Modernization, readiness, and sweeping new strategies dominated discussion at the Air Force Association's annual Air Warfare Symposium, held Feb. 1516 in Orlando, Fla. Senior officers and civilians came together to offer status reports on the day-to-day challenges facing the Air Force, how the service is faring in ongoing joint strategy reviews, and the development of a new concept of operations.
Gen. Michael E. Ryan
The Air Force continues to face a "huge challenge in readiness," despite an increased flow of spare parts and some "respite" from the frantic pace of operations the service maintained throughout most of the 1990s, according to Gen. Michael E. Ryan, Air Force Chief of Staff.
In the past 10 years, overall mission capable rates for Air Force aircraft have dropped by 10 percent, from about 83 percent to about 73 percent, Ryan reported, and much of the problem has to do with the aging of USAF aircraft.
The average age of USAF's fleet now is 22 years and will rise to 30 years by 2010, even if all programs now on the books are carried to completion, he added. Meanwhile, the cost to maintain older aircraft has risen by 41 percent, Ryan noted, further reducing the funds available for investment in modernization.
"If we want to turn this around, quite honestly, we would have to buy aircraft at a rate of 170 a year," Ryan asserted. The current annual buy is about 100 a year, but half of those are inexpensive trainers and not full-up operational aircraft.
Ryan also provided bleak news about pilot retention. Prior-year predictions that USAF would by now have a sufficient number of pilots have proved to be overly optimistic.
"We are going to have to live with a shortage of pilots over the next few years," Ryan noted, but he quickly added that the service will not be "crippled."
Measures are being taken to use rated officers only where they are most needed. Moreover, the Air Force is acting to bring back "fairly current" retirees and to use contractors wherever practical, he explained, to "keep our edge not just in the fighting force, but our edge in the planning force."
USAF is also 25 percent short on highly experienced crew chiefs. The "5-level ... journeyman" crew chiefs "are the ones that we put the greatest stress on," Ryan said.
On the positive side, recruiting goals for mechanics have been met this year.
"Yes, we do have shortages," said the Chief of Staff. "Can we live with them? Yes. We hope for not too long."
Regarding mobility operations, Ryan said USAF's "No. 1 requirement is to continue that [C-17] buy." The Air Force will look at ways it can continue to use the expertise of those who now operate the C-141 but whose units will not be upgraded with the C-17 when the C-141s are retired.
Another Ryan topic was the so-called Space Commission, a blue-ribbon panel of defense experts that spent six months taking a hard look at the way the United States has organized its military space effort. The panel had numerous recommendations to streamline and upgrade USAF's management in this area.
Ryan said the Air Force supports the panel's recommendations and is "rapidly moving out to implement those ... we have control over." Some structural changes must be approved by Congress. However, said Ryan, he expects the commission's recommendations could be put into effect by the end of May.
In a controversial step, the Space Commission strongly suggested that effective military space operations will require a new military department or corps within the Air Force. Ryan emphasized that he doesn't believe a space corps or full space service will be needed until everyday commerce goes beyond Earth orbit. He expects there will be conflict in space before then, and the Air Force will "need to be prepared." For the foreseeable future, however, USAF will continue to focus on "integration of what happens in the air and on the ground and at sea."
Gen. John P. Jumper
The F-22 fighter, B-2 bomber, and a new multipurpose Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance airplane together will form the basis of a new joint operational concept aimed at guaranteeing access to heavily defended theaters of war, said Gen. John P. Jumper, commander, Air Combat Command.
The basic concept is called Global Reconnaissance Strike. GRS is expected to provide a way to bypass an enemy's means for holding American power at bay with cruise and ballistic missiles and Weapons of Mass Destruction. Air Combat Command is developing the concept's Air Force element, which is called Global Strike Task Force, Jumper explained.
A few squadrons of F-22 fighters, he said, could be based just outside the reach of an enemy's missiles. Given their range, speed, and stealth, the F-22s are capable of clearing the skies of enemy fighters and making precision attacks against anti-aircraft threats, thus paving the way for the stealthy, high-payload B-2s to make day and night raids from well outside the theater-often from the continental US.
"The F-22's job is to take out those threats that would endanger the B-2 as the B-2 focuses its capabilities on the Weapons of Mass Destruction," including WMD manufacture, storage, and launch facilities.
As the F-22s and B-2s destroy enemy access denial capabilities-such as coastal anti-ship missile batteries, air defense systems, and warning radars-more air, as well as naval and ground forces, can enter the theater to begin counterpunching the enemy in more dimensions, Jumper said.
"They take out those Weapons of Mass Destruction further in, and as that threat rolls back, it makes available the airfields that are required to provide that persistent force over the battlefield," Jumper said. He described the combination of F-22s and B-2s as a "kick down the door" force. The combination of Joint Strike Fighters and nonstealthy aircraft would make up the "persistence" force, which is also the "war-winning force."
Jumper noted that B-2s grabbed headlines by flying from Whiteman AFB, Mo., to Kosovo and back on one mission. However, F-15Es flying from Britain and Germany routinely carried out long-duration missions of thousands of miles, he said, pointing out that the Air Force is experienced at attacking from a distance.
The GSTF "will be extracted from the first leading elements" of the structure of an Aerospace Expeditionary Force, Jumper said. "If called upon, they can deploy quickly and merge quickly" to force a way into a theater. More of the AEFs would "flow" to the theater as soon as the way was clear, he noted.
Jumper envisions the future deployment of a "common wide-bodied aircraft" having the combined capabilities of AWACS, Joint STARS, Rivet Joint, and Airborne Command, Control, and Communications aircraft. This aircraft would collect information on the enemy, manage the battle, and handle pop-up targets such as mobile missiles.
The ISR common wide-body will combine the capabilities of as many other ISR platforms "as science and technology will allow," Jumper said. At a minimum, however, the aircraft will have to have "machine-level conversations" with overhead satellites and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to present real-time information to commanders who must make quick decisions about where to best apply airpower.
"The people at the console don't know and they don't care from whence the information is coming," Jumper said. "All they know is that they have a complete picture" of what is happening in the battlespace. This concept would eliminate the stovepipes and the need to speak the "tribal" language of the various ISR communities to obtain a complete picture of what is happening, he added.
Gen. Richard E. Hawley (Ret.)
The time is right for the Global Reconnaissance Strike concept because available technology and the anti-access threat have conspired to require it, said retired Gen. Richard E. Hawley, former ACC commander.
For a "couple of billion dollars a year," any country could, within a decade, gain the technology that would make access to a theater of war a problem for the US, Hawley said, paraphrasing a Defense Science Board study on future threats. Cruise missiles, theater ballistic missiles, and Weapons of Mass Destruction are proliferating at the same time that "you can buy very good photo intelligence off the Internet," to see where forces are building up and to aid in targeting.
The GRS concept "is a direct counter to the anti-access threat, and we need one of those," Hawley maintained. "We need a counter to this problem because it is real."
The timing is right since the US will obtain the high-flying, supercruising, stealthy F-22 fighter within a few years and because the stealthy B-2 bomber has recently obtained the power to strike many targets on a single mission with extreme accuracy.
In Kosovo, B-2s typically hit about 15 aim points per mission and destroyed 90 percent of their assigned targets "on the first strike." "That is incredible," Hawley said. "We demonstrated that we can operate from very long ranges and be effective." With new, smaller munitions that have just as much accuracy and much more explosive power for their size-and a new "smart rack" to hold them-the B-2 will soon be able to hit 80 separate targets on a single sortie.
Hawley insisted that GRS is not an exclusively Air Force proposition. "It can't work in a unilateral context, either US only or US Air Force only," he said.
The strategy will depend on forward deployment of some units, such as naval forces equipped with cruise missiles that can help with rolling back the anti-access threat. Carrier-based jamming aircraft will also be needed to help with protecting certain kinds of aircraft. Special operations forces will be needed as "eyes and ears on the ground" to assist with targeting mobile missiles and other threats.
Fast-deploying ground forces that are "light and lethal" will also play a role, Hawley noted.
"We need our forces on the ground in order to force the enemy to concentrate and present us with targets that we can destroy from the air," he explained.
Likewise, anti-ballistic missile systems from all the services--the USAF Airborne Laser, Army Theater High Altitude Area Defense System, and Navy Upper Tier--will be required to protect the units that initially deploy.
While there is a role for all the services and coalition partners to play in the concept, Hawley acknowledged that it is not yet "generally accepted." However, briefings that he has had on other services' transformation strategies--particularly the Navy's--feature many of the same elements.
The concept relies utterly on the F-22, however, with its unique ability to reach any target, attack with precision, and clear the skies of enemies, Hawley noted. The F-22 distills into a single airframe the ability to control the skies, suppress or destroy enemy air defenses, attack centers of gravity, and protect the bombers and ISR platforms that are also key to making the concept work.
Modern surface-to-air missiles will present a virtual "brick wall" to fighters of the F-15 and F-16 vintage and deny them the ability to operate when and where they wish, but the F-22 will be able to slip between the detection range of those missiles and enjoy "12 times more unthreatened airspace than conventional airplanes have today."
Under the GRS concept, Hawley said, it will be possible to "operate on Day 1 or 2 with a very small force-three or four squadrons-forward based, using that long-range strike power from outside the theater and from the sea in order to do your work." No longer will the Air Force be sending "20 or 25 fighter squadrons forward and spending weeks getting them built up before you can begin to engage the enemy."
Gen. Gregory S. Martin
The Kosovo operation demonstrated that the air forces of NATO's European members are lacking in capabilities crucial for future success, asserted Gen. Gregory S. Martin, commander, US Air Forces in Europe.
Efforts to modernize the air forces of NATO allies and make them more interoperable with USAF are "lagging behind," Martin said, explaining that the chief culprits behind the delay are defense budgets in NATO that are "somewhat flat."
In addition, the NATO allies are "wrestling right now with the concept of the European security defense identity." Furthermore, the allies are worried about losing their national industrial capabilities in the area of defense, and these priorities "appear to be taking precedence over alliance standardization and interoperability."
At issue, too, are "hot spots" in Europe that threaten to sweep the allies into "long-term engagements that could drain their limited resources."
Martin said progress has been slow in implementing the NATO Defense Capabilities Initiative, to which the allies agreed in April 1999 as a means of redressing the growing gap in capability between the US and its NATO partners in areas such as stealth, aerial refueling, air mobility, and precision attack.
"There is no schedule and priority" to the 58 identified initiatives, which also include logistics issues, ability to operate in a chemical/biological environment, and communications links, Martin said.
He urged that NATO pursue common upgrade projects-common aircraft, communications systems, etc.-not only to obtain systems at more affordable costs, but also to ensure interoperability. Such programs will have to be carefully structured in a way that the country coming up with the winning design in any category reaps a benefit, but that work share is distributed and measures taken to "protect the industrial base of each nation that participates."
The problems of interoperability and fighting together "effectively" will not get better quickly and will "get worse in the future" unless a "partnering and cooperative effort" is launched, Martin warned. He also suggested that the first such programs chosen for partnering be of manageable size, in order to get some successes under NATO's belt before it tackles the hard issues.
"It might be useful ... to not bite off the most challenging one, something like air-to-air refueling," he said. "Because, when you bite off the most challenging [one] and you get a cooperative arrangement going, ... then the program slips and it begins to grow in cost [and] the next thing you know, you begin to shed your partners and pretty soon, you either have a program of one [participant] or the program dies."
For the Air Force, the war in Kosovo could be boiled down "to about 15 ... 'bone marrow' issues," Martin noted. One was the need to be able to operate at "all altitude, all weather." Another was the ability to pipe digital targeting data into cockpits in real time.
Yet another was the need to "develop technologies that will complement stealth," Martin said. Though not very specific on what these might be, he suggested they have to do with providing better targeting information to stealth aircraft.
"We have invested a lot of money in stealth and we now know that it is a superb capability," Martin said. "No one else has it. We like it. It opens up avenues of approach to targets ... that we've never been able to strike before. But ... we know it is also not invisible." The Air Force must "have an integrated and appropriate support mechanism to enable stealth even further."
Precision targeting is no longer "a special capability; it is a standard and required capability," given heightened concerns about collateral damage, Martin noted. To further limit damage only to those things that must be destroyed, it's essential that "we also have the right measure of ordnance to give us the effect that we need," he said, in a reference to smaller precision guided bombs in the 250-pound class.
Gen. Patrick K. Gamble
An Air Operations Center is being built at Hickam AFB, Hawaii, and will be operational by the end of this year, reported Gen. Patrick K. Gamble, commander, Pacific Air Forces.
The Navy had planned to put the joint force air component commander for the Pacific aboard USS Coronado, Gamble said, but as high-tech as the ship is, it was insufficient to the tasks of running an air campaign.
There are only "about 80 workstations on that ship," Gamble noted. Even with double 12-hour shifts, "that is about 180 people," whereas an Air Operations Center can run as high as 1,400 to 1,500. The situation demanded "reachback," but "we didn't have anything to reach back to."
The AOC at Hickam will be across the street from PACAF headquarters and is being patterned on the AOCs at Vicenza AB, Italy, and Prince Sultan AB, Saudi Arabia, Gamble noted.
The huge distances involved in the Pacific mean air forces will be stressed to carry out operations there if a war breaks out, Gamble said, adding that it's impractical to use aerial tankers to move whole AEF's worth of airplanes across the ocean. For this reason, "lily pads" such as Wake Island and Guam are taking on vital strategic significance.
Gamble said that "we have an opportunity right now to get it exactly right or exactly wrong with China" and create either an adversary with whom the US could have a Cold War for 70 years or a partner in commerce and stability for the region.
China considers Taiwan of crucial national importance and is "willing to fight" over it if sufficiently provoked, Gamble asserted. However, he sees China as being amenable to constructive engagement with the US, because it has an economic vision for the Pacific that would be hampered by appearing militaristic or aggressive.
Russia is an economic "basket case, right now. They are not even on the radarscope," Gamble commented. Russia is presenting a problem by selling its most sophisticated military hardware around the region, but again, Gamble believes that continued military-to-military engagement will maintain good relations with Russia in the Pacific.
Gamble said North Korean forces are still poised to unleash "an artillery barrage of biblical proportions" against South Korea and that if the US were to be involved in a fight there, "it would be a war that would shake us to our very foundations."
Airpower is "very highly leveraged in blunting that attack" and creating the conditions for a counterattack, he went on, and "anything that detracts from our ability to win that one means the war will go on longer and ... the casualty rate will become higher."
Talks between the two Koreas have the benefit of lessening tensions on the peninsula, but the US is not much involved in the "dialogue," and carefully developed strategies for defending South Korea could be undone by even small changes in the military posture there.
"The minute you ... start moving forces away from the border as confidence-building measures, ... you begin to unravel that plan," Gamble said. More than a little revision could easily make it impossible "to rebuild" the plan, and the strategy of fighting in place would have to shift to one of expeditionary force, he said.
Brig. Gen. David A. Deptula
The Bush Administration's decision to hold off making a big infusion of cash to the Pentagon pending the outcome of a major strategy review is just what the Air Force had in mind, said Brig. Gen. David A. Deptula, USAF National Defense Review director.
"That is exactly what we wanted," he asserted. "We wanted to begin with an overarching strategic look at what is going on before we delve into the programmatics."
The benefit of such a review is that it will force the Pentagon to look more closely at new capabilities already or becoming available and not necessarily cling to old strategies that have been overtaken by technology and world conditions.
"We face a situation where our capabilities, some would suggest, far outpace the way we currently plan to conduct our military operations," he observed.
The Air Force's main goal in the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review is to obtain the resources necessary to properly fund a modern aerospace force, Deptula said. Toward that end, it also wants to "explain to people ... how we fit into the overall national security equation. ... We want to ensure that we participate effectively in each one of the QDR sessions and debates."
USAF does not view the QDR as a choice between making strategy fit the money available or vice versa.
"I would suggest to you that there is a third option," Deptula said. "That is to capitalize on the capability resident in our aerospace power forces to enhance our joint concepts of operations. ... If you do that, we can retain the ability to engage in multiple operations around the world."
The national security strategy is due to be completed by midJune, while the QDR, though officially slated to be delivered in September, may well slip to December to give the new Administration time to incorporate its new thinking, Deptula reported. That timeline would bring the QDR alongside the Nuclear Posture Review, also slated for completion in December.
New for the 2001 QDR is an accompanying assessment of the review and the level of risk inherent in whatever strategy is reflected in it by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Deptula added. No details have yet been released about the nature or timetable for a review of major aircraft programs also set for this year.
The Air Force's new strategies encompass operational concepts like Global Reconnaissance Strike but more broadly incorporate leap-ahead technologies in many fields, including information warfare, Deptula noted. New organizational structures also play a role, such as the AEF, he said.
"There you have the three elements of the revolution in military affairs," he said: technology, changing operational concepts, and organizational change.
The Air Force is setting a goal for "near-real-time global force application," Deptula said.
He explained that "when the National Command Authority decides they want to achieve a particular effect, within minutes of that decision being made, those effects are being accomplished."
Enabling that long-term goal will be systems like a space maneuver vehicle, computer network defense and attack, and the space based laser, he said.
In the near term, Deptula emphasized that, despite persistent press reports to the contrary, the Joint Strike Fighter is vital to USAF strategy.
"The F-22/JSF team is another concept that some people seem to have difficulty understanding," he said.
"Their interdependency is key to leap-ahead ability to operate effectively in any environment around the world. ... You need each one of the pieces for this whole thing to operate."
Lawrence J. Delaney
The Air Force leadership has done a good job finding a balance, within its limited means, between hardware and people issues but is entering a period when critical decisions must be made regarding both, with ramifications that will affect the service for decades to come, said Lawrence J. Delaney, acting Secretary of the Air Force.
Right now, the Air Force enjoys the status of being "the crucial component of joint and coalition operations. We are the 'first to the fight' service."
However, the next five to 10 years "will be critical in determining the long-term contribution of aerospace power," Delaney asserted. The service has a unique opportunity to "positively affect the impact and influence of aerospace power for the many decades to follow" because there is no "single dominant threat" to US security right now. Meanwhile, the spread of technology is spawning a host of potentially formidable foes, he added.
At the same time, the Air Force's aircraft and facilities are getting old and hard to cost-effectively maintain, and as yet there are no new funds to replace them. And, the cost of operations and maintenance is climbing every year.
Delaney argued that the challenges are "not insurmountable" because the Air Force has always been good at finding innovative new technologies and practices to do things more efficiently. He cited UAVs and directed energy weapons as two areas where USAF is pioneering new concepts that will ease the burden on older systems. The service must be willing to occasionally take some risks, he added.
USAF is "ahead of schedule" in moving toward its recruiting goals for this year and is bringing in more recruits than last year, Delaney reported. While there has been "some success" with retention efforts, the service is not relaxing its efforts.
"We need to continue our attack because the problem is far from solved," he warned. The Air Force plan is to "keep quality of life for our people and their families at the top of our priority lists" because USAF is a "retention-based force" that depends entirely on the expertise and experience of its people, he said.
In hardware, the Air Force wants to move out smartly and introduce new technologies that will vastly increase its capabilities.
"There is not a single space system that we are not currently modernizing," he noted. In the case of the F-22, its capabilities so far outstrip its predecessor, the F-15, that "we have, in effect, skipped a generation in technology with stealth, supercruise, integrated avionics, and unchallenged maneuverability."
The vestigial US style of war has to be replaced with a quicker, more parallel, and joint strategy that affords the enemy fewer options, asserted Army Gen. William F. Kernan, Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic and commander in chief, US Joint Forces Command. He laid out a concept that would see ground troops engaged almost from the start of any conflict, but said extensive experimentation over the next few years will iron out the idea and help establish service agreement.
Kernan said he has been "tasked to lead transformation" in his role as the supplier of most CONUSbased forces and as the chief implementer of joint doctrine.
Desert Storm-style strategies in which sea and air control are established, forward ports are seized, there is a buildup of forces, and battle is joined are "very sequential" and "very predictable" and give the enemy "opportunities that we would like to deny him," Kernan said. "I think we can do it differently."
Kernan laid out a strategy patterned on Operation Just Cause in Panama, where ground troops are airlifted almost directly to the areas of battle, and the air, sea, and land battles are engaged simultaneously. "We simultaneously strike across the width, depth, and breadth of that battlefield," Kernan offered.
"We bypass intermediate staging bases," he said. "We use our asymmetrical capabilities, our strategic lift" and "position forces into contested and uncontested areas. ... We use a combination of kinetic and nonkinetic systems out there to attack his centers of gravity, to situationally take down his integrated air defenses, to disrupt his power bases, to interrupt his command and control, to hit his power grids."
Psychological operations would be run to "break the national will" of the enemy, and the assault would come from all directions.
"We are coming at him direct from CONUS with airborne forces or assault landing in the Army's new medium-weight force," Kernan said. There would be "synchronized" operations with air units, Marine amphibious units, and naval forces, he added.
This strategy, dubbed "rapid decisive operations," will "take some doctrinal changes," Kernan said.
Daily Report: Read the day's top news on the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
Daily Report: Read the day's top news on the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
Read the day's top news on the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
Tweets by @AirForceMag