

Today’s spending is inadequate to support our forces given the record of the past. Higher defense spending is not “unaffordable,” as many assert.

AFA believes that we should raise spending on the core defense program by one-half of one percent of GDP—lifting it from 3.5 to 4.0 percent. This would give the services an additional $65 billion every year. That level of funding would go a long way toward rectifying today’s equipment problems. Clearly, US defense spending is insufficient in light of the current demands placed on the military. Service leaders should not have to choose between funding current wartime operations and modernizing its forces to be ready for future challenges.

Air Force leaders are respectful of the need to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars and have responded by paring down a variety of weapon systems and pushing for only the most critical modernization programs. The service continually seeks to become more efficient. AFA lauds these efforts and encourages the Air Force to push even harder in this direction. However, offsets can only achieve so much. It’s going to take increased funds to maintain a viable warfighting capability.

We believe the nation needs to provide tangible support to our servicemen and -women fighting today by providing resources for those who will be carrying out the missions in years ahead. In a world of constantly changing technology, it is imperative that the Air Force stay at the leading edge of aerospace technology.

Space and Cyberspace

The nation depends heavily on the Air Force to meet the needs of the warfighter, and space plays a major role in meeting those needs. Space systems provide deterrence, situational awareness, communications, missile warning, positioning and tracking capabilities, and precision weapon guidance. In fact, space assets are essential to all military operations and to the nation. Airmen and soldiers in the field require critical information to do their jobs and to stay ahead of the enemy.

Persistent surveillance on the battlefield using unmanned vehicles, satellites, and the Global Positioning System provides the warfighter with instant information needed for everything from putting bombs on target to countering the threat from improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Maintaining space superiority means improving and developing new technologies to assist the warfighter in denying the use of space to potential adversaries.

New systems such as the Space Radar, Space Based Infrared System, and the Transformational Satellite Communications System (TSAT) program must be acquired. These will continue to provide persistence over the battlefield. New communication developments include laser communications, which hold considerable promise as a breakthrough technology. As a key part of TSAT, laser communications will allow DOD to vastly increase its bandwidth. Development and employment of these systems must be supported.

ICBMs deliver effective 21st century deterrence. USAF needs to continue to sustain and modernize our land-based strategic deterrent and develop future strike capabilities.

In support of worldwide military operations, the Air Force needs to continue the upgrading and modernizing of America’s launch ranges as the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Program takes over as the foundation for assuring US access to space. It must continue funding for the National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System that will accurately calculate meteorological data for our deployed forces, and proceed with the next generation of the Global Positioning System, GPS III, further enhancing navigation with resistance to jamming.

Unmanned platforms such as Predator and Global Hawk are controlled and monitored through already taxed systems, and even more bandwidth is required to send the radar data and digital streaming video from these platforms to the warfighter. Planned systems such as TSAT and the Wideband Gap-filler System will eventually meet these needs.

To counter threats in space, the Air Force must invest more in space situational awareness and modernize early warning systems, such as the Defense Support Program (DSP) satellites that have been in operation since the 1970s and were used effectively during Desert Storm. In cyberspace, the US faces potential adversaries capable of penetrating vital telecommunications and information networks and diminishing our capability in the real battlespace.

In response, the Air Force has developed a cyberspace task force to lead airmen on the digital battlefield. The task force will afford new offensive capabilities and new target sets and will be at the vanguard of defending the nation against an electronic Pearl Harbor.

AFA believes it is crucial for the US to defend itself against cyber-attack. The response to an attack on our national information infrastructure must be swift and sure, just as it would be if we were subjected to a traditional physical attack. Protecting military, government, and commercial networks will require increased cooperation between the private sector, DOD, and other government agencies.

Homeland Defense

On the home front, 10,000 active duty, Guard, and Reserve forces continue to fly and support air and space operations in Operation Noble Eagle, the defense of US cities and industries from air assault.

The Air Force has flown more than 44,000 fighter, aerial refueling, and airborne early warning sorties since the Sept. 11 attacks. Air National Guard and Reserve forces have flown 32,000 of these missions. This is truly a joint force mission that fully leverages the capabilities of each component.

AFA believes that Congress and the executive branch should increase their efforts across the board to secure the nation’s borders and airspace, while preparing for the possibility of a calamitous man-made strike or a devastating natural disaster. Specifically, the Administration and Congress must work together to fully fund the cost of the air defense mission in the Air Force budget and to provide for sufficient US-based airlift.

Total Force Integration

The US Air Force is a Total Force, a collection of critically important components whose true power stems from the interaction of mutually reinforcing capabilities. The power of the whole truly is more than the sum of these parts. The Air Force has done well in integrating the combat capabilities of these very different components, but there is room for improvement.

The Total Force comprises the active duty force, the Air National Guard, and the Air Force Reserve (with federal civilians and military contractors playing key support roles). Each of these components is indispensable. The Air Force could not accomplish its mission without their total commitment.

AFA believes that Air Force civilian and uniformed leaders should press for even greater integration of these elements of air and space power at home in the United States as well as in combat deployments overseas. Each component should share in the fate of the enterprise as a whole, whether that happens to be good fortune or sacrifice. The restructuring of forces, bases, and aircraft should not fall disproportionately on any one element to the exclusion of the others.

Active duty, Guard, and Reserve components should train to the highest standards and have the opportunity to partake in missions across the spectrum of operations, from humanitarian relief efforts to homeland defense and major combat operations. All have excellent leadership and superb airmen capable of performing well in any situation.

At any given time, the Guard and Reserve provide significant support to USAF’s forward deployed force. One success story has been associate units in which Reserve, Guard, and active duty personnel share aircraft. This means more crews for the same number of aircraft and increased use of the aircraft. This capitalizes on inherent strengths of the Air Force’s components.

In an age of budget stringency, better use of all available resources is imperative and the capabilities of each component should be integrated to take full advantage of the strengths of each one.

When looking to the future, the success of Total Force can also be seen in the training provided to the three components. With the three components working closely together, the Air Force has been able to provide invaluable training for active, Guard, and Reserve units. This is all to the good.

Guard and Reserve units are, and will continue to be, closely associated with the active duty force. Because of this, Defense Department officials should review command and control structures to produce more unity of effort.

AFA believes the Air Force needs to continue to address the roles and responsibilities of all three components, while integrating for emerging new missions such as cyber-warfare, operation of unmanned aerial vehicles, and homeland defense.

No mission should be off limits to any of the Air Force components. Recognition of the vital roles and unique capabilities of the active force, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve is necessary if USAF is to get through the budget crisis ahead while producing maximum combat power.

Force Reshaping

High-technology weapon systems count for little without high-quality people to maintain and operate them. AFA understands that the Air Force faces difficult decisions about how best to ensure the right balance of personnel, infrastructure, weapons, and readiness throughout the force.

During the early years of the Global War on Terrorism, the Air Force was allowed to stay above its authorized end strength of 359,000, but in 2005 it drew down below the authorized end strength through normal attrition. In 2006, facing renewed budget pressures, the Air Force announced cuts of 40,000 personnel spaces over the next four years along with a cut in civilian strength. Combined with a reduction in enlisted recruits from 30,700 to about 28,000 in Fiscal 2007, overall enlisted end strength is expected to be 264,000 by the end of 2007. The Air Force is also accelerating retirements in certain grades and phasing out certain positions.

Thus, though the nation is at war, it will have fewer airmen trained to carry out combat operations and discharge other global commitments.

The Air Force needs to manage this force shaping endeavor in such a way that it produces a balance with the right mix of skills and experience for the expeditionary environment. We are pleased to see that the Air Force has developed a new initiative, Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century (AFSO 21), that will focus on identification and elimination of activities, actions, and policies that do not contribute to daily effectiveness.

AFA agrees with the Air Force that institutionalizing this new approach will allow the Air Force to meet the challenges of the next decade and help sustain the air and space force in the years to come. The practices, requirements, and management of the Air Force must constantly be evaluated to keep it efficient.

Much of this evaluation will and should rest with the men and women of the Air Force themselves. Therefore, AFA believes Air Force personnel at all levels should play an active role in evaluating the best ways to increase the efficiency of USAF.

New Breed of Airmen

The reality of a smaller force and the demands of the Global War on Terrorism have brought big changes in the roles of airmen. This in turn created a new breed of airmen.

Many now are serving in nontraditional roles in Iraq and Afghanistan, filling other service billets. They are serving as convoy vehicle operators and providing security for convoys throughout Iraq and Afghanistan. They are providing security for air bases by patrolling “outside the wire” and often in ways familiar to infantrymen.

There is no rear area in the war on terror. The Air Force is expanding its basic training to ensure that all airmen are prepared for what they might face while deployed. The new emphasis begins at basic military training, but the change is felt throughout the Air Force. Training today is more tactical, responsive to the demands in Iraq and Afghanistan, and tied to the Air and Space Expeditionary Force deployment cycle.

Battlefield airmen are providing vital tactical air control to help direct bombs and bullets at terrorists with high accuracy. These airmen engage in the full spectrum of missions, from C4ISR to close air support to training Iraqi security forces.

The challenge is to increase the ranks of battlefield airmen and to keep them on active duty. The Air Force is short of pararescue teams and controllers who work with ground special forces and other ground units. The Air Force plans to increase recruiting efforts and to plus up the ranks in those key areas.

Battlefield airmen showcase the dynamic nature of the Air Force. They demonstrate the ability of airmen to adapt to new roles more effectively. These airmen are becoming more versatile and better trained. They are willing to undertake and capable of performing tasks historically reserved for other branches.

AFA salutes these airmen for their skill and dedication and applauds the USAF decision to have all airmen who are deploying receive combat skills training.

Education and Technology Gap

The Air Force’s overpowering capabilities are not the result of happenstance. They are the product of an American educational infrastructure that has produced researchers, innovators, engineers, operators, and maintenance personnel who are capable of designing, operating, and supporting high-technology hardware. It is clear that the new threat environment will demand an even higher level of basic education and an increasing percentage of individuals with skills in science, technology, engineering, and math—known collectively as STEM.

Leaders from all sectors in the United States must focus on supporting our educational infrastructure to cultivate increasingly capable individuals.

STEM education is faltering badly. The country is simply failing to generate enough qualified individuals to satisfy industry and defense needs. According to a 2003 study conducted by the Department of Education, US 15-year-olds placed 15th among 28 industrialized nations in basic science skills. Another Department of Education study conducted in 2000 found that 35 percent of US high school seniors did not have a basic comprehension of math. Once, the US ranked third in terms of 18- to 24-year-olds earning natural science and engineering degrees. Now, it ranks 17th.

Asian nations have studied the US ascent in the technological realm and have taken educational steps to produce large numbers of persons skilled in STEM. It is important to recognize that we are in a never-ending competition, one that will influence the future economic and military well-being of the country. The United States must bolster the education system at all levels and start competing again.

The need is as great today as it was in years past. It is estimated that 13,000 personnel from DOD labs will be retiring over the next 10 years. This aging workforce needs to be replaced with new talent.

AFA believes DOD must expand its partnership with industry, school systems, and academia to encourage more participation from young people in the math and sciences and to nurture their interest and commitment to these disciplines.

In a related area, nations around the globe are making significant strides in technology. Some are matching, or even exceeding, US technical capabilities. A revitalized industrial preparedness program is key to transitioning science and technology from the laboratories to the production floor and is one of the critical elements of a strengthened presystems acquisition process. Sensible acquisition policies, business practices, and support for research and development of manufacturing technology are needed.

Spread Thin

Today, nearly a third of all airmen are stationed overseas, in more than 177 countries around the globe. More than 25,000 airmen are forward deployed in support of combatant commanders throughout the world. More than 21,000 are deployed directly for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Air Force units in the Pacific serve to counter the threat posed by North Korea. More than 52,000 personnel are based in Japan, South Korea, Guam, and other sites throughout the Pacific, providing on-call combat capability to joint warfighters.

The current buildup of forces on the island of Guam allows USAF to respond to military and humanitarian crises over great distances in a very short period. Airmen helped deliver more than 9,000 tons of relief supplies to Sri Lanka and other nations devastated by 2004’s Indian Ocean tsunami and provided humanitarian relief to provinces in the Philippines following mud slides in 2006.

In Europe, more than 35,000 airmen and civilians are on duty as part of America’s long-standing North Atlantic Treaty Organization commitments. US Air Forces in Europe is as busy as ever. Airmen have flown more than 27,000 sorties helping to enforce the peace accords in the Balkans. In support of the Global War on Terrorism, they are also pulling duty on the flight lines at airfields in former Soviet bloc nations.

Stateside, Air Force personnel responded when Hurricane Katrina devastated America’s Gulf Coast. Active duty, Guard, and Reserve airmen rapidly deployed to assist with evacuation and recovery following this national tragedy, flying more than 5,000 sorties, delivering 16,000 tons of cargo, and conducting more than 5,500 rescues. They treated over 17,000 patients and evacuated more than 30,000 people to safety.

Joint commanders know the Air Force can be counted on across the full spectrum of missions, from combat to humanitarian operations. Because the Air Force makes the whole force better, AFA believes that a strong national commitment is necessary in order to sustain these capabilities.

Toward the Future

These are critical times for our nation. AFA believes that we must make the necessary investments today to win the Global War on Terrorism and to counter the threats of the future. We must not allow excessive focus on near-term operational risk to mortgage the future capability of the joint force.

Air and space dominance cannot be taken for granted. Building it is the business of every American.

“Our Air Force belongs to those who come from ranks of labor, management, the farms, the stores, the professions, and colleges and legislative halls. … Airpower will always be the business of every American citizen.”—Gen. Henry H. “Hap” Arnold.

In this, we dare not fail.