Surprisingly, close air support has popped up again as an issue in Washington.
Air Force Secretary James G. Roche has said on numerous occasions that CAS is one of the most—if not the most—important of the Air Force’s missions. And he has consistently couched the service’s new F/A-22 fighter as a platform that can stealthily penetrate enemy defenses and provide support to special operations troops fighting behind enemy lines.
Yet, USAF leaders find themselves addressing new claims that the service is “short-shrifting” CAS by planning to retire its A-10 fleet.
A New York Times opinion piece claimed the Air Force intends prematurely to retire the Warthogs because it “deeply loathes” the close air support mission. USAF leaders said that is just wrong.
The May 27 op-ed, written by Robert Coram, said Air Force leaders want to get rid of the A-10 because of their “philosophical aversion to the close air support mission.” Coram praised the A-10’s low-level CAS success in the two Gulf Wars and charged that USAF would be putting ground troops “in grave danger” by retiring the 23-year-old fighter. The A-10 is a thorn in the Air Force’s side, Coram charged, because it does not perform strategic bombing, the doctrinal “foundation” of the air service.
“ For the white-scarf crowd, nothing is more humiliating than being told that what it does best is support ground troops,” Coram asserted. He demanded USAF demonstrate “long-term commitment to supporting our men and women in the mud” by preserving the A-10 and building new airplanes like it.
The source of Coram’s ire was a memo penned by Maj. Gen. David A. Deptula, Air Combat Command’s plans and programs director. It, said Coram, was proof an A-10 kill was in the works.
ACC chief Gen. Hal M. Hornburg rebutted Coram’s claims in a letter to the Times, stating that the service had increased, not decreased, its CAS support. He noted that 78 percent of aimpoints attacked in Operation Iraqi Freedom supported ground forces.
“The capability the A-10 brings to the joint force is one of our top priorities, so much so that we are building a concept of operations that will ensure that every one of our Air Force weapons-delivering aircraft will possess the capability to conduct close air support in the most demanding threat environments,” he added.
Deptula was equally adamant in an interview with Inside the Air Force. He said, “Close air support is a mission, not an airplane.”
Both USAF leaders pointed out that in Iraq, as in Afghanistan, the A-10 was not alone in flying CAS missions. Said Hornburg, the Warthog “did a superb job in Iraq providing support to our ground forces, as did the B-1, F-16, B-52, and F-15E.”
Hornburg also noted that while the A-10 will serve for many years to come, it “will not last forever.”
It is, in fact, currently in line for two upgrades. It was those upgrades that were the centerpiece of Deptula’s memo. He had ordered subordinates to study the impact of cutting back on the upgrade programs as a normal part of upcoming budget drills.
Those upgrades—one to extend its service life from 8,000 hours to 16,000 hours and another to give it enhanced precision weapons capability—have shot up in price from $300 million to more than $1 billion. That brought the whole upgrade program under scrutiny.
According to Lt. Gen. (sel.) Daniel P. Leaf, who was the Air Force’s director of operational capability requirements, these budget drills are an annual occurrence. Leaf, who was also the Air Force liaison to ground forces during Gulf War II, told Inside the Pentagon that he objected to Coram’s “moral tone” which suggests “there’s a loathing of the A-10 and the mission.”
He added, “In my view, that’s just wrong.”
Rumsfeld and the Army
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s recent choices for new Army leaders suggest he wants to accelerate changes in that service. It may also indicate his approval of Air Force transformation efforts.
In May, Rumsfeld picked Air Force Secretary James G. Roche to move over to be the Army’s top civilian leader.
In June, Rumsfeld took the further unprecedented step of tapping a retired Army four-star to be the Army’s new military chief. He bypassed serving three- and four-star generals after his top two picks—Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John M. Keane and US Central Command head Gen. Tommy R. Franks—turned him down. Instead of digging deeper into the Army ranks, he proposed the return of retired Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker.
Both posts require Senate confirmation.
The choices make clear that Rumsfeld plans to speed up his efforts to transform the Army into a smaller, lighter, and more mobile force.
Roche served as a naval officer and, after retirement, as an executive in the aerospace industry, where he earned a reputation for turning around ailing organizations. As Air Force Secretary, he has been a champion of systems that directly connect airpower with troops on the ground and other efforts to instill a “jointness” culture in USAF.
Rumsfeld forced the previous Army Secretary, Thomas D. White, to resign in the spring. White, himself a former Army one star, clashed with Rumsfeld over cancellation of the Crusader artillery system, which Rumsfeld decided was too heavy, and on other reforms.
The defense chief’s goals have met with stiff resistance from Army traditionalists who favor heavy armor, lots of troops, and self-reliance for things like air defense.
On the other hand, Schoomaker spent most of his career in special operations and headed the joint US Special Operations Command. Since retiring in 2000, he has been an advisor to Rumsfeld and also advised Franks on planning the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Schoomaker has said in press interviews that he foresees fewer all-out wars in America’s future and more short-duration conflicts, heightening the reliance on special operations-type forces—lighter and more mobile.
Senior Pentagon officials say Rumsfeld is considering reducing the Army from 10 active duty divisions to eight and possibly even abolishing the division as its main organizational unit. In place of the 15,000-troop divisions could be “battle groups” of 3,000-5,000 troops, each able to be self-sufficient without an entire division apparatus to support it. Combatant commanders could then assemble these tailor-made modules more easily into joint operations.
New Worldwide Deployments
The Administration is rethinking areas of responsibility for the major overseas US combatant commands. It has already indicated it will likely shift some 70,000 troops from their longtime garrisons in Germany and elsewhere in Europe to new, bare-bones bases ranging from the Near East to Central Asia.
The shift would place US troops closer to the areas where they might be expected to have to fight on short notice, particularly in the war on terrorism.
Defense chief Rumsfeld said the Pentagon is reviewing the “seams” between US Central Command, US European Command, and US Pacific Command. The central issue is the problems those artificial boundaries pose.
The Defense Department is asking itself, “How can we best arrange ourselves ... in the most cost-effective way?” Rumsfeld said. The existing structure of bases and troops, particularly in Europe, he described as a “legacy” of the Cold War, and probably obsolete, since the Soviet Union “doesn’t exist anymore.”
A contingent of mayors from German cities and towns where US forces are based promptly visited Capitol Hill seeking reassurances that the troops would not leave.
However, they were told that up to 70,000 troops could, indeed, be realigned but that the major air hub at Ramstein AB, Germany, would probably not be affected.
“ It makes no sense to pick that up and move it 500 miles to the east,” a Pentagon official told Air Force Magazine. When measured against the potential advantages of being somewhat closer to the Middle East and Central Asia, the cost of “rebuilding that capability in, say, Poland ... doesn ’t make the cut.”
Included in the review are new facilities in Bulgaria, Kyrgyzstan, and Qatar—from which US forces have operated on an expeditionary basis since the war in Afghanistan. US facilities on Guam would also play a larger role, as a major hub for US forces in the Pacific.
The new bases—dozens are being looked at—might not host large numbers of troops or forces, but might be kept in “caretaker status” until needed. Thus, only a small contingent of personnel would staff them most of the time.
US officials said the troop realignments are not intended to punish Germany, Belgium, Turkey, and other countries for their less-than-full support of the US action in Iraq.NATO, itself, is in the midst of an overhaul of its operations, and, in June, member countries agreed to a 40 percent base structure cut.
The alliance expects these efforts to help it to respond to crises more rapidly and plans to divert funds toward badly needed capabilities, such as improving airlift, communications, and precision attack capability among the European members.
At their June summit in Brussels, NATO countries also agreed to pick up some of the stabilization functions in Iraq. All 19 members reached consensus.
NATO’s new Response Force is expected to grow to a 21,000-troop organization geared to no-notice, “forced entry” operations. It will be the centerpiece of the new NATO and serve as the focus for improvement in NATO capabilities. It will need to be supplied with airlift, leading-edge weaponry, and agile logistics for sustainment of at least 30 days.
What Is the China Situation?
The debate over a China threat flared anew with the release of a new report from the Council on Foreign Relations.
Last year, the Pentagon, in its annual report to Congress, outlined a China with a vibrant economy and a commitment to long-term military force improvements.
The Pentagon said: “China is developing advanced information technology and long-range precision strike capabilities and looking for ways to target and exploit the perceived weaknesses of technologically superior adversaries. In particular, Beijing has greatly expanded its arsenal of increasingly accurate and lethal ballistic missiles. ”
Part of that capability, according to the 1999 Cox report on China, came from theft of classified US national security technology.
Now a Council on Foreign Relations task force, headed by former Defense Secretary Harold Brown, maintains that despite China’s ongoing attempts to modernize its military forces, its capabilities are about 20 years behind those of the United States.
In introducing the report, which is titled simply “Chinese Military Power,” Brown said China “is at least two decades behind the US in military technology and capability. And, if the US stays on course, in terms of its military development and expenditures, the balance will continue to be decisively in the US favor. ”
The CFR task force sees no need to panic at the prospect of a militarily improving China, but it then cautions against underestimating China ’s military as backward.
One of its goals, according to the report, is to “avoid the wide and unfounded swings” of judgment that often characterized Cold War debate of Soviet military power.
The report said that overreacting to capabilities China “does not have and will not attain for many years could result in the misallocation of scarce resources. ”
It continued, “Overreaction could lead the United States to adopt policies and undertake actions that become a self-fulfilling prophecy, provoking an otherwise avoidable antagonistic relationship with China that will not serve long-term US interests. ”
At the opposite extreme, the report concluded that underreaction “might allow China someday to catch unawares the United States or its friends and allies in Asia. ”
Brown said that military spending has grown rapidly in China over the last 13 years but that it will “take time” for China to translate its rapidly advancing commercial technology into military capability. He specifically noted that China has yet to be able to develop and build advanced aircraft on its own but rather buys them from Russia.
“ It suggests that they’re not yet ready to stand on their own feet,” said Brown. “And it is one reason why we recommend a continuation of the denial of arms and military technology transfers to China.”
According to Brown, China also needs to undergo a massive overhaul of its training, strategy, and tactics, a process which he noted took the US Army more than 15 years to achieve.
China’s stated goal of bringing Taiwan back under its control drives much of China’s military spending, “or, at a minimum, drives the rhetoric associated with those expenditures,” said Adm. Joseph W. Prueher (Ret.) a former commander of US Pacific Command who was vice chairman of the study.
Brown said that while China’s industrial espionage program is robust, their military advancement, particularly in rockets and missiles, is largely indigenous.“ I do not think that their improvements in military capability are primarily driven by espionage or even largely driven by that,” Brown asserted. Prueher added, “It’s almost impossible to steal systems integration capability by espionage.”
Playing Chicken in Korea
Some see the past year’s anti-American protests that broke out in South Korea as the impetus for the Administration’s decision to realign and possibly reduce US military strength on the Korean peninsula.
US forces in South Korea have been the subject of numerous protests since two US Army sergeants in an armored vehicle accidently ran over and killed two South Korean girls during a military exercise in June 2002. Many South Koreans want the US soldiers to stand trial in a South Korean court. A US military court found the soldiers not guilty of manslaughter charges.
This has played out against the backdrop of North Korea brandishing a growing nuclear weapons capability.
Pentagon leaders insist any potential drawdown of US forces in South Korea is purely part of an ongoing assessment of forces worldwide.
DOD plans to back its forces away from the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea and redeploy those forces to other locations on the peninsula. The move would affect about 6,000 troops now deployed along the DMZ, where they have been since the Korean War cease-fire of 50 years ago. The troops would move back to positions about 75 miles south of the 38th parallel.
An agreement on making the troop move was reached during US–South Korean meetings in Seoul in early June. No timetable was announced.
The US troop redeployment will remove the US as a trip wire should North Korea undertake any cross-border action, which would immediately involve the US as a combatant. Operationally, however, the move would make for a more effective counterattack if North Korea were to launch a surprise invasion of the South. Troops now deployed along the DMZ are outnumbered by North Korean forces arrayed on the other side of the line.
New bases for American troops will be outside the range of the largest North Korean artillery.
Once begun, the redeployment would take several years to complete, said Pentagon officials.
Additionally, the US will spend “a substantial amount of money” over the next four years on about 150 separate defense initiatives to “enhance US capabilities here on the peninsula,” Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz said of the realignment. The amount could be as high as $11 billion.
US intelligence believes North Korea may already possess one or two nuclear weapons and have the capability to build as many as a dozen more. However, none has been tested and their reliability is in question.
The Bush Administration is said to favor economic sanctions against North Korea, since opening up direct talks is seen as “rewarding” North Korea for its poor behavior. A “surgical” military strike on North Korea’s nuclear facilities is also not a preferred option, since it would be a de facto act of war and because North Korea’s nuclear program is conducted at over a dozen facilities, making complete success more problematic.
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