Nov. 1, 2008

Needed: UAV Instructor Course

[I am writing in regard to the item in “Air Force World: Weapons School UAV Courses Postponed,” September, p. 22.]

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates’ plan to shut down the UAV instructor course for six months to a year (or more) will have far reaching and detrimental consequences on instructor training. Training is usually one of the last items planned and one of the first to be cut when faced with increased operations tempo. Shutting down operations is easy. It can be done in a day, but reconstituting an organization takes time, especially when the instructors to teach new instructors are gone.

In the mid-1990s, the 42nd Airborne Command and Control Squadron began flying missions over Bosnia, the Middle East, and Haiti, utilizing all personnel to meet the increased ops tempo. This [came] during the personnel drawdown following the Soviet Union collapse. Training nearly came to a standstill because the instructors and STAN/EVAL personnel were overseas flying live missions.

What was to be a few months’ TDY over Bosnia extended into years, and in that time squadron personnel retired, separated, made permanent change of station (PCS) moves, or were forced out due to personnel cutbacks. Unit manning fell drastically. Newly assigned personnel sat waiting to begin training.

Squadron leadership decided to theater-qualify (TQ) new personnel in their duties. This meant that trainees received two-thirds of their 12 to 15 training missions and then were sent overseas to fly live missions over combat areas. The justification? The TQ personnel would be sitting next to or near a mission-ready crew member who could explain their duties during the live mission.

When the 42nd ACCS moved from Keesler AFB, Miss., to Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., in 1994, all the squadron personnel were supposedly “frozen” to make the move because the unit manning was critically short. Lo and behold, once in Arizona, a look around revealed that many highly trained personnel had PCSd to other assignments. So much for “freezing” people at the unit.

The best computerized systems are no good if you lack good people to operate them effectively. Being an instructor is more than pushing buttons and saying, “See, that is how it’s done. You are now trained.” In six months or a year (or more), people will separate, retire, or make a PCS despite attempts to freeze them in place. Don’t stop training, no matter how few you train; that will be better than no one trained at all.

Be careful, Secretary Gates, be very careful, or this situation will rear its ugly head in a year (or two or more) and bite the UAV force in the butt.

Capt. Gregory D. Bova,

USAF (Ret.)

Tucson, Ariz.

It’s a Rejection

I must take exception to the “Improvisation Won’t Do It” editorial by Mr. Robert S. Dudney in the October 2008 issue of Air Force Magazine [p. 2]. Your characterization of land power advocates as being unable to understand the effects-based operations concept and your proclamations about what airmen believe only serve to reinforce the notion that EBO is “some kind of airpower cult” and paint us all with that brush.

I would not presume to speak for General Mattis or anyone else, but I cannot believe that they don’t understand EBO. They simply reject it. Do not confuse rejection of the EBO planning construct with rejection of airpower. The two are only connected in the minds of those who consider it USAF’s pet project.

Regardless of Lt. Gen. David Deptula’s intentions that EBO be a “fairly simple” thing, proponents of prescriptive warfare have hijacked it and made it their own. EBO is their new playbook, and Lieutenant General Deptula is the new Jomini.

Of course, the counter to Jomini is Clausewitz. Ironically, his replacement in modern times was also an airman, Col. John Boyd. I suggest you take time to read Boyd’s body of work. Don’t bother with the watered down, bumper sticker version peddled in the Air Force. Go read his actual papers and lectures. When you are done, go read Marine Corps doctrine. Do you notice any similarities? Pay particular attention to the discussions of commander’s Intent.

Ask the typical airman what the commander’s intent for his mission is, and you might get an explanation of a CAS mission or an airlift itinerary. More than likely you will get a raised eyebrow. He doesn’t understand the question because neither his squadron commander nor any other leader in his chain has written a commander’s intent, save one: the JFACC. The JFACC’s intent is dutifully translated to an ATO—the plan. Our typical airman understands the ATO, the SPINs , the ROE. He performs his part in the plan, and if it falls apart, he RTBs and waits for tomorrow’s plan. Commander’s intent is peripheral at best.

The land forces have no option to RTB; they are in the battle until it ends. If the plan goes awry, they use commander’s intent to make decisions about how to proceed in the absence of orders. Every echelon of their chain has produced a commander’s intent and mission type orders. It is the backbone of their command and control.

I don’t see how anyone could assume that the land forces would draft such guidance in a “vacuum.” They are very aware of the importance of “extensive sources of information and analysis.” They simply understand that intelligence can be wrong, distorted, or missing. They know that assumptions can be false and analysis is as much art as science. Because the plan is based on imperfect information, it has no hope of surviving first contact with a determined foe. To counter this, the ground force commander arms his lower echelons with delegated decision-making authority and a clearly written commander’s intent so they can adapt, and dare I say it, improvise.

What airmen actually believe is that this improvisation is far too chaotic to manage or be effective. For airpower, this may be correct, but for land forces it is a critical part of their ability to survive and thrive in a chaotic environment. That is why you love EBO and they do not. It is why improvisation does not “inspire confidence” in you, but is a source of great confidence for the land power advocate.

You say that EBO has proved effective. Some would say we were fortunate that Iraq had no unknown backup power grid. Some would argue that it was lucky the Serbs reacted as they did instead of hardening their stance in rebellion. Heaven forbid we should face a peer air power that would actually interfere with the execution of our plan. I won’t even address the issue of General Frank’s Iraq planning. Hindsight is always 20/20.

You offer us a false choice. We either choose EBO or the “numerous adverse consequences” of the “attritional approach” to war. To accept this choice, we must delude ourselves into believing that there is no creative planning outside of EBO, that we can control the uncontrollable aspects of war with the proper plan or take away the enemy’s vote. General Mattis may have saved us from a far greater risk to American military personnel than an imperfect plan. That would be “analysis paralysis” in pursuit of the perfect plan.

The “fairly simple” version of EBO advocated by Lieutenant General Deptula may very well be an effective concept for airpower. It may even deserve a place in joint doctrine. In fact, the very next line of the Aug. 14 memo you quote states that “we must retain and adopt those aspects of effects-based thinking that are useful.” Unfortunately, when you belittle land force advocates for being unable to understand the concept without once conceding that they have a point, you betray a zealotry that is unhelpful in promoting the discussion you say you want.

The big question, Mr. Dudney, is whether all parties understand that.

Lt. Col. Deric V. Kraxberger,


Uedem, Germany

Airpower on Canvas

I was amazed and thrilled to see Keith Ferris’ painting of the P-12s [“Airpower on Canvas,” September, p. 52]. Boy, does that bring back memories! I was born in 1920 and all kids of my generation were aircraft crazy. We knew every World War I airplane and all the aces on each side. My favorite book was Floyd Gibbons’ Red Knight of Germany, about [Manfred] von Richthofen.

The later model with the streamlined engine cowling (was it P-12E?) was my favorite. I lived in Helena, Mont., and every year at the state fair, kids would enter scale models of various planes. Two guys from my neighborhood entered models of the P-12E. They were both in high school; I was in the third grade. The guy who won, Fergus Fay, became a World War II pilot and retired from USAF as a colonel. The other, Frank Reinig, went to Seattle and worked for Boeing. He came home in the early 1930s and told us he was working as a riveter on a new four-engine bomber. He was small and they put him on the wings. He said he could stand up inside. That aircraft was the early B-17.

I also recall that in one of our cold winters in the ’30s, a squadron of Curtis Hawk P-6Es came to Helena from Selfridge Field, Mich., I believe, on a cold weather exercise. My Dad took me down to the Helena Airport to see them leave. Each airplane engine was being warmed by a portable heater. I think there was a canvas hood system over the engine and I think I remember a large flexible hose leading from the heating unit into the canvas hood.

Thanks for your memento of a wonderful time in my life.

Lt. Col. Al Guay,

USAFR (Ret.)

Winchester, Va.

What a marvelous accomplishment!

When my Air Force Magazine arrived today, I was awestruck. Just imagine:Army Air Corps history and art together on the very cover of a true “keeper” magazine. This is the rare one.

Truly it was a joy to read about Keith Ferris and to empathize with him and his opportunities to capture his impressions of aviation during his lifetime of picturing his insights. He truly “fulfilled the mission,” to use his own words.

Thank you so very much for such an exceptional artistic, aeronautical combination! I’m an 83-year-old Army Air Corps vet. You can understand how I was [captivated].

Edward E. Childress

Castro Valley, Calif.

All Filled Up

[In reference to the article, “GHQ Air Force,” September, p. 62]: Many thanks for this enlightening history. When I reported for extended active duty at Scott Field, Ill., in February 1941, “Headquarters GHQ Air Force” was in very large letters across the front of the Headquarters building. Explanations were skimpy at best and you were left with the idea that it was better left undiscussed. Your history satisfied a large empty space.

Col. Frank W. Ward,

USAFR (Ret.)

Battle Creek, Mich.

Daylight Precision Bombing

John Correll has written an excellent essay on “Daylight Precision Bombing” [October, p. 60]. However, several key parts of the picture were missing:

First, the cost. Daylight precision bombing over Europe cost the AAF more than 4,000 B-17 Flying Fortresses and their crews (some 40,000 men killed or prisoners), as well as more than 2,000 B-24 Liberators (another 20,000 men).

Second, the alternatives: Could the strategic bombing resources have been better employed? For example, if just 200 additional heavy bombers were used for anti-submarine warfare in 1942, could the Battle of the Atlantic—critical for the invasion of Europe and the survival of Britain—have been won a year earlier? Or what would the bombing record have been with, say, 2,000 more accurate B-25 Mitchells and B-26 Marauders in place of every 1,000 B-17s? Or, would the Soviets have been able to enter Berlin six months earlier (at tremendous savings in Allied lives) had 4,000 P-51 Mustangs been produced for the Red Air Force in place of 1,000 B-17s and their crews?

The most accurate bomber of the European Theater was the de Havilland Mosquito—a twin-engine, two-place, wooden aircraft that could carry the same bomb load as a B-17, 100 mph faster, for two-thirds the range. Again, the “cost” of a Mosquito was less than one-fourth that of a B-17. What would have been the impact of, say, 4,000 AAF Mosquitos in place of 1,000 B-17s

Third, the impact: As Correll correctly states, “The German and Japanese economies and their national infrastructures had been devastated to the point that they barely functioned.” But being defeated had nothing to do with surrender: Germany did not surrender until Hitler had committed suicide when Red soldiers were in Berlin, fighting a few blocks from his bunker. Similarly, after intense strategic bombing (of marginal effect) and incendiary bombing (of great effect) the six men who ruled Japan—the Supreme Council for the Direction of the War—had no thought of surrendering until after the second atomic bomb was employed. Fully expecting an invasion, the Japanese planned to resist “to the last man.”

These factors—and others—must be considered in a realistic discussion of “daylight precision bombing.”

Norman Polmar

Alexandria, Va.

As usual, Norman Polmar makes good points and adds insight to the issue. B-17 and B-24 losses were greater than they should have been or had to be, a consequence of the notion concocted in the 1930s that bombers did not need fighter escorts. If the P-51s had been in action sooner, the loss rate would have been lower. I don’t know enough about the Mosquito to debate its relative merits but as a general proposition would question the wisdom of trading long-range heavy bombers for larger numbers of medium bombers.

Indeed, the strategic bombers could have been better employed. Too much of Eighth Air Force’s strength was diverted to Africa and the Mediterranean. Until June 1943, the primary objective assigned to Eighth Air Force was submarine pens, hardened targets against which they had no effective munitions.

All hail to the ground forces on both the eastern and western fronts who delivered the final blows in Europe, but their success built on the attrition of Germany by airpower and the destruction of the Luftwaffe.

The reason for the surrender of Japan was clearly and unequivocally the atomic bombs. However, conventional bombardment and blockade were contributing factors. The decision to surrender was made by Emperor Hirohito, overriding the objections of several key ministers on the “Big Six” Supreme Council. By various accounts, the Emperor began to realize that the war was lost on March 18, 1945, when he toured areas of Tokyo that had been firebombed by B-29s.—John T. Correll

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