More Airlift, Fewer Convoys
The Air Force stepped up its use of tactical airlift in Iraq as a way to limit the need for ground convoys, which have been targeted successfully by insurgents. It costs more to ship cargo by air than by truck, but the reduced exposure of troops is considered worth it.
“Replacing good people is a lot more expensive” than flying airplanes, Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper told Air Force Magazine in mid-December. After personally observing convoy operations on an inspection tour in November, Jumper said he launched “a big push to ... get these guys off the roads.”
Convoy casualties, he said, amounted to about 100 per month before the shift to airlift began.
Jumper, meeting in December with Washington-based defense writers, said that on a visit to Southwest Asia in November he “had a little fit” when he discovered that commanders were not using USAF’s tactical airlift capability to its full extent to help reduce the need for ground convoys. Without pointing a finger at any one party, Jumper said he left the area having helped create “a better way to converse between the joint force air component commander and the land commanders.”
Since then, the Air Force increased flights of its tactical theater C-130s and added its strategic C-17 airlifter to the mix as well.
Jumper said airlift could get to soldiers and marines wherever there was a road to land on, but it turns out that most US ground forces are already positioned near an airfield of some kind.
“We have always been willing to do this,” Jumper said, acknowledging that the solution was simply “getting the right people together.”
When asked about increased cost, Jumper replied, “I am totally disinterested in cost” when it is possible to save lives by moving materiel by air.
According to US Central Command Air Forces, the air component of US Central Command, tactical airlift increased by about 100 tons per day after Nov. 9. USAF had been airlifting some 350 tons per day within the theater and increased that to 450 tons per day.
Overall, Jumper’s initiative made it possible for the Army to keep 30 convoys a day off the road. These convoys would have traversed the most dangerous routes, he said. However, Jumper noted, some items, such as large parts for armored vehicles, cannot be sent practically by air and will still have to go by convoy.
About 30 percent of the cargo carried by truck is bottled water. The Pentagon is finding the means to get water purified locally, said Jumper, adding, “You can affect much more by doing that one little thing than you can by [using] C-130s.”
Jumper said that the Air Force was aware that there would be increased risk of surface-to-air missile strikes on the airlifters used to replace ground convoys. However, he said, “we’re not sending C-130s in there undefended. They have the right kind of equipment to go in there and defend themselves.”
He added, “We know how to do this.”
QDR 2005 and Tactical Aviation
A Pentagon budget document that leaked in late December portends problems for weapons such as the new F/A-22 tactical fighter. The document took aim at several major weapons, slashing their budgets to help meet Administration demands to lower the deficit. (See “Editorial: The Fighter Force You Have,” p. 2, and “The F/A-22, in Fire and Flak,” p. 30.)
It remains to be seen whether the Air Force can restore funding to its premier fighter during deliberations for the 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review, now fully under way. Before the program budget document (PBD) surfaced, analysts and defense officials viewed the QDR as the harbinger for a budget-cutting drill that would take aim at specific numbers of people and weapons. The big decisions about the kinds of forces needed and strategies for employing them appeared settled, at least for the near future.
USAF Gen. Charles F. Wald, deputy head of US European Command, said the QDR would focus on defining the proper mix of high-end-of-the-spectrum systems.
Air Force leaders had talked about reducing the service buy of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, currently planned at 1,736. However, the PBD left the JSF program intact and cut the Raptor. USAF officials say the service has a legitimate requirement for more than the planned buy of 276 F/A-22s, not fewer.
Dov S. Zakheim, who was Pentagon comptroller until last spring and is now vice president of the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, stated the tactical aviation situation bluntly in a December speech. He said the 2005 QDR, with its emphasis on the “importance of unconventional, asymmetric threats,” will “prompt a very different approach to tactical aviation.”
Zakheim explained that the Pentagon has defined those threats as catastrophic, disruptive, and irregular. (See “Editorial: Weathering the QDR,” December 2004, p. 2.) A “catastrophic” threat might be terrorists wielding a weapon of mass destruction. The term “disruptive” refers to events such as an enemy’s employment of information warfare. An “irregular” threat might arise from terrorism, an insurgency, or civil war.
All of these threats, said Zakheim, call for a “rather different investment pattern” than that of the past, when the Pentagon’s main focus was establishing “superiority over any potential peer competitor.”
He concluded—correctly—that the impact of this change of course would place the Air Force under “tremendous budgetary pressure.” He said the Air Force will not have enough money in the future to fund all the programs it says it needs. He enumerated these as “a costly space program, an anticipated need to modernize lift, a requirement for more tanker support, and programs to expand the capabilities and numbers of unmanned aerial vehicles.” All of these are “competing with two major tactical aviation programs,” the F/A-22 fighter and F-35 fighter, he said. “Something will have to give,” Zakheim said.
Zakheim said that the case is “weakest” for maintaining both the F/A-22 and F/35 programs at currently projected acquisition rates. While he didn’t say that the QDR should set inventory goals for the F/A-22 and F-35, it would, he said, “force the [Air Force] to face up to the budgetary realities that confront it.” He went on to say, “This is especially important, given a current and projected threat environment radically different from that which generated these two programs.”
Some say the QDR will lead to an increase in ground forces, but Zakheim does not agree. He said that getting rid of some outmoded Army organizations—corps-sized units being his prime example—might free up enough forces to make unnecessary a major increase in Army end strength. According to Zakheim, the upcoming shift in the Army’s overseas presence could “serve as a tool for mitigating pressures to increase force structure.”
Zakheim does not believe there is a defined need to increase the number of special operations forces. Rather, he would ensure modernization efforts for this increasingly critical element “proceed apace.”
Corrosion Cost: $20 Billion?
The Defense Department isn’t properly tracking corrosion of its equipment and could save billions if it considered corrosion at every step in the acquisition process, a Defense Science Board task force reported. Attention to the problem is urgently needed, the panel asserted.
In a report titled “Corrosion Control,” the DSB task force said there’s no way to know for sure how much corrosion costs DOD annually, but it agreed that a Government Accountability Office estimate of $10 billion to $20 billion a year is as good as any.
The DSB found it shocking that the Pentagon doesn’t have an official charged with tracking or preventing corrosion and doesn’t know, departmentwide, how much it costs to repair corrosion problems.
Corrosion is pervasive, attacking practically all military equipment and much of the military’s infrastructure. It is the principal factor in the Air Force’s push to modernize its fleet of KC-135 aerial refueling aircraft. Although this report did not deal with specific weapon systems, an earlier DSB report, “Aerial Refueling Requirements,” released in summer 2004, cited the engine struts on USAF’s older KC-135s, the E model, as a “prime example of the problems of aging and environment.” It agreed with the Air Force plan to retire its KC-135Es. The report said that corrosion on the remaining KC-135s is a “challenging, yet manageable issue.” However, it then said that the “sheer number” of these aged tankers “dictates a need to take action in the near term.”
The latest report, with its focus on the overall military corrosion problem, found that the Pentagon’s previous estimates of the true corrosion costs “are highly suspect and probably significantly understated.” Left unattended, the problem will only get worse, “with even higher costs, in the future,” it said.
The panel recommended that DOD devote $50 million to a departmentwide effort to define the corrosion situation and put measures in place to help prevent or control it. The measures ranged from physical maintenance practices to policy initiatives affecting how systems and infrastructure are acquired.
At the front end of system acquisition, the DSB found, there’s little incentive to think about corrosion prevention. Corrosion control measures don’t pay off for years, and many programs are focused on cutting the up-front purchase price of equipment rather than on reducing its long-term ownership cost. This has to change, the DSB report said.
The DSB panel recommended that DOD put in place an incentive system that rewards life-cycle corrosion cost avoidance during design and manufacturing. It noted, too, that the “most practical way to generally reduce the current cost of corrosion is to do more and/or better preventive maintenance.”
Research into corrosion control methods, said the panel, is “small, fragmented,” and usually funded through the wrong departments, such as those involved with encouraging small business research or as an aspect of environmental remediation. The task force wants corrosion to get a “steady, long-term” priority research line of funding through Pentagon science and technology accounts.
The DSB said that corrosion takes many forms and is poorly understood. The board wants a “science-based understanding” of system degradation due to the physical effects of age, weather, and stress.
Finally, the DSB said that a corrosion executive is “badly needed” in each military department. No such positions now exist.
Daily Report: Read the day's top news about 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.
Daily Report: Read the day's top news on the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
Tweets by @AirForceMag