The Constitution of the United States of America gives great powers to the federal government. The first and most important responsibility of the government is to provide for the national defense.
Since the passage of the Goldwater-Nichols Reorganization Act of 1986, the President has been required to submit a National Security Strategy (NSS) to Congress annually. The NSS articulates the nation’s mid- and long-term national security strategy. The current NSS declares that the President should have the option to use pre-emptive military action to forestall or prevent hostile acts by our adversaries.
The National Security Strategy provides the basis for the National Military Strategy (NMS), which outlines the strategic direction for the Armed Forces of the United States in times of war and peace. The NMS describes the ways and means for protecting the nation, preventing conflict and surprise attacks, and prevailing against adversaries. National Military Strategy 2004 rests on three pillars, each of which relies heavily on Air Force capabilities in air and space:
A Dangerous World
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 have proven that threats to the homeland and US interests around the world are real, persistent, and cannot be ignored. America has no choice but to fight and win the war against those fanatical groups that resort to the use of terrorism, and those that harbor and support them. The alternative is to suffer more 9/11-style attacks and surrender to uncompromising terrorists—specifically, the al Qaeda network and its affiliates.
The pursuit of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by terrorists, spawned by fanatical religious or political groups, and by rogue states represents a current and growing danger to the nation and the world. Cyber attack and other methods of mass disruption could also cause damage comparable to that from use of a WMD. Our government must use all national political, economic, intelligence, and military instruments of national power to prevent this from happening.
Pre-emption places a heavy burden on air and space intelligence collection, human intelligence, and analysis. At the national level, we must be thorough and competent in our assessments of danger in the world. Depending on the threat, the consequences of action, or lack of action, can be tragic.
International alliances and cooperative efforts are other critical elements in the war against those enemy groups that employ terrorism and those that support them. By forging strong alliances, we can deny our enemies sanctuary, restrict their ability to recruit new members, and hamper their attempts to organize and grow financially. When military force is required, it is better to share the burden with other nations which have a stake in eliminating the threat. As a last resort, we must be prepared to act alone to protect our freedoms and way of life.
New Way of War
In recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, air and space power, combined with the use of Special Operations Forces on the ground, was the key to the swift success of joint and coalition military operations. Through its advocacy of Effects-Based Operations, the Air Force took the lead in further advancing a new American way of war. Its hallmark is rapid dominance, which is achieved by combining modern Air Force capabilities—information superiority, mobility, and precision strike —with complementary capabilities of the other military services and government agencies.
The 21st Century Air Force brings with it an expeditionary mind-set and a capacity for air and space dominance that provides an asymmetrical advantage to joint warfighters.
Warfighters look to Global Vigilance, Reach, and Power to provide around-the-clock C4ISR—command, control, communications, and computers combined with intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance systems—as well as electronic warfare and special operations capability.
In the air, precision strike assets protect and support US ground forces, whether on patrol or engaged in combat. In Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), two-thirds of the ordnance dropped by aircraft was precision- guided. Additionally, 90 percent of air-ground operations were fully integrated, compared to 10 percent of such operations in Operation Desert Storm. In the 1991 Gulf War, it took an average of four aircraft to destroy one target. In OIF, by contrast, it took one aircraft to kill about four targets.
The USAF airlift of recent years has moved more than 1.5 million troops and nearly one million tons of gear and supplies into and out of Iraq—making it one of the largest airlifts ever. During OIF, Air Force airlift and air refueling assets were pressed to the limit. The huge demand on airlift and tankers will only increase as US military forces become more expeditionary.
Demands on space assets are increasing, too. With each passing day, space employment in the combat environment is becoming more and more commonplace. From space, Air Force assets provide surveillance and secure jam-resistant communications, navigation, warning, and weather forecasting. Satellites that saw through blinding sandstorms during the initial phase of OIF continue to lift the fog of war by providing a clear view of the situation on the ground.
A transformation initiative that blends technology, concepts of operations, and organization is producing a new breed of “Battlefield Airmen.” This group comprises combat controllers, pararescuemen, combat weathermen, Tactical Air Control Party specialists (TACPs), and others. The Air Force intends to bring them together in a common organizational structure to further improve precision strike.
The evolving Battlefield Airmen concept will spur new ways of operating and will be an important addition to joint warfighting. Sensors on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will extend the Battlefield Airmen’s awareness. In the future, these Airmen will help decrease the load on aircrews, shorten the sensor-to-shooter chain, provide secure machine-to-machine interfacing, and more.
Future battlefields most likely will be discontinuous, with shadowy hostile forces organized in small unlinked groups. Eliminating these forces will require integration of air and ground forces on a scale greater than today’s. The Air Force is preparing for the future by exploring concepts of operations featuring asymmetrical air attacks on enemy ground forces, wherever they are hiding. The Air Force and the Army are working to strengthen Joint Air-Ground Operations in order to improve combat capability.
USAF proudly defines itself as one Air Force—with Airmen (both uniformed and civilian) executing strike, space, mobility, support, and special operations missions. They are waging war on terrorism, performing joint operations, and transforming in place, all while maintaining America’s air and space dominance.
New Steady State
Compared to the Cold War Air Force, today’s USAF is small and based mostly in the US, necessitating rapid, large-scale deployments over long distances. Over the last two decades, the active duty Air Force was reduced by nearly 40 percent—from 608,000 to 359,000 uniformed members. Higher retention rates have caused the active duty force to expand temporarily to 375,000. The Air Force was allowed to exceed authorized active duty end strength levels for the last two years because of the demands of the war on terror. Now the Air Force must shrink by some 16,000 Airmen in order to meet the FY05 authorized force level of 359,000 people.
It must do this while shaping the force to remedy a skill mix imbalance. The goal is to eliminate over-manning in some career fields and critical shortages in others. Some Airmen will have to retrain. Getting smaller while reshaping the force will be difficult, as retention rates remain high.
While the force shrinks, operations tempo at Stateside and overseas bases remains high. Airmen are working long hours, deploying with ever-increasing frequency to hot spots around the world, and spending more time away from their families. To accommodate the new steady state, service leaders have extended overseas rotations for each Air and Space Expeditionary Force (AEF), raising it from 90 days to 120 days. Combat deployments have been extended. Crews are flying longer missions and have less ground time between missions.
At the height of Operation Iraqi Freedom, nearly 55,000 Airmen were deployed against the forces of Saddam Hussein. Currently, more than 23,000 Airmen and 300 aircraft are on duty in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Balkans. This number does not include forces stationed permanently in United States Air Forces in Europe and Pacific Air Forces.
Over the past decade, total USAF civilian personnel fell from 196,489 to 168,762. During the same period, total Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve numbers remained essentially unchanged. However, today’s Guard and Reserve play a much larger role in meeting worldwide commitments.
Across the board, the Total Force is straining to meet new requirements and challenges. The Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve have been activated at unprecedented levels. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the Air Force has mobilized nearly 65,000 Guardsmen and Reservists. Together, they constitute 20 percent of Air Force AEF packages supporting operations in Southwest Asia. Additionally, they conduct 89 percent of air patrols over American cities in support of Operation Noble Eagle.
Beyond traditional air and space operations, Airmen are carrying out special operations, conducting convoys and security patrols, performing rescue missions, and treating combat casualties. They make up a large part of the approximately 150,000 US service members who are presently engaged in combat and nation building in Iraq and Afghanistan. While interim governments work to restore civil order and basic services, US troops are providing security—an effort which has placed severe strain on current force structure. In the future, more forces may be required to support such transitions to democracy.
In spite of enormous challenges, morale throughout the Total Force remains high. Senior Air Force leaders at present do not seek an increase in USAF end strength. While AFA defers to their judgment, we caution that if the level of operations continues at the current pace, a decision to request more manpower cannot be avoided. The bottom line is that resources must be matched to tasking.
On the counterterror front, there is good news: We are making progress and learning quickly as we wage the war on terrorism. There is also bad news: Terrorism is widespread, deeply rooted, and will take years of effort and expenditure of considerable resources to defeat. It is aimed directly at the American homeland, and we must not let down our guard.
AFA recognizes the key role that the Air Force plays in support of US Northern Command and homeland defense. From Civil Air Patrol flights to fighters flying sorties defending US airspace, USAF has stepped up in a big way. Since 9/11, the US has quintupled the number of people devoted to the air defense mission, and the Air Force has vastly increased the number of air assets ready to respond to an airborne attack against the US.
The defense of the US homeland against ballistic and cruise missiles remains a requirement. Missile technology is becoming more accessible worldwide. Significant DOD and Air Force initiatives have been mounted to counter this threat. Congress should support an expansion of today’s modest missile defense capability until the nation is no longer vulnerable to missile attack.
Until victory is achieved, we must stay focused on eliminating terrorism and remain vigilant about threats to homeland security.
We should also recognize combat against terrorists is only part of the Air Force and DOD mission. A world without terrorism would still be a dangerous place. Air and space forces must continue to be prepared to deal with the full spectrum of threats, from low-intensity war to conventional and strategic conflict.
A protracted war on terrorism requires a boost in defense spending. America can do more. In 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War, the DOD budget represented 9.4 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 1986, during the Cold War, the defense budget represented 6.2 percent of GDP. In 2005, the defense budget will consume only about 3.4 percent of GDP.
America has never failed to provide resources for the military during times of war. The FY05 defense budget for the steady-state program is projected to increase to more than $400 billion, which does not include $25 billion to pay for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Congressional Budget Office went on record stating that DOD budgets need to grow by 20 percent annually just to maintain the current force structure. Half of the increase is needed to cover increases in pay and benefits and the other half to replace outdated equipment.
Additionally, the US military now spends about $4 billion a month on operations in Iraq and between $600 million and $800 million a month on operations in Afghanistan. Defense is expensive and requires broad support by Congress and the American people. There is no way around it; defense funding will have to increase significantly in order to accommodate the reality of the war on terrorism, the transition in Iraq, and the maintenance and modernization of the standing force.
AFA believes that national security imperatives require the US to commit a minimum of four percent of its GDP to defense for a period of years.
Investing in the Future
US forces are unmatched in their ability to look deep and rapidly project power over vast distances, with great situational awareness. Air Force people, systems, and concepts of operation are at the leading edge of DOD transformation.
Past investments in research and development (R&D) and science and technology (S&T) have produced superb weapons. Still, government and private sector funding for defense related S&T and R&D has been anemic in recent years. The number of new major weapon system program start-ups has also fallen off. These trends must be reversed or the defense industrial base will decline to a dangerous level.
The Air Force of the future will require new and dramatically more capable aircraft such as the stealthy F/A-22 and F-35 fighters, UAVs and UCAVs, new multisensor command and control aircraft, and C-17 airlifters. Tankers will continue to provide the lifeblood for air mobility and Joint Force air combat operations. New tankers must be acquired to replace older ones, which are wracked with corrosion and have become too expensive to repair. The Air Force also will need to upgrade older systems and aircraft such as the C-5s, KC-135s, and B-52s.
The F-15 first flew in the 1970s. In recent mock combat against MiG, Sukhoi, and Mirage fighters, foreign air forces scored unexpected successes against the Eagles. Once the F/A-22 enters the inventory in numbers, it will easily defeat any adversary fighter in the air or currently on the drawing board. The F/A-22 is key to maintaining air dominance and executing deep strike missions.
The bomber fleet, which numbered 360 in the 1980s, has shrunk. The current bomber roadmap calls for making do with 157 bombers, only 96 of which are kept combat ready. Today’s small fleet of B-1Bs, B-2s, and B-52s leaves the US with too little margin for error. New, long-range global strike platforms are needed, and the sooner the better.
The Air Force will also need more-capable airborne and space-based surveillance systems. USAF officials warn that our space systems are vulnerable to disruption, and potential adversaries are trying to exploit space to their own advantage. In OIF, Iraq unsuccessfully attempted to jam Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite signals to defeat precision weapons. In the future, the Air Force will have to prevent adversaries from using space against US forces. This entails improving space situational awareness and developing defensive and offensive counterspace capabilities. As DOD’s Executive Agent for Space, the Air Force needs the Administration and Congress to continue funding projects identified to execute the space roadmap.
AFA believes nuclear deterrence provided by the triad of US land-, air-, and sea-based forces is essential to national security. The United States should maintain flexible, reliable, and survivable nuclear forces even as it continues the deployment of a missile defense capability.
Looking further into the future, the Air Force must acquire and field a new land-based strategic missile, directed energy weapons, and more-advanced air-delivered munitions.
AFA applauds USAF initiatives to streamline and improve the acquisition process. Program delays and stretch-outs are all too frequent and leave the Air Force with equipment that is increasingly difficult to operate and expensive to maintain. Some systems are so old that parts are no longer in production and must be produced at exorbitant cost. This siphons funds away from modernization. As the maintenance budget grows, acquisition investments shrink. More importantly, continuing program stretch-outs allow other nations to catch up with American technology. US air dominance could wane as a result.
AFA urges the Administration, Congress, and DOD to work together to stabilize program funding for urgently needed platforms. Air Force-wide, equipment is wearing out at a rapid rate and needs to be repaired or replaced. Munitions stockpiles also need replenishing. The goal should be straightforward—to acquire Air Force systems and capabilities on time and in the quantities needed to meet ever-expanding mission requirements.
DOD’s acquisition workforce was cut by nearly 50 percent in the 1990s and needs to be reconstituted. A greater investment in acquisition is needed to attract talented scientists and engineers back to Air Force laboratories and research centers. Additionally, more investment will help industry partners to recruit and retain a high-quality technical workforce to design, develop, and produce the transformational systems of the future.
Right-Sizing Base Structure
On the infrastructure horizon, another Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round is set to occur in 2005. BRAC would reduce excess infrastructure and free up scarce dollars for modernization, transformation, and readiness. It must be carefully executed to ensure that the resulting base structure will provide efficient and flexible support to air and space forces. Improvement of remaining Stateside and forward operating bases will also be required so that aircrews, logisticians, and other support personnel have the facilities required for the mission.
The next Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) will coincide with BRAC. It will be a comprehensive examination of the defense strategy, force structure, force modernization plans, infrastructure, budget plans, and other elements of the defense program and policies. The coincidence in 2005 of BRAC and the QDR requires careful analysis so that DOD can seize transformation opportunities while avoiding actions that could inadvertently harm the Armed Forces.
Finally, DOD must have access to military ranges and operating areas to provide a realistic training and testing environment to prepare warfighters for combat today and in the future. This must be done in a way that is consistent with the strong record of Air Force environmental stewardship and promotes military readiness.
People—Our Greatest Asset
On a national level, we must foster a spirit of service above self. Our nation benefits whenever young people commit to national service. Serving in the Armed Forces of the United States is one of the most honorable forms of patriotism.
The Airmen (military and civilians) who volunteer and serve in today’s Air Force are professionals of air and space power. They are the heart and soul of the world’s most highly respected and powerful air force.
AFA believes that the success of the All-Volunteer Force concept is irrefutable and that reinstituting a draft would be ill-advised and harmful. For more than 30 years, the All-Volunteer Force has produced a high-quality, educated, and motivated military.
The times demand that today’s Airmen be more technically skilled than ever before. Draftees, however, would serve only short periods on active duty and then leave, producing unwelcome turnover and loss of experience. The cost of training would increase substantially. It is more efficient and effective simply to provide the funds that would ensure that Air Force careers and the overall compensation package remain attractive in a competitive job market. The Air Force must continue to invest in quality of life programs, education, and training for enlisted members, officers, and civilians across the Total Force.
Since 9/11, many have made the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terrorism. The Air Force Association and the nation are eternally grateful to these brave men and women. To date, more than 1,100 US service members have died and more than 6,000 have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. We salute all the Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, DOD civilians, and defense contractors who continue to serve in defense of the nation.
Even as we honor those veterans returning from the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, we must not forget the thousands of military veterans and retirees still with us today. Many have suffered severe injuries and are in need of long-term medical care and assistance. The families and loved ones of military members endure hardships, too, and deserve our continuing support.
The AFA legacy is deep, reflecting the spirit of Billy Mitchell, “Hap” Arnold, Ira Eaker, Jimmy Doolittle, and other airpower visionaries. We, the members of the Air Force Association, remain dedicated to educating the public about the need for aerospace power, advocating for a strong national defense, supporting the Air Force and the Air Force family, and supporting our nation’s efforts to fight and win the global war on terrorism.
Daily Report: Read the day's top news on the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
Daily Report: Read the top news on the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
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