Invoking the Great Karnak
USAF leaders agree there are no spare bucks, but some offer key priorities, anyway.
—John A. Tirpak
September 16, 2009—Senior USAF general officers at an AFA Air & Space Conference panel discussion Wednesday were asked what they’d spend “one more dollar” on if they got a budget boost. Their answers ranged from new tankers now and more CV-22s at a faster pace to a modernized payload for nuclear-capable bombers and Reserve training money. On the other hand, two of the service's senior uniformed officers said the question was wrong, because there simply are no additional dollars to be had.
Gen. Arthur Lichte, head of Air Mobility Command, had a little fun with the question, holding a paper to his temple and asking the audience to read his mind in the style of the Johnny Carson “Karnak” routine. “If you remember Johnny Carson, you’re probably as old as some of our tankers. And that’s a hint,” Lichte said.
Air Force Materiel Command head Gen. Donald Hoffman said that he’d like to put it toward the “ink for the pen” that would sign the law “making it illegal to protest the tanker contract.”
Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz of Air Force Global Strike Command said his top spending priority is to organize the headquarters of his new command. But after that, he thinks emphasis should be put on modernizing the B61 nuclear weapon carried by USAF nuclear-capable bombers. He doesn’t want a new capability, he said, but simply to make the existing deterrent weapon safe and reliable. In the grand debate about nuclear weapons, the age and utility of the basic bomb is something that “often gets overlooked,” Klotz said.
Air Force Special Operations Command chief Lt. Gen. Donald Wurster said his programmatic wish would be to accelerate deliveries of the CV-22. “They just can’t make them faster,” he said, and “if there is a hole in our strategic posture right now … it is that we do not have special operations vertical lift agility in our forward-based theaters. Wurster added, "That troubles me." . The Air Force has just seven CV-22s right now, but has fully retired its fleet of 40 MH-53 Pave Lows, he noted.
The Air Force Reserve used to be almost entirely prior-service people already trained and experienced in Air Force missions, but now only 65 percent are prior-service, Air Force Reserve boss Lt. Gen. Charles Stenner said. If he had extra funds to spend, he would put it toward training and “seasoning” those direct-to-the-Reserve recruits. Without that training, the Reserve operations tempo could skip a beat.
US Air Forces in Europe chief Gen. Roger Brady said the question was the wrong one to ask, because a prolonged period of “austere times” looms before the Air Force, and it serves little purpose to pine for dollars that won’t be forthcoming. “You need to assume there won’t be one more dollar,” he said, and the Air Force should level with the troops about that fact. Only by squarely confronting reality, he said, will the service avoid having “a lot of people feeling sorry for themselves.”
Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz echoed Brady, saying that the service must certainly plan for the future, but “part of what we have to do is live in the present.”
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