The Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, signed
in 1987 by the President of the United States and the General Secretary of the
Soviet Union, represents a major milestone in the history of disarmament
diplomacy. It is a treaty that, for the first time, goes well beyond the simple
balancing of power. In fact, this treaty sets precedents for verification
controls and elimination of an entire class of nuclear weapons. The treaty
will eliminate all US and Soviet ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles
in the 500- to 5,500-kilometer (300- to 3,400-mile) range and will prohibit
their future production or deployment.
Although the treaty will reduce a significant portion of the
threat to Western Europe, we should not deceive ourselves that our tasks have
been made simpler. The underlying national objectives of the Soviet Union, the
staggering size of its military forces, and the threat it represents remain
extremely formidable. We must move carefully into the next decade with our eyes
wide open to the potentially disastrous effects that would follow a perceived
loss of Western resolve to maintain a strong defense in every category,
especially in conventional forces.
In effect, the treaty has forced us to place greater
reliance on our remaining forces at the very time our nation's military
establishment faces extensive budget reductions that could spell less deterrent
and defense capability. Force modernizations that have been on drawing boards
for years are now being scrutinized as candidates for budget cutting.
Conventional force modernization, for instance, is long overdue and—in the
aftermath of the treaty—takes on a new sense of urgency if we are to maintain a
credible defense of Europe. At the same time, there are new key systems, such
as the Advanced Tactical Fighter and the C-17, entering critical phases in the
acquisition cycle, as well as continuing requirements to ensure proper support
for our people. The budget decisions we will face in the next few years will be
difficult and critical.
Even now, the United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) and
the US Air Force as a whole face further funding reductions. For example,
USAFE's Fiscal Year 1988 operations and maintenance budget was almost fourteen
percent below that of FY '87. These are our key, day-to-day operating funds.
Generally speaking, operating tempo was reduced, but missions have been preserved
thus far. Future cuts of any significance will have to be absorbed by
reductions in mission areas in order to assure continued high standards of
readiness and survivability. We must carefully guard against a return to the
"hollow force" of the late 1970s.
Position of Strength
The INF Treaty clearly demonstrates that negotiating with
the Soviets produces the best results when approached from a position of
strength. The history of disarmament talks is replete with Soviet rebuffs of
American proposals. Soviet objectives, however, steadily crumbled in the face
of a cohesive NATO commitment to deploy the BGM-109 ground-launched cruise
missile and the Pershing II missile. The lesson for all of us is that if we are
to enjoy another forty-four years of peace in Europe, NATO must continue to
upgrade and modernize its forces with the same level of unified determination.
In light of the INF agreement, we and our NATO allies must
examine military priorities with the realization that it will cost more to
maintain the same level of deterrence. Critical to a European deterrent
strategy is a credible theater nuclear weapons capability.
NATO's dual-capable aircraft, along with ground artillery,
will provide the lion's share of theater nuclear capability in the post-INF
Treaty environment. Obviously, the Warsaw Pact will intensify efforts to
render these NATO assets as ineffective as possible. Soviet efforts are
typified by the ongoing modernization of their already formidable integrated
air defense system. NATO foresaw these increasingly effective air defense
efforts and began preparations to counteract them long before the INF Treaty
With elimination of INF missiles, the penetration Capability
of our nuclear-capable aircraft now acquires even more importance. One
high-priority initiative, in particular, has been highlighted recently. This is
the tactical air-to-surface missile. The need for this missile was identified
in an early 1980s NATO assessment of nuclear force modernization required to
maintain a credible deterrent. Fortunately, this key modernization program was
initiated in time to allow the deployment of the missile early in the 1990s.
Even the best nuclear deterrent may be ineffective if the
Warsaw Pact can carry out Soviet plans for a lightning-quick conventional
campaign. Under Soviet doctrine, such a campaign would be mounted in an
attempt to overwhelm NATO before NATO could reach the decision to use its
nuclear "prevention tool." To guard against the reality, as well as a
Soviet perception, that such a gambit might be successful, it is critical that
NATO maintain effective conventional capability.
The Air Force will continue to give high priority to a core
force needed to preserve missions vital to our nation's warfighting capabilities
and will cancel other missions and programs to fit within fiscal reality. Our
conventional deterrent priorities include the following: deployment of the
Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF), which is the next-generation air-superiority
fighter; modernization of fighter aircraft, including production of the F-15E
dual-role fighter; acquisition of the AIM-120A Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air
Missile (AMRAAM) and the Low-Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for
Night (LANTIRN) system; development of a follow-on aircraft to replace the
close air support A-10; and, finally, improvement to the survivability and
sustainabiity for our fighter force structure.
The ATF represents a major technological leap that will
ensure that we retain a substantial qualitative lead over the Soviets. However,
the ATF is still several years from production. In the meantime, we might use
our ingenuity to update our current aircraft and maximize their effectiveness
against new threats.
The Necessary Tools
Acquisition of the F-15E is a high priority. The F-15E, with
virtually no technological risk, enhances the basic, combat-proven,
air-superiority capability of the F-15 Eagle, while adding to the theater more
all-weather, round-the-clock, long-range, surface attack capability. A mission-specialized
rear cockpit, improved avionics, LANTIRN, and radar mapping will permit the
precision targeting and lethal delivery of large weapon payloads. Automatic
terrain avoidance will enhance the F-15E's survivability during
deep-penetration missions, during which the planes would attack and destroy
enemy nuclear assets, air bases, rear area logistics nets, and other enemy
The AMRAAM will soon enter the USAFE inventory. The greater
performance and speed of the AMRAAM over previous radar-guided air-to-air
missiles will act as a force multiplier for the theater's F-15s and F-16s. The
AMRAAM can exploit current aircraft capabilities and will permit simultaneous
engagement of multiple targets by a single defender. The much longer range and
the launch-and-leave performance of the AMRAAM increase fighter survivability,
while improved resistance to electronic countermeasures increases the
probability of target destruction.
LANTIRN, when fully integrated with F-15E and F-16 flight
systems, will provide automatic terrain-following and multisystem target
designation. This will allow these aircraft to fight in an expanded environment
and increase their wartime survivability. The enemy no longer will enjoy
sanctuaries for unhindered operation. In spite of darkness and low ceilings,
LANTIRN-equipped aircraft, when fully configured, will be able to get into and
out of the target area below enemy defenses and deliver infrared-guided
Maverick missiles, laser-guided bombs, and other conventional munitions with
Future success on the conventional battlefield will be
greatly affected by how we resolve the difficult problem of finding a successor
to the A-10 close air support (CAS) aircraft. In Europe, the modern battlefield
will no longer be characterized by opposing forces facing each other across a
relatively straight and well-defined line. Rather, the battlefield will reflect
deep penetrations of mobile forces into the opposing side's rear areas. This,
in turn, requires an aircraft that can penetrate beyond the forward edge of the
battle area to provide close support for our forces operating behind enemy
lines. Further, we need to be able to provide that support twenty-four hours a
day in all kinds of weather. It is essential that we find highly survivable
aircraft with a battlefield punch equivalent to or greater than that of the
We are taking a hard look at modifying two existing
aircraft, the A-7 and the F-16, to provide this capability. The modified A-7,
or, as it is now called, A-717, will have a new, afterburning engine for
improved performance and maneuverability, as well as a new avionics suite.
However, there are not enough A-7 airframes to cover the CAS requirement
completely. A modified F-16, called the A-16, is also being pursued. This
aircraft will meet all requirements, be cost-effective, and take advantage of
existing logistics pipelines. Such force modernization will yield improved
firepower for today's highly mobile battlefield as well as increasing conventional
In addition to fielding improved weapon systems, USAFE must
continue to concentrate on improving the capability of our air bases to sustain
operations in a combat environment. The Air Force has established an office, at
the assistant-secretary level, to coordinate efforts to improve air base
operability. Several initiatives are now being taken to provide active and
passive measures to enhance air base operability.
On the active side, improvements are being made in air
defense systems protecting our air bases. In England, the Royal Air Force
provides air base ground defense and operates Rapier surface-to-air missile
(SAM) systems to protect our bases. The West Germans have agreed to provide air
base ground defense and operate the Roland SAM systems.
Many passive measures are receiving high priority at main
operating bases. Included are several projects designed to harden base
facilities and to camouflage and conceal critical assets. Programs to improve
our rapid runway repair capability are being emphasized, and a number of
chemical defense efforts are under way.
History has demonstrated that an aggressor's use of chemical
warfare against an unprepared opponent yields significant military advantages.
This history lesson is very clear to the Soviets and their Warsaw Pact allies.
The size of the Warsaw Pact's chemical warfare corps and the volume of
equipment Pact nations possess for chemical warfare training indicate more than
routine preparation to deter an enemy's use of chemicals.
If we in NATO are to deter chemical warfare, we must be as
capable as our adversaries in operating in a chemical environment. Beyond that
goal, we must establish a credible capability to retaliate in kind against any
adversary who uses chemical weapons. History also shows that an aggressor is
usually unwilling to employ chemical weapons when faced with potential
response in kind.
From a chemical defensive standpoint, NATO has begun
installation of personnel shelters on air bases. These earth-covered structures
provide a filtered environment where our troops can rest from combat duties
without having to wear hot protective suits or gas masks. Although these
shelters are neither roomy nor especially comfortable, they represent a real
increase in NATO's ability to sustain an effective combat effort under any
conditions. Beyond this step, improved gas masks are being fielded, and
research into more effective and comfortable chemical protective suits
continues. However, in terms of deterrent potential, these defensive means, as
effective as they are, pale by comparison with a credible capacity to
NATO's current resources for chemical retaliation have been
with us a longtime. Unfortunately, the follow-on to these older weapons,
Bigeye, is not coming along as fast as desired. Bigeye is a binary chemical
weapon. It uses two different chemicals; each is nontoxic until it is combined
with the other during delivery. Keeping the weapon affordable, while ensuring
the requisite level of safety and reliability, poses a considerable technical
challenge. However, this challenge must be met. A credible chemical warfare
deterrent must remain an essential element of any Western European strategy.
Crucial Years Ahead
The next few years will be crucial, fraught with pitfalls.
We will be faced with growing fiscal constraints, increasingly sophisticated
Soviet media campaigns, and natural tendencies to wish the dangers away. We
have to strive to ensure Alliance cohesion, work to redress the conventional
imbalance, and continue to modernize our nuclear and conventional forces. We
must never forget that the process of arms control is only effective if it
contributes to improved security. Our objective is not a nuclear-free Europe,
but rather a war-free Europe.
Finally, the Alliance's concerns must be faced and resolved
by all the participating nations—not just the US, and not just the European
members. The past forty-plus years of peace based on a strong defensive
alliance, provides a worthy record that Alliance members must strive to extend.
Gen. William L. Kirk
has been Commander in Chief, United States Air Forces in Europe, and Commander,
Allied Air Forces Central Europe, since April 1987. He enlisted in the Air
Force in 1951 and has served in Europe, Thailand, and the US, logging more than
6,000 jet fighter flying hours. Before heading USAFE, he was Commander of TAC's
Ninth Air Force. General Kirk plans to retire in mid-April.
Daily Report: Read the day's top news on the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
AFA is closed on Monday for the President's Day holiday. The next Daily Report will be Tuesday, Feb. 20.
Tweets by @AirForceMag