Tough Questions about Joint Requirements
Despite a tightening of rules for engaging airpower, a JFCOM official says history suggests more will be needed for the fight in Afghanistan.
—Adam J. Hebert
September 16, 2009—Joint Forces Command is working to ensure US military forces are prepared for the future, but some of JFCOM's suggestions raise tough questions about the role of airpower in joint operations—and the perceived role of airpower in joint operations.
Some of the "implications" for forces laid out in JFCOM's Capstone Concept for Joint Operations (CCJO) led to a lively exchange Sept. 14 between Maj. Gen. David Edgington, Joint Forces Command chief of staff, and Gen. Roger Brady, commander of US Air Forces in Europe.
Speaking at AFA's Air & Space Conference, Edgington detailed how the CCJO is a response to JFCOM's Joint Operating Environment (JOE) document, released last year. The JOE outlines various worldwide trends such as energy scarcity or demographic problems that could lead to conflict—and US involvement—in the future.
Some of the implications laid out in the joint operations document are straightforward, such as the need to prepare general purpose forces to quickly take on new mission sets. Others implied major effort, such as JFCOM's finding of a need to create general purpose forces that can operate independently at ever-lower echelons.
"There was no division commander who I talked to … who didn't say he had air when he needed it," said Edgington of his time as director of the Air Component Coordination Element in Iraq in 2007 and 2008. "But the perception at the senior level [back in the United States] is that … they need more airpower."
Brady, sitting in attendance, immediately asked if air support is available to the Joint Force when needed, then "what are we fixing?"
"What we're fixing is the perception at the senior [ground commander] level … that they need greater access [to airpower]," Edgington replied.
"But now they're being told not to ask for it," Brady noted, referring to Gen. Stanley McChrystal's recent directive to tighten the use of air-delivered weapons in Afghanistan.
"There is a conflict of opinion," about what the Air Force can and should provide in the war zone, Edginton said.
Brady then asked, specifically, what capabilities are not being provided that JFCOM needs to address. It will create "a real manpower challenge" to push additional airmen into planning positions and dedicated support of ground operations, he noted.
"We don't have a manpower structure to be able to support that," Edgington allowed, but "I've had Army flag officers tell me that if they had a two-ship of F-16s" supporting every battalion, their problems would be solved. Unfortunately, "there's no way I can produce that."
If the problem, such as it is, is that airpower is perceived as not doing enough, is JFCOM offering "a solution in search of a problem?" Brady asked.
Edgington said no, and what JFCOM is trying to do is "take the specific lessons we see in Iraq and Afghanistan and grow that to [address] the kind of operations we might see in the future," he said. "There are other conflicts we have to be prepared to fight," and the current battles are evolving.
Joint Forces Command works as a force provider, identifying the units and capabilities needed to meet combatant commander needs. Even using traditional planning tools, historical evidence suggests that "there is going to be increased demand for air coverage" in Afghanistan because of the larger numbers of small units that will soon be operating there, Edgington said.
Noting that some claim increasing ground forces reduces the need for airpower, Brady then asked if there was data to support that assertion, or "if the data would support the opposite."
"I don't know if there's data," Edgington replied. "Each situation will stand on its own".
Explaining the edgy exchange between two senior airmen, Edgington informed the audience that he and Brady have known each other for many years, and "he loves doing this."
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