In remarks to AFA's National Convention in Washington, D.
C., Secretary of the Air Force Sheila E. Widnall observed that many fail to
recognize all that the United States Air Force does to protect American
security and build a safer world.
"Sometimes, people miss the whole story," she
When the service launches precision weapons, the attack
makes front-page news around the globe. But less dramatic actions, such as
military liaison with counterparts in newly free nations in central Europe or
the airlifting of humanitarian aid to hard-pressed nations, can pass
"More often, our people perform their missions in
quiet, away from the glare of publicity. It seems clear to me that this quiet,
steady work will ultimately have at least as profound an effect on our world as
our more spectacular feats," the Secretary said in her September 18
As it begins its fiftieth-anniversary year, the legacy of
the Air Force is certainly a golden one, declared the top service officials who
spoke at the AFA event.
Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman, Air Force Chief of Staff, noted
that Air Force pilots and maintainers started running into tough challenges
almost from the moment the service was established on September 18, 1947. In
the following year, the Berlin Airlift grew into a major test of wills between
the US and the Soviet Union.
It was USAF airlifters—a nonlethal type of airpower—that
formed the backbone of this initial Air Force success, said General Fogleman.
To this day, he added, the image of a huge USAF airlifter
arriving in a distant crisis zone remains one of the nation's most powerful and
"When that thing lands, it doesn't represent the United
States Air Force—it is the United States of America," General Fogleman
said in his September 17 speech to AFA's delegates.
In the years following that first Berlin crisis, he
continued, new Air Force F-86 Sabre jet fighters tangled with Soviet-produced
MiG-15s over the Korean war zone, establishing air superiority that allowed the
United States and its allies to retake lost territory on the peninsula. Heavy
bombers—and later, ICBMs—strengthened a developing US national strategy of
containment of communism.
The Chief of Staff said the Vietnam War stressed US
aircrews to the limit in the 1960s and early 1970s. Later, American airpower
helped further the nation's geopolitical aims from Grenada and Panama to Iraq
and Bosnia-Hercegovina—the last being a war zone where skeptics thought USAF's
sophisticated aircraft and weapons would have little effect.
In fact, the opposite was true. Ambassador Richard C.
Holbrooke, Washington's special US negotiator in the Balkans and the primary
architect of the Dayton peace accord, told the AFA gathering that Operation De
liberate Force, the brief but intense air campaign against Bosnian Serb
positions in September 1995, was the decisive factor in bringing the recalcitrant
Serbs to the peace table.
Ambassador Holbrooke said that the US diplomatic effort
wouldn't have succeeded "without the United States Air Force and Navy and
the precision bombing."
Of the bombing, he observed, "The precision of it, its
immediate and visible effects on the negotiations, made a real difference.
Those people who argue about airpower have got to stop arguing only about
Vietnam and talk about what can be done in the [Persian] Gulf, what was done
Ambassador Holbrooke said he believed at the time of
Deliberate Force that "more bombing will give us better diplomacy, and it
US airpower has always been a major force because it has
focused on the priorities of the nation, noted General Fogleman. "For the
past half-century, the United States Air Force has been the nation's
full-service Air Force," he said. "Meeting the challenges of the
future with air- and spacepower depends on the United States Air Force staying
focused on the priorities of the nation."
As the Air Force moves forward with its long-range plans,
"we will make sure that it is based upon national priorities and joint
perspective," said General Fogleman.
Secretary Widnall also spoke of Joint Vision 2010, declaring
that it "defines a pathway for the US military" and "outlines a
broad framework for understanding joint warfare in the decades to come,"
and that will shape "our service contributions to the joint forces of the
Air Force Style
Secretary Widnall went on, "Our contributions to the
operational concept outlined by [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen.
John M. Shalikashvili]—to the high-tempo, precision-oriented, information-intensive
framework outlined in the Joint Vision paper] will be obvious to anyone
familiar with the style of warfare that our air forces have conducted for
Meanwhile, added Secretary Widnall, the coming decades
likely will bring "a time of historic transformation in the Air Force, a
quiet revolution that sweeps across our operational capabilities" as the
service implements recommendations from such USAF-directed studies as "New
World Vistas,"" Spacecast 2020," and "Air Force 2025."
Today's Air Force game plan—"Global Reach, Global
Power"—was formulated and published in 1990 and revised in 1992. It has
been a good strategic vision, said General Fogleman, but it is nearly seven
years old and needs to be updated. He said that the just-finished Joint Chiefs
of Staff paper points the way to this refurbished Air Force conceptual vision.
The JCS Chairman's plan lays out four basic operational
concepts for US military forces, noted General Fogleman. They are dominant maneuver,
precision engagement, full-dimensional protection, and focused logistics.
• The overall aim of "dominant maneuver" is to
control an adversary's battlespace. Out of that, the Air Force has produced
the concept of "air dominance"—a degree of aerospace control that is
a considerable leap over the "air superiority" goal of the past.
Said General Fogleman, "We want to own the other guy's airspace. If you
own somebody else's airspace and operate with impunity, you greatly simplify
the task of the Joint Force Commander."
Air- and spacepower, the General said, are "ideally
suited to taking away the enemy's sanctuaries and striking his forces, wherever
they may be." The B-2 bomber, F-22 fighter, and Joint Strike Fighter represent
the necessary components of future air dominance, he continued.
• The E-8 Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System
aircraft, the Joint Direct Attack Munition, and other advances in
information-gathering, targeting, and weaponry willprovide the "precision engagement" needed to
achieve overall objectives.
General Fogleman defined the basic concept of precision
engagement in simple terms: "the ability to apply lethal force very
discriminately." In the US effort to develop technologies for precision
engagement, USAF has been in the lead. Its Airborne Laser program could
demonstrate the ultimate precision engagement weapon, said General Fogleman.
"It's one of the few truly revolutionary ideas that I've seen embedded in
any program of any of the services."
• "Full-dimensional protection" will be another
category of air dominance. This term denotes a battlefield condition in which
US forces enjoy "not just freedom from attack, but freedom to
attack," said General Fogleman. The goal is "denying the enemy any
kind of sanctuary."
• The whole effort will have to be supported by an element
General Fogleman called "focused logistics." In the past, spare parts
and other consumables were relatively cheap, and information and transportation
were hard to come by. That meant commanders stockpiled as much equipment as
possible before launching campaigns.
Today, the increasing technological sophistication of
aircraft has made parts and supplies much more expensive, but transportation
and information costs, on the other hand, have gone down. That means logistics
must be focused on delivering just enough, and at just the right time, to
maximize the military punch within the limits of relatively small budgets.
The Air Force is striving mightily to understand the forces
shaping the future and to adapt to them. "Only with vision and careful
planning will the Air Force achieve its true potential in the twenty-first
century," General Fogleman said.
The USAF vision effort will intensify and reach its
culmination in the next few months as Air Force leaders attempt to draw
together the strands of their long-range planning process. It won't be easy.
Secretary Widnall said, "We are ready to step up to the
toughest possible challenge—of getting away from the 'in' basket, of getting
away from today's problems, to define a goal decades away, and begin to
mobilize resources toward reaching it."
C-17 to the Fore
Secretary Widnall reviewed the service's modernization
plans, offering special praise for the C- 17 airlifter program. Once mired in
difficulties, she said, the program has been put strongly back on track and is
meeting one of the most urgent operational needs of theater commanders.
"That aircraft," she said, "has proven its
worth in spades in operations around the world. It had barely reached
operational status, in fact, when it demonstrated exactly why we needed it in
the operations in Bosnia. It got rave reviews at every level of government—but
the most important were those that it received from the people in country,
working in the mud to make that peacekeeping mission a success, who depended
on that aircraft for their lifeline. And it didn't let them down."
Air Force plans call for procuring a total of 120 advanced
C-17s, about one-third of which already have been delivered. Secretary Widnall
also spoke up for conventional bomber upgrades, the F-22 fighter, the Joint
Strike Fighter, and space modernization.
The F-22 fighter, said the Secretary, lies "at the
core of our future capabilities." For that reason, Air Force leaders are
maintaining a close working relationship with Lockheed Martin Corp., the
contractor, and doing whatever is necessary to make the F-22 a successful program.
"We don't want any big surprises," the Secretary
Peter Grier's report
on the Aerospace Technology Exposition appears on p. 79.
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