Losing the Headline Battle

An Associated Press report picked up by news media around the world declares that Defense Secretary Robert Gates believes the Air Force is not doing enough in the global war on terror. The reporter pointedly referred to the Air Force when he paraphrased remarks from a speech Gates made Monday at Air War College in Alabama, but if you read the transcript, Gates doesn’t single out the Air Force. Instead he declares “our services are still not moving aggressively in wartime to provide resources needed now on the battlefield.” Gates did declare that his call for additional intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support has been “like pulling teeth,” and it is well known that he asked the Air Force to pump up its force of MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicles in theater. However, the Air Force has done just that, despite misgivings about breaking the bank in both equipment and crews. The service has gone so far beyond its program of record that it has had to seek approval to use more non-standard equipment, had to curtail operational testing, has mobilized reserve UAV crews, and has frozen MQ-1-trained personnel in place. In January, the service even offered an all-in plan that would have put all assets in the field, essentially breaking the training regimen and endangering future operations. That plan was rejected, but the one in play (read more below) is still potentially damaging in the long term.