Jan. 1, 2009

Editorial: Hard Times

I take exception to your statement in the editorial, “Hard Times,” in the November issue [p. 2] of Air Force Magazine “that the expense of simply maintaining today’s 1.4-million-strong US force has gotten wildly out of hand” is a flawed vision.

Set aside the fact that the nation faces a critical financial crisis, with failing banks and industries, in which it seems so much must be rescued to stop a cascading growth of unemployment feeding upon itself. I hear that the US military expenditures are the equivalent of all the rest of the world’s expenditures on military forces combined. That sounds like being “wildly out of hand” on the face of it.

I will take you at your word that in 2008 military functions were 20 percent of federal outlays, and that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid made up 52 percent (including some other programs—this is a complicated number) of this year’s outlays. However, you didn’t include interest on the debt of 13 percent, which is increasing, so we have accounted for 65 percent of the budget, leaving 35 percent as “discretionary”—but not really. If, as you say, the military functions make up 20 percent of the total budget, then it makes up 57 percent of that 35 percent which might be called discretionary.

And 57 percent of federal discretionary funds is “wildly out of hand” to a nation that is not facing a threat to its survival.

Maj. Charles W. Hinton,

USAF (Ret.)

Satellite Beach, Fla.

Your editorial of November, “Hard Times,” is my starting point. It is true that “Pentagon spending didn’t cause today’s economic crisis,” but I believe the Pentagon, unfortunately, will have to accept budget reductions, as well as all other departments until this recession has abated. We will be fortunate to escape with a major recession and not something resembling the 1930s. In the [Great] Depression, military retiree pay was reduced by a desperate Congress. If that had to be done this time, the outcry would be unbelievable.

America has been living beyond its means for many years. Our savings rate is zero, our credit card debt is astronomical, our monthly negative balance of payments to the rest of the world, especially China, is huge. In the current circumstances we cannot, and should not, continue to spend $10 billion a month in Iraq. This expenditure in Iraq is made while the Iraqi government is reluctant to approve a status of forces agreement that is necessary for our continued support to their fragile government. Hopefully, President-elect Obama will redeem his pledge to drastically reduce our forces in Iraq at the earliest opportunity. We can then make some additional forces available for Afghanistan, as the threat there steadily increases. However, Gen. David Petraeus has indicated we should consider opening a dialogue with moderate elements of the Taliban, as the general is of the opinion that the war there is not winnable, and should not be open-ended.

The bottom line of the current situation is that we have squandered equipment assets for the last five years in an unnecessary war in Iraq, and the country is not now in a position to afford replacements. We have also stretched our military personnel to a near breaking point.

Your editorial, pointing out that our recent past military expenditures are not that burdensome in comparison to past wars, is an apples and oranges analysis. During past wars we did not have the extensive, and very expensive, entitlement programs, which now consume more than 60 percent of the federal budget. The inescapable conclusion is that our military will suffer reduced spending for the foreseeable future

An observation: If we want to attempt some savings, let’s look at all the contracts the military enters into for studies, programs, and projects. In 1966, when I first came to Scott AFB, Ill., and headquarters of Military Airlift Command, we had twice as many aircraft, bases, and stations around the world, and twice the personnel we have today in AMC. But the headquarters was half the size it is today. At that time, I never heard of private contractor studies and programs of any kind. For many years now, most of the retired senior NCOs and officers I know have gone to work locally for one private contractor or another. I doubt if little or any of this work is necessary, other than to provide employment for military retirees. This make-work condition exists at all major headquarters of all services, and is particularly rampant in the Washington, D.C., area, hence the origin of the phrase “Beltway Bandits.”

On another subject, the numerous military organizations, such as [the Military Officers Association of America], need to reduce their efforts in which they continually attempt to obtain additional benefits for active and retired military. Congress, out of the goodness of their hearts, in wartime, is susceptible to such efforts. But the country cannot afford them. An example of Congress’ ill-advised largesse was Tricare for Life. This program came about when, because of the “dot-com surplus” in 1999, Congress asked, “What can we do with all these extra funds the Treasury is receiving?” “Let’s take care of military retirees with a ‘no cost to them’ medical program.” The program was passed and a year later the Treasury surplus had evaporated with the “dot-com bubble.” However, Tricare for Life was in place, and like all other entitlement programs, it will be there forever.

I have noted that many healthy officers and NCOs, when it gets close to retirement time, seem to suddenly develop all kinds of aches and pains in order to justify some percentage of disability upon retirement. I have also noted—just an impression—that the Air Force seems to have more of this tendency, than the other services. It would be interesting if there were statistics available which compared retirement disability rates among the services, although I know Veterans Affairs is a player in this process. But so is each military service’s medical staff.

Perhaps some of the items noted above could result in savings in these difficult times for our country and our military forces.

Col. Lee R. Pitzer,

USAF (Ret.)

O’Fallon, Ill.

Left Out

Your excellent photo story, “Warriors for the Spectrum” (October, p. 48), left out a significant Air Force contribution to electronic warfare. A contingent of Air Force electronic warfare oficers (EWOs) and a few pilots fly EA-6B Prowlers in joint USAF-Navy expeditionary squadrons deployed to forward operating locations for use in the Middle East, South Asia, and the Balkans. Home-based at NAS Whidby Island, near Oak Harbor, Wash., the blue-suiters have been a part of the Prowler EW community for several years. Each Prowler is crewed by three EWOs (ECMOs in the Navy) and one pilot. Though USAF crews are limited to land-based deployments, a few overly adventurous USAF types requested, and received, Prowler deployments to carrier-based squadrons and served a sea tour. There are more great pictures available from these folks.

Tom Menza

Colorado Springs, Colo.

On Effects-Based Operations

Reference your October 2008 editorial on effects-based operations, “Improvisation Won’t Do It” [p. 2]: Before you get too concerned about EBO doctrine development and implementation, remember this old story from World War II. At the conclusion of an intelligence debrief, a group of captured German tank drivers and artillery officers had one question of their captors: “We know your doctrine. We studied your doctrine. Why don’t you follow it?”

Patrick S. Sharp

Las Vegas

Maxing Assets: F-22s and UAVs

Anyone who has seen the F-22 do more than a flyby knows the F-22 is a difference maker. So we might as well buy enough to make a difference while we still have the opportunity. [See “The Big Squeeze,” November, p. 36.]

The F-22’s opponents are right in one respect—we won’t have a combined-arms war with a near-peer for the foreseeable future. But that’s because our ground forces are so small. Once terrain or urban settings limit ground mobility, our ground forces would be up to their armpits in alligators.

Airpower is the only thing that will keep us from being bullied by potential enemies who we wouldn’t dare meet on the ground.

Ironically, USAF is its own worst enemy. Besides trying to buy things when it can’t decide what it needs, USAF still regards its pilots like they’re medieval knights. You don’t need knighthood to fly a UAV—just 1,000 hours on a Game Boy. And if we are ever forced into a real war with the big boys, we’ll want hundreds of UAVs of all types in the air 24/7, not 50. [See “Air Force World: New UAV Pilot Training Launched,” November, p. 22.]

Paul J. Madden

Seatac, Wash.

Fit for War

USAF’s way towards physical fitness (PF) is a sore subject. Not that fitness is not necessary, it is! Not that we don’t need to be tested more often, we do! But how the Air Force administers the PF test is the problem. [See “On the Minds of the Troops,” November, p. 42.]

There is too much emphasis on cardio running rather than real wartime fitness. No amount of running in shorts and sneakers will get you ready for the AOR and heavy body armor, etc. The abdominal testing measures around a bone mass and does NOT take height into account. This test was formulated in 1996 in the Netherlands; it’s obsolete. Both the running and abdominal tests favor short-statured people who may not be up to the muscular rigors of carrying that body armor. BMI [body mass index] favors the “Pillsbury Doughboy” and not the muscular guy or lady who works out (muscle weighs more than fat). Furthermore, the PF test gives only 20 percent scoring to core strength tests for sit-ups and push-ups. Let’s make this test fit a wartime readiness tasking.

1. It is more important to be muscularly fit when you are in the AOR. Three-mile walks with 10 to 20 pounds of equipment in a timed event will give you a cardio workout and build your musculature and muscle balance (try putting on that equipment without feeling like you’re going to tip over).

2. Make the abdominal test more realistic by factoring in height and measuring the real waist where soft tissue, not bone tissue, is. BMI should be thrown out entirely.

3. Revamp the scoring system. More points for push-ups and sit-ups (40 to 50 percent maybe) and less points for cardio and especially reducing the abdominal scoring.

The studies are somewhat accurate regarding why we measure abdominal circumference, but again, they are 12 years old and counting, and developed in a country where men and women are probably much smaller framed than your typical American male or female. Cardio studies don’t take into account the real damage one can do to one’s joints, especially the knees, over the decades by performing a potentially debilitating high-impact exercise such as running. One doctor said, “What good is cardio, if you can’t stand up?”

Make the test real. Make it representative of what really gets one ready for the AOR.

Lt. Col. Eric Johnson,


Burlington, N.J.

Airpower Classics

I am writing in regard to the “Airpower Classics: F-86 Sabre” in the November issue [p. 88].

The statement is made that “the F-86 suffered a high accident rate until pilots could routinely be given training of a caliber commensurate with the fighter’s performance.”

I had never heard this said about the F-86. Are you sure that the F-86 accident rate is not being confused with that of the North American F-100 Super Sabre? As a retired USAF fighter pilot who was also fortunate enough to fly military jet fighters (for pay) for another 20-plus years after retirement, I have almost 1,500 hours in the F-100 and 1,200 hours in the F-86. Actually my F-86 time is in the Mk 5 and 6 Sabre built by Canadair. At any rate, the F-86 is a real pussycat to fly. It has no adverse flight characteristics with the possible exception of “wing heaviness” or loss of positive aileron control above about .9 Mach. Of course, as soon as your speed is reduced, this characteristic goes away and thus is no real problem. The aircraft is very easy to land. I could check out anyone who has any jet experience in the F-86 in an afternoon, sending them off solo after good briefings and a supervised engine start.

On the other hand, the F-100 did have one of the worst early accident rates due to its unconventional slow speed or high AOA flight characteristics, namely adverse yaw and horizontal stabilizer authority, allowing extreme angles of attack at slow speeds. When the F-100 went supersonic, the center of pressure moved aft, which in effect made the aircraft nose heavy. To allow for supersonic maneuvering, this nose-heavy condition was overcome by much greater horizontal stabilizer (known as the slab) movement. This did in fact solve the supersonic maneuvering problem; however this same slab authority was available anytime including in the landing flare. An inexperienced pilot could inadvertently let his speed get too low on final approach and maybe not immediately recognize it since he could maintain his glide path with the available slab authority. So he could end up in a high AOA, high drag situation, and a high sink rate would be the result. At this point, more power would be required and with the J57’s slow throttle response, the increased thrust needed could take too long to materialize. Thus you have the makings of a hard landing at best, and a crash at the worst. Now, if this weren’t bad enough, in this high AOA condition is where the adverse yaw reared its ugly head. In this high AOA state, we’re talking of airspeeds below the normal final approach airspeeds. If a wing started to drop and the pilot tried to pick up the wing with aileron, the aircraft would yaw into the down wing and roll opposite the applied aileron. The larger and quicker the aileron input, the more adverse yaw and opposite roll produced—the makings of a real disaster.

The solution was simple. Don’t get slow on final, and at high AOA, don’t use aileron to roll the airplane, but use rudder, which was very effective. But in those early days of the F-100, there was no F model (the two-seater), thus your first flight was solo. I think most guys transitioned from the T-33, F-86, or F-84 into “the Hun.” This was a huge step and under the pressure of “getting behind the aircraft,” many times the pilot would revert to his habit patterns from his earlier aircraft experience. Later on when the F-100F was available, the new-to-the-aircraft pilots would get several dual rides with an IP in the backseat to keep them out of trouble and get them off on the right foot.

Maj. Charlie Friend,

USAF (Ret.)

Alamogordo, N.M.