I read the [April] issue with a growing sense of amazement and frustration. The entire issue seems devoted to case after case of USAF (and USN and USMC) shortages that seem destined to get worse, maybe far worse. But I read that the leaders of our service will not even ask for more. In “Washington Watch,” I read of Congressional leaders practically begging Air Force leaders to ask for more—but they will not. Some other members of Congress threaten to cancel tanker replacement unless two or more companies compete. Is this possibly how we equip our forces?
The Secretary of the Air Force seems to have a new mantra, that asking for more is a “nonstarter.” I don’t know if he said this more than once or was quoted twice in the same issue, but isn’t it his responsibility to tell Congress what the Air Force needs and let them determine if it truly is a “nonstarter”? Of course, we all know he’s doing this on orders from the budget officials above him, like a good soldier. One day these chickens may come home to roost. I pray our country will survive that day.
TSgt. Bill Brockman,
About That UAV Plan
It’s hard to sympathize with your editorial about the problems with control of UAVs [“A Better UAV Flight Plan,” April, p. 2]. The Air Force is only reaping what it has sown. And it is coming to the party late.
For many years the term “UAV” was a dirty word in the Air Force lexicon. “Sure,” it was said, “they are capable, but nothing replaces a man in the cockpit. End of story, now on to the [next generation fighter]!” Thus, they turned a blind eye toward ongoing development.
The sins of omission were further deepened when UAVs entered the inventory and rated pilots “volunteered” to fly them. Pilots I’ve talked to expressed great dislike for any UAV, due to the fact that it, and not the pilot, was doing the flying. Since pilots were held accountable for accidents, it is only reasonable for them not to like this indirect method of control.
As any experienced radio control model plane flier can tell you, when things go wrong in the air, it is difficult to diagnose, impossible to fix, and often you are just doomed. Scoff if you want, but the analogy is the same. Flying these things is different and not easy. Neither is [flying] a UAV.
The Air Force is not going to control all UAVs anymore than it controls all military air traffic. The history of giving promised support to other services and then those services being shortchanged is too fresh in many minds.
MSgt. John Wolf,
Suck it Up
As a younger civilian employee of USAF (SCD 6/21/96), I read with great interest your articles in “Washington Watch” in the April 2007 issue of Air Force Magazine. Without sounding like Chicken Little, how should one react to the gloom and doom discussed, including: 1) a facility replacement estimate sitting at 275 years (when we in civil engineering usually use 50 years as the baseline); 2) a buy rate of the F-35 that extends beyond 2050 and does not reach the planned inventory; 3) a tanker replacement strategy that replaces 530 legacy aircraft with 180 KC-X tankers (a net decrease of 350!) that would keep the youngest KC-135s flying for a total of 80 years; 4) a planned F-22 buy that meets no one’s wants, needs, or expectations; and 5) an even further cut in flight hours which can do nothing but erode pilot skills (even with the advanced sims that they are provided)? We have already been given warnings that the civilian pay budget is not fully funded and are constantly told by our command/commanders to not only do “more with less” but now do “less with less.” We have airmen and salary civilians cleaning toilets, emptying trash, picking weeds, and a myriad of other extra duties because we don’t have enough money to pay our service contracts.
I love the Air Force and I want to make this a career, but I look all around me and see the walls falling in—and everyone in Washington doesn’t give a rip. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for the poor folks in the other services. Why aren’t our USAF leaders crying out to everyone who will listen that the service is broken and we are jeopardizing our combat stance for decades to come
I don’t know if I’ll have every retiree from the WWII drawdown telling me to “suck it up”. Anyway, just had to vent to someone who seems to be “in the know.”
Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz.
[In regard to “Washington Watch: The Petraeus Doctrine,” March, p. 14:] “Ground commanders are the ultimate authority for the use of all supporting fires in their respective areas of operation. … Responsible ground force commanders decide the priority, effects, and timing of CAS within an area of operations and optimally make decisions with the advice and guidance of specially trained personnel.”
Quaint musings from a dusty, pre-“joint” Army field manual? Nope. Fresh ink from JP 3-09.3, “Joint Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Close Air Support, Change 1,” Sept. 2, 2005.
Your “Washington Watch” from March is discouraging. In eliciting our supposed “jointness” in the sentence I mock above, you dive right back into this magazine’s comfort zone of parochial service infighting. That’s discouraging and disappointing, particularly after General Schwartz’s response to the Grant piece —it’s about contribution not attribution [“Letters: Billy Mitchell,” March, p. 4].
I read the new Army manual on counterinsurgency ops—every word, not just the appendix on airpower. Students of warfare and practitioners of this “Long War” owe it to themselves and the nation to do the same—and so do editors who purport to criticize it. Its authors do not claim it to be the doctrinal end state on this matter; they recognize (perhaps better than most) that doctrine rarely survives contact with the enemy. As the first new official thought on the subject in 20 years, the document ought to have generated debate on a higher plane than mudslinging.
Let’s face it, the Army and the Air Force speak slightly different languages, and much of this concocted controversy probably comes down to semantics. Joint doctrine already centralizes command of air assets under a joint force air component commander at the operational level. (Incidentally, no service can create doctrine that attempts to nullify joint doctrine—so apparently the sky is not really falling.) What FM 3-24 says is that at the tactical level air support requires a decentralized C2 system able to provide the supported commander with immediate access to air assets. That system also already exists; it’s called the Theater Air Control System and it is intimately linked to warfighting elements of the Army structure. It also sounds a lot like the “decentralized execution” we’re so fond of telling everyone we do. In the end CAS fires are controlled by members of the tactical air control party (blue-suiters applying that specialized knowledge mentioned above to meet the ground commander’s intent) when they say “cleared hot.” I find nothing in the new document that alters an established system for providing air support, flies in the face of Air Force doctrine, or minimizes the contribution of airpower.
It was perhaps the latter that ruffled your editorial staff’s feathers more than anything else, but if you haven’t noticed the Air Force struggling with that very question, you are out of touch with our service. We are inventing new sortie types almost daily in an effort to cope with what airpower can do during an insurgency—convoy protection (really CAS), SOF support (really CAS—JP 3-09.3, p. I-1), and nontraditional intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance (NTISR) (really just ISR since in an effects-based construct, platforms are irrelevant) are all good examples. Generals Petraeus and Amos do a very diplomatic job in this regard, highlighting airpower successes “in Malaya (1948 through 1960) and El Salvador (1980 through 1992), as well as more recently in Colombia and Afghanistan.” Good thing they didn’t bring up Rolling Thunder or Steel Tiger; neither was effective in interdicting the supplies of the low-consumption insurgency in South Vietnam, nor did they prevent the Tet Offensive. Additionally, being so quick to judge may silence what the generals are saying if semantics is not the real issue. If they are making a case for using indigenous air support during counterinsurgency operations, it would be a positive step away from the Army’s appetite for the dedicated air support so easily afforded in this type of war. Future wars may not allow this luxury. Early signs that the Army recognizes this fact would be encouraging.
The question of what airpower can deliver to a counterinsurgency operation is the salient one of our recent combat experience—just as it was 40 years ago. Is it possible that service infighting quelled that debate and drove us to the point we are now? If so wouldn’t it be a shame to let the same thing happen twice? It would, and it would be particularly egregious to be led there by editors who don’t take the time to research the subject. Certainly let’s have a debate. But let’s be fully informed first and let’s not do it by retreating to our service corners in an attempt to protect some perceived turf incursion. Let’s have a debate using an effects-based methodology and only then determine which medium and capability best serves the overall objective and which service is better suited to exploit the medium and provide the capability. Like it or not, that makes us a more effective armed force as whole—and it’s still about winning wars abroad, not on the Hill. Or at least it should be.
Lt. Col. M. Shane Riza,
Ramstein AB, Germany
Several of the recent articles have stressed the lack of combat aircraft in the future years [“The Risk Goes Up,” April, p. 34]. At the same time there is a push to retain F-15Cs while retiring older F-16s, as the F-22s are brought into the fleet. These F-15Cs will require significant upgrades to reach the “Golden Eagle” status. Currently, F-15E variants are still in production for our allies.
As the F-15E can do everything the F-15Cs can, based upon all the marketing, would it not make more economic sense and enhance the combat capability to purchase 100, 150, or more F-15Es with the new radar? The purchase of a single F-15E for the retirement of one F-15C and one F-16 would bring increased capabilities in a proven aircraft that still has growth capability that is still in production. Perhaps the savings could then be used to buy A-10 engine upgrade sets. This would also provide a response when the F-35 is delayed.
Huntington Beach, Calif.
I read with much interest your April 2007 article on Constant Peg and the 4477th Sq. [p. 86]. As a former aggressor controller, I would be remiss in not calling Air Force Magazine to task for not mentioning the contributions of the aggressor controllers who controlled the Constant Peg missions. These dedicated men and women deserve credit for their outstanding role in the program as well. I don’t think you would find many of the pilots from that program who did not appreciate the support they provided and the situational awareness provided while flying these demanding aircraft.
As a side note, being a lifetime member of AFA since joining the Air Force in 1985, I have rarely seen in the pages of Air Force Magazine much mention of the contributions of the dedicated men and women, officer and enlisted, who make up the command and control career fields. It is about time that this magazine recognizes that much of the success of the Air Force in the last 25 years has been due to our dominance and expertise in command and control. There are enough different topics and areas in command and control that deserve recognition for their role over the years, [such as] ABCCC, AWACS, GTACS, ADS, Range Control Squadrons, and Joint STARS. Let’s see some more articles on these systems and what they have contributed over the years.
Lt. Col. Terry Simo,
Tyndall AFB, Fla.
As a current civilian operator of MiG-21s and 23s, your article on Constant Peg was of great interest. We have only limited MiG-23 experience, and the pilots’ comments on flight characteristics were not encouraging. Dave Cannavo, currently the only civilian pilot qualified in the MiG-23, confirms that his Russian and Czech instructors held at least a healthy respect for, if not outright fear of, the edges of the published envelope. It would be of great help to us if we could get in touch with some of our pilots with experience in the type.
On the MiG-21, I would like to respectfully point out several inaccuracies. First: “fit and finish.” With US paint, Soviet fighters are the equal of ours from the same period. As for the rivets, a closer examination will disclose that, from an aerodynamic standpoint, every rivet that should be flushed is, and every one that is not required to be is not. This design philosophy is carried out throughout the aircraft. If our manufacturers had followed this course, they would have saved US taxpayers billions over the years with no degradation of performance.
Second: Your comments on maintenance do our Soviet adversaries a great disservice. Whatever the reason for canceling the program, it wasn’t maintenance. Built to operate in harsh conditions from unimproved (read “dirt”) fields and serviced by 12-month semiliterate conscript farm boys, the 35,000 or so aircraft of the MiG-15, 17, and 21 series were by far the most robust combat aircraft ever built:
1. The most memorable bit of information I took away from a 1969 intelligence briefing on our first experience flying the MiG-21 was the 104 straight sorties without a major write-up. That comment was met with hoots of disbelief from my squadron mates.
2. Recently released footage of the Israelis’ first experience with the MiG-21 shows a pilot’s first comment as, “It’s like a Volkswagen. … You just put gas in it and go.”
3. In our experience with over 300 sorties in our MiG-21s, we have never had a maintenance abort and only a handful of major (code 3) post flight write-ups. At least today, parts are plentiful and cheap when it does break.
The 500-hr engine limit was a translation error. This is just a hot section inspection, not an overhaul requirement.
Third: Actually, you do want to fight a MiG-21 at low speed. At full military power and 300 KIAS, the MiG-21 will start to bleed energy at two Gs, and it’s downhill from there. It likes to turn from 400 KIAS to just below transonic, where its transonic flight control limiter really hampers maneuvering flight.
Fourth: Throttle spool up times for the MiG-21 are the same as the J57 in my F-102. This was, I’m sure, a little slow for the young guys with only F-15 or 16 experience.
Fifth: The Soviets copied the MiGs’ ground taxi system from the Brits, who used it up at least until the Lightning. I believe it dates back as far as the Hurricane. It is simple and cheap and easy to maintain. All it takes is a little practice and it steers fine.
Joseph J. Gano
Warbirds of Delaware
I do not want to take anything away from Capt. Hilliard Wilbanks, but we were the first squadron of FACs in Vietnam in July 1963 [“Bird Dog’s Last Battle,” March, p. 50]. The airplanes were called O-1Ds (L-19) then. We were formed at Hurlburt (Eglin 9) [AFB, Fla.] in May1963. We were trained in the fixed-prop L-19. We then went home and waited for our port call.
We reported at Travis AFB [Calif.] and left immediately for Clark Field [the Philippines], with a fuel stop in Hawaii! We were on the ground at Clark for less than 12 hours. The next day we were at Bien Hoa, South Vietnam (about 12 miles northeast of Saigon). But we didn’t have any airplanes, just a WWII Army cot and mosquito netting and a WWII steel locker. Four of our planes arrived two weeks later in the pit of C-124. Another senior captain and myself were sent to Saigon to flight-test them. They had been assembled by two US Army sergeants. They were not fixed props but constant speed. The other captain and I both had flown props as well as jets. We had no problem, except for 37 first lieutenants, most of whom had never flown a prop before or a tail dragger. We taught them at Hurlburt how to fly a tail dragger; now we had to teach them about a constant-speed prop, and we did not have a manual for the airplane. We also had to teach them to use carburetor heat when descending from an altitude above 2,000 feet (throttle plate icing).
Since I had just come from a test program at Edwards AFB [Calif.], I was elected to teach them. They were 22 to 26 years old and very sharp. Since we were advisors, we always had a Vietnamese in the backseat! It was a “no-no” to fire a weapon out the window. We designed the underwing rockets, a 2.75 rocket engine with a 3.5 willie peter warhead (white phosphorous). We had four, as it shows in your picture.
We were the 19th TASS (Tactical Air Support Squadron). We left six of our young lieutenants behind. A couple of bodies were never recovered.
Did not mean to be so windy, but I am curious as to why Wilbanks didn’t use his rockets. He still had some left.
Donald R. Curtin,
Palos Verde Estates, Calif.
The story on Hilliard Wilbanks brought back memories of the O-1F. During the late ’60s I was AID advisor in the Vietnamese province of An-Xuyen (radar control, Playboy). As I had flown with the Polish Air Force and the RAF [in noncombat sorties], the FACs and I spoke a similar language and I had flown several missions with them and we were good friends. At one point we shared a rather unusual sighting.
I was walking to the mess when I saw low over the far tree line a very large airplane which I couldn’t identify. I thought nothing of it until our FAC, Captain Robinson, walked into the mess with a loud, “Did anybody see that Russian Bear over Tac Van?”
Identification came to me instantly: “I did. Was it really a Bear?”
[Captain Robinson responded,] “Great big red star on the fin. When I’d picked up my heart from the floor and stuffed it into my throat, I fired my last rocket at it, but missed. So you saw it, too? At least I’m not going crazy!”
We went up to the radar shack. Yes, they’d gotten a trace of it, but it didn’t “bloom” on the screen like US aircraft were supposed to, so they paid no attention to it. So much for training.
We never did figure out what it was doing there. To this day it has remained a mystery.
Your piece “Busy, Busy Reporters” on p. 50 [“Verbatim,” April] contains an error beyond noting the Washington Post’s failure to acknowledge Corporal Dunham’s self-sacrifice and heroism.
The Medal of Honor was awarded to United States Marine Corps Cpl. Jason Dunham. Corporal Dunham’s father is a retired United States Air Force senior NCO.
Thank you in advance for noting the error and making the correction.
MSgt. John J. Ebert,
War or Police Action
It seems the use of airpower in the form of close air support (CAS) is a forgotten form of warfighting in Iraq since the invasion. We talk about the war in Iraq, but it seems more like a police action than a war, based on the way we have fought in the last three years or so. I refer you to the [“Aerospace World”] article on p. 22 of the April issue titled “The War on Terrorism,” where the CENTAF air strike numbers for 2006 were released. [A total of] 15,676 CAS sorties over Iraq were conducted for the whole year where 229 munitions were dropped. That is one bomb for every 68 sorties.
Not only that, look at the munitions load the two F-16s on p. 38 are carrying out for a CAS mission or the carrier launch on p. 52. They are not very heavy or impressive loads. Are we so intimidated by collateral damage that we don’t provide air support for our troops in an urban setting? What is important is that we eliminate the ability and the will of the enemy to continue fighting and that cannot be done by holding back our single most important warfighting weapon. Additionally, our troops would have less casualties looking for the enemy among the rubble than in the streets.
Maj. Gen. Jay T. Edwards,
Walter Boyne did it again—a really great, concise review of the C-124 [“Airpower Classics: C-124 Globemaster II,” February, p. 96]. You really stretched to find some Famous Fliers: So Burt rode the 124 for 1,800 hours—big deal. There were many episodes with that old bird that were more interesting than someone who rode in it and later did something noteworthy.
In 1955, a new graduate of Willy joined our squadron at Dover [AFB, Del.]. Lt. Joe DeJulia was less than enthralled at being assigned to an “aluminum cloud” after completing jet fighter training. His first ride as copilot, prior to C-124 training, was on an emergency make-up crew to carry a load of troops and dependents from Morocco back to Arkansas. The crew had run out of duty time and there was no place at Dover to house that many people. We met at transport control, briefed the mission and his duties. The mission was completed and, on return, we hit a severe storm over Memphis. The noise, lightning, and shaking had him ready to punch out, but he couldn’t find a handle to pull.
A year or so later, with many hours under his belt, Captain DeJulia was the aircraft commander (maybe his first as A/C?) on a heavily loaded C-124 from Bermuda to Lajes. They lost an engine a couple hours out and turned around. They lost another engine, and the heavily loaded airplane was not going to keep flying on two engines. Joe ordered the loadmaster to jettison the cargo and notified the command post. Within minutes, Lt. Gen. Joe Smith, MATS commander at Andrews [AFB, Md.], was on our new HF radio (great to hear a voice instead of dit-dah) and told him to “use all available power.” What else was he going to do—he had the throttles bent all the way forward as it was—but it was nice to know that the boss was concerned.
He recovered at Kindley [AFB, Bermuda] and was rewarded with the Distinguished Flying Cross. With 10 years in MATS, that was the first time I was aware of such recognition, and I was extremely proud of my old copilot. Medals for flight operations were reserved for combat—transport crews were just doing what they were trained for.
There was another incident worthy of mention. In 1954 or ’55, a Dover 124 departing Thule had an emergency (severe icing, I think) and turned around. As they approached, they hit the top of the ridge beside the runway. The aircraft slid to the top of the ridge and hesitated—and then the cockpit broke off and tumbled down the hillside. One of the pilots had released his harness and was between the seats when the front section broke loose. He would have been severely injured in the crash, but the quick action of the other pilot (Tom—can’t recall his last name) grabbed him and held him safe during the ride down the mountain. I don’t know that Tom was ever recognized for this action, but he will always be a hero in my memory.
There was another run-of-the-mill incident that summer. A 124 loaded with PSP (pierced steel planking) for the runway at Thule got a double load—the loading crew thought it looked too small to be a full load. On takeoff, the computed speeds were barely met, but, with the senior engineer of the wing at the console, all agreed to continue. The crew was a first lieutenant aircraft commander, a second lieutenant copilot, a second lieutenant navigator, and a chief master sergeant engineer. The aircraft never reached climb speed. It was barely able to stay aloft with max power and had to carefully lift the right wing to avoid the steeple in the center of Dover. With very shallow turns and max power throughout, the aircraft made it back to land—and four engine changes. The crew was met by a complaint from the mayor who wanted to know why they buzzed the church in town—but no recognition for saving a grossly overloaded aircraft on a hot Sunday morning.
The C-124 wasn’t my favorite aircraft, but it was really interesting. On another flight, with the same engineer, we lost an engine and another engine lost the generator—a potential fire hazard. We shut it down and he went out in the wing, removed the faulty generator, restarted the engine, and continued on schedule.
As exciting as all that was, my tours in SAC B-52s and as a FAC in SEA were even more fun.
Col. Bob Straughan,
Your item in “Action In Congress” in the March Air Force Magazine [“Raising Tricare Fees”] is highly interesting in that our “leaders’?” cannot get past the notion that experts are found only in the halls of DOD or DAF or in academic circles. Input on problems with Tricare needs to be primarily from physicians in the field, both in DOD facilities and from our civilian partners trying to deal with Tricare. Knowing General Corley’s background intimately, I know that he is not the best qualified to head up this task force; it needs to be a senior [medical corps] leader. Having worked with Tricare as chief, medical staff, and deputy CC of two of our largest medical facilities, having struggled alongside our junior officers trying to make referrals, working as a civilian physician trying to get paid, as a contract physician for Tinker AFB, Okla., FP clinic (yeah, it’s a squadron now), and as a patient trying to find a good nearby physician to furnish my primary care, I can affirm that I know the problems better than senior officers, medical or line, who have not been on the ground in this front line. Let’s get some fresh and knowledgeable blood in this task force!!
Col. (Dr.) Kenneth F. Wainner,
Do you have a comment about a current article in the magazine? Write to “Letters,” Air Force Magazine, 1501 Lee Highway, Arlington, VA 22209-1198. (E-mail: email@example.com.) Letters should be concise and timely. We cannot acknowledge receipt of letters. We reserve the right to condense letters. Letters without name and city/base and state are not acceptable. Photographs cannot be used or returned.—the editors