Lessons From Libya

Two years after Operation Odyssey Dawn started, a flurry of lessons-learned reports is in, and these reports have some significant observations about the Air Force and possible future such interventions. Among them, the Air Force’s involvement in the campaign proved that the Air and Space Expeditionary Force construct “really doesn’t work,” said Robert Owen of Embry-Riddle University at AFA’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla., on Thursday. Owen said when Odyssey Dawn went active in March 2011, the Air Force was already operating at a “100 percent commitment” to Iraq and Afghanistan. There were “no assets to send forward without digging into the reconstitution force,” he said. The reserve components “saved the Air Force’s bacon,” he said, especially since “Congress never authorized the campaign . . . or the money,” and so the Air Force had to pull reserve component funding from training days and operations and maintenance accounts as well as reserve authorizations to US Central Command for Iraq and Afghanistan. The funding came “I don’t want to say ‘illegally,’ but . . .” wasn’t authorized for the way it was spent, noted Owen. It was a “rabbit-out-of-the-hat” operation and the lesson was that “the nation needs to understand that, pre-‘fiscal cliff,’ the Air Force was already stressed,” he said.