Part 1 of 2IV: REBUILDING TODAY’S ARMED SERVICES
Executing the variety of missions outlined above depends upon the capabilities of the U.S. armed services. For the past decade, the health of the armed services has steadily declined. Not merely have their budgets been dramatically reduced, their force structures cut and their personnel strength sapped, modernization programs starved and efforts at transformation strangled, but the quality of military life, essential for preserving a volunteer force, has been degraded. From barracks to headquarters to maintenance bay, the services’ infrastructure has suffered from neglect. The quality of military housing, especially abroad, ill becomes a great nation. The other sinews of a strong service, particularly including the military education and training systems, have been disproportionately and shortsightedly reduced. Shortages of manpower result in soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines spending increased amounts of time on base maintenance – mowing grass, repairing roofs, “painting rocks.” Most disappointing of all, military culture and the confidence of service members in their senior leaders is suffering. As several recent studies and surveys have demonstrated, civil-military relations in contemporary America are increasingly tense.Army: To ‘Complete’ Europe And Defend the Persian Gulf
Of all the armed services, the Army has been most profoundly changed by the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe. The Army’s active-duty strength has been reduced by 40 percent and its European garrison by three quarters. At the end of the Cold War, the Army budget was 50 percent higher than it is this year; its procurement spending almost 70 percent higher.
Elements of U.S. Army Europe should be redeployed to Southeast Europe, while a permanent unit should be based in the Persian Gulf region.
At the same time, the Army’s role in post-Cold-War military operations remains the measure of American geopolitical commitment. In the 1991 Gulf War, the limits of Bush Administration policy were revealed by the reluctance to engage in land combat and the limit on ground operations within the Kuwait theater. In the Balkans, relatively short air campaigns have been followed by extended ground operations; even the 78 days of Operation Allied Force pale in comparison to the long-term effort to stabilize Kosovo. In short, the value of land power continues to appeal to a global superpower, whose security interests rest upon maintaining and expanding a world-wide system of alliances as well as on the ability to win wars. While maintaining its combat role, the U.S. Army has acquired new missions in the past decade – most immediately, missions associated with completing the task of creating a Europe “whole and free” and defending American interests in the Persian Gulf and Middle East.
These new missions will require the continued stationing of U.S. Army units abroad. Although these units should be reconfigured and repositioned to reflect current realities, their value as a representation of America’s role as the prime guarantor of security is as great as their immediate war-fighting capabilities. Indeed, the greatest problem confronting the Army today is providing sufficient forces for both these vital missions; the Army is simply too small to do both well.
These broad missions will continue to justify the requirement for a large active U.S. Army. The Army’s increasing use of reserve component forces for these constabulary missions breaks the implied compact with reservists that their role is to serve as a hedge against a genuine military emergency. As long as the U.S. garrisons in the Balkans, for example, require large numbers of linguists, military police, civil affairs and other specialists, the active-duty Army must boost its ranks of soldiers with these skills. Likewise, as high-intensity combat changes, the Army must find new ways to recruit and retain soldiers with high-technology skills, perhaps creating partnerships with industry for extremely skilled reservists, or considering some skills as justifying a warrant-officer, rather than an enlisted, rank structure. In particular, the Army should:
• Be restored in active-duty strength and structure to meet the requirements of its current missions. Overall active strength should rise to approximately 525,000 soldiers from the current strength of 475,000. Much of this increase should bolster the over-deployed and undermanned units that provide combat support and combat service support, such as military intelligence, military police, and other similar units.
• Undertake selective modernization efforts, primarily to increase its tactical and operational mobility and increase the effectiveness of current combat systems through “digitization” – the process of creating tactical information networks. The Army should accelerate its plans to purchase medium-weight vehicles, acquire the Comanche helicopter and the HIMARS rocket-artillery system; likewise, the heavy Crusader artillery system, though a highly capable howitzer, is an unwise investment given the Army’s current capabilities and future needs, and should be canceled.
• Improve the combat readiness of current units by increasing personnel strength and revitalizing combat training.
• Make efforts to improve the quality of soldier life to sustain the current “middle class,” professional Army.
• Be repositioned and reconfigured in light of current strategic realities: elements of U.S. Army Europe should be redeployed to Southeast Europe, while a permanent unit should be based in the Persian Gulf region; simultaneously, forward-deployed Army units should be reconfigured to be better capable of independent operations that include ongoing constabulary missions as well as the initial phases of combat.
• Reduce the strength of the Army National Guard and Army Reserve, yet recognize that these components are meant to provide a hedge against a genuine, large-scale, unanticipated military emergency; the continuing reliance on large numbers of reservists for constabulary missions is inappropriate and short-sighted.
• Have its budget increased from the current level of $70 billion annually to $90 to $95 billion per year.The Current State of the Army
Measuring by its ability to perform any of the missions outlined above – overseas presence, fighting major theater wars, transforming for the future – the Army today is ill prepared. The most immediate problem is the decline in current readiness. Until the spring of 1998, the Army had managed to contain the worst effects of frequent deployments, keeping its so-called “first-to-fight” units ready to react to a crisis that threatened to become a major theater war. But now, as recently retired Army Chief of Staff Gen. Dennis Reimer explained to Congress:
[C]ommanders Army-wide report that they are reducing the frequency, scope, and duration of their exercises…. Additionally, commanders are not always able to make training as realistic and demanding as they would like. In some cases, commands are not able to afford the optimum mix of simulations to live-fire training events, resulting in less-experienced staffs. Several commands report that they are unable to afford the participation of their aviation units in Combat Training Center rotations. Overall, affordable training compromises are lowering the training proficiency bar and resulting in inexperience….Already, readiness at the battalion level is starting to decline – a fact that is not going unnoticed at our Combat Training Centers.
In recent years, both the quality and quantity of such training has diminished. Typically, in prior years, a rotational unit might have eight battalion-level field training “battles” prior to its Fort Irwin rotation, and another eight while at the training center. Today, heavy forces almost never conduct full battalion field exercises, and now are lucky to get more than six at the National Training Center.
Like the other services, the Army continues to be plagued by low levels of manning in critical combat and maintenance specialties. Army leaders frankly admit that they have too few soldiers to man their current force structure, and shortages of NCOs and officers are increasingly com- on. For example, in Fiscal Year 1997, the Army had only 67 percent to 88 percent of its needs in the four maintenance specialties for its tanks and mechanized infantry vehicles. In the officer ranks, there are significant shortfalls in the captain and major grades. The result of these shortages in the field is that junior officers and NCOs are being asked to assume the duties of the next higher grade; the “ultimate effect,” reported Gen. Reimer, “is a reduction in experience, particularly at the…‘tip of the spear.’”
The Army’s ability to meet its major-war requirements, particularly on the timetables demanded by the war plans of the theater commanders-in- chief, is uncertain at best. Although on paper the Army can meet these requirements, the true state of affairs is more complex. The major- theater- war review conducted for the QDR assumed that each unit would arrive on the battlefield fully trained and ready, but manpower and training shortages across the Army make that a doubtful proposition, at least without delays in deployment. Even could the immediate manpower shortages be remedied, any attempt to improve training – as was done even in the run-up to Operation Desert Storm – would prove to be a significant bottleneck. The Army’s maneuver training centers are not able to increase capacity sufficiently or rapidly enough. Under the current two-war metric, high-intensity combat is envisioned as a “come-as- you-are” affair, and the Army today is significantly less well prepared for such wars than it was in 1990.Army Forces Based In the United States
The primary missions of Army units based in the United States are to rapidly reinforce forward-deployed units in times of crisis or combat and to provide units capable of reacting to unanticipated contingencies. In addition, the service must continue to raise, train and equip all Army forces, including those of the Army National Guard and Army Reserve. While the reforming the posture of its forces abroad is perhaps the largest task facing the Army for the immediate future, it is inevitably intertwined with the need to rebuild and reconfigure the Army at home.
The need to respond with decisive force in the event of a major theater war in Europe, the Persian Gulf or East Asia will remain the principal factor in determining Army force structure for U.S.-based units. However one judges the likelihood of such wars occurring, it is essential to retain sufficient capabilities to bring them to a satisfactory conclusion, including the possibility of a decisive victory that results in long-term political or regime change. The current stateside active Army force structure – 23 maneuver brigades – is barely adequate to meet the potential demands. Not only are these units few in number, but their combat readiness has been allowed to slip dangerously over recent years. Manning levels have dropped and training opportunities have been diminished and degraded. These units need to be returned to high states of readiness and, most importantly, must regain their focus on their combat missions.
The Army needs to restore units based in the United States – those needed in the event of a major theater war – to high states of readiness.
Because the divisional structure still remains an economical and effective organization in large-scale operations as well as an efficient administrative structure, the division should remain the basic unit for most stateside Army forces, even while the service creates new, smaller independent organizations for operations abroad. The Army is currently undergoing a redesign of the basic divisional structure, reducing the size of the basic maneuver battalion in response to the improvements that advanced technologies and the untapped capabilities of current systems permit. This is a modest but important step that will make these units more deployable, and the Army must continue to introduce similar modifications. Moreover, Army training should continue its emphasis on combined-arms, task-force combat operations. In the continental United States, Army force structure should consist of three fully-manned, three-brigade heavy divisions; two light divisions; and two airborne divisions. In addition, the stateside Army should retain four armored cavalry regiments in its active structure, plus several experimental units devoted to transformation activities. This would total approximately 27 ground maneuver brigade-equivalents.
Yet such a force, though capable of delivering and sustaining significant combat power for initial missions, will remain inadequate to the full range of strategic tasks facing the Army. Thus, the service must increasingly rely on Guard units to execute a portion of its potential warfighting missions, not seek to foist overseas presence missions off on what should remain part-time soldiers. To allow the Army National Guard to play its essential role in fighting large-scale wars, the Army must take a number of steps to ensure the readiness of Guard units. The first is to better link the Guard to the active-duty force, providing adequate resources to increase the combat effectiveness of large Guard units, perhaps to include the partial manning of the first-to-deploy Guard brigades with an active command cadre. Secondly, the Guard’s overall structure must be adjusted and the overall number of Army National Guard units – and especially Guard infantry divisions – reduced. This would not only eliminate unnecessary formations but would permit improved manning of the first-to-fight Guard units, which need to be manned at levels significantly above 100 percent personnel strength to allow for timely deployment during crises and war.
In addition, the Army needs to rationalize the missions of the Army Reserve. Without the efforts of Reservists over the past decade, the Army’s ability to conduct the large number of contingency operations it has faced would be severely compromised. Yet the effort to rationalize deployments, as discussed in the previous section, would also result in a reduction of demand for Army Reservists, particularly those with highly specialized skills. Once the missions in the Balkans, for example, are admitted to be long-term deployments, the role of Army Reserve forces should be diminished and the active Army should assume all but a very small share of the mission.
Returning the National Guard to its traditional role would allow for a reduction in strength while lessening the strain of repeated contingency operation deployments.
In sum, the missions of the Army’s two reserve components must be adjusted to post-Cold-War realities as must the missions of the active component. The importance of these citizen-soldiers in linking an increasingly professional force to the mainstream of American society has never been greater, and the failure to make the necessary adjustments to their mission has jeopardized those links. The Army National Guard should retain its traditional role as a hedge against the need for a larger- than-anticipated force in combat; indeed, it may play a larger role in U.S. war-planning than heretofore. It should not be used primarily to provide combat service support to active Army units engaged in current operations. A return to its traditional role would allow for a further modest strength reduction in the Army National Guard. Such a move would also lessen the strain of repeated deployments in contingency operations, which is jeopardizing the model of the part-time soldier upon which Guard is premised. Similarly, the Army Reserve should retain its traditional role as a federal force, a supplement to the active force, but demands for individual augmentees for contingency operations reduced through improvements to active Army operations and deployments, organizations, and even added personnel strength. In the event that American forces become embroiled in two large-scale wars at once, or nearly at once, Army reserve components may provide the edge for decisive operations. Such a capability is a cornerstone of U.S. military strategy, not to be frittered away in ongoing contingency operations.
A second mission for Army units based in the United States is to respond to unanticipated contingencies. With more forward-based units deployed along an expanded American security perimeter around the globe, these unforeseen crises should be less debilitating. Units like the 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions and the Army’s two light infantry divisions, as well as the small elements of the 3rd Mechanized Infantry Division, that are kept on high alert, will continue to provide these needed capabilities. So will Army special operations units such as the 75th Ranger Regiment. Moreover, the creation of middle-weight, independent units will begin the process of transforming the Army for future contingency needs. As the transformation process matures, a wider variety of Army units will be suitable for unanticipated contingency operations.Forward-based Forces
American military presence abroad draws heavily on ground forces and the Army, which is the service best suited to these long-term missions. In the post-Cold-War environment, these forward-based forces are, in essence, conducting reconnaissance and security missions. The units involved are required to maintain peace and stability in the regions they patrol, provide early warning of imminent crises, and to shape the early stages of any conflict that might occur while additional forces are deployed from the United States or elsewhere. By virtue of this mission, these units should be self-contained, combined-arms units with a wide variety of capabilities, able to operate over long distances, with sophisticated means of communication and access to high levels of U.S. intelligence. Currently, most forward-based Army units do not meet this description.
Such requirements suggest that such units should be approximately brigade or regimental-sized formations, perhaps 5,000 strong. They will need sufficient personnel strength to be able to conduct sustained traditional infantry missions, but with the mobility to operate over extended areas. They must have enough direct firepower to dominate their immediate tactical situation, and suitable fire support to prevent such relatively small and independent units from being overrun. However, the need for fire support need not entail large amounts of integral artillery or other forms of sup-porting firepower. While some artillery will prove necessary, a substantial part of the fire support should come from Army attack aviation and deeper fixed-wing interdiction. The combination of overwhelming superiority in direct-fire engagements, typified by the performance of the Bradley fighting vehicle and M1 Abrams tank in the Gulf War (and indeed, in the performance of the Marines’ Light Armored Vehicle), as well as the improved accuracy and lethality of artillery fires, plus the capabilities of U.S. strike aircraft, will provide such units with a very substantial combat capability.
These forward-based, independent units will be increasingly built around the acquisition and management of information. This will be essential for combat operations – precise, long-range fires require accurate and timely intelligence and robust communications links – but also for stability operations. Units stationed in the Balkans, or Turkey, or in Southeast Asia, will require the ability to understand and operate in unique political- military environments, and the seemingly tactical decisions made by soldiers on the ground may have strategic consequences. While some of these needs can be fulfilled by civilians, both Americans and local nationals, units stationed on the American security frontier must have the capabilities, cohesion and personnel continuity their mission demands. Chief among them is an awareness of the security and political environment in which they are operating. Especially those forces stationed in volatile regions must have their own human intelligence collection capacity, perhaps through an attached special forces unit if not solely through an organic intelligence unit.
The technologies required to field such forces already exist and many are already in production or in the Army inventory. New force designs and the application of information technologies can give new utility to existing weaponry. However, the problem of mobility and weight becomes an even more pressing problem should ground forces be positioned in Southeast Asia. Even forward-based forces would need to be rapidly deployed over very long distances in times of crisis, both through fast sealift and airlift; in short, every pound and every cubic foot must count. In designing such forces, the Army should consider more innovative approaches. One short-term approach could be to build such a unit around the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft now being built for the Marine Corps and for special operations forces. A second interim approach would be to expand the capabilities of current air-mobile infantry, by adding refueling probes to existing helicopters, as on special operations aircraft. Another approach could involve the construction of truly fast sealift vessels.
In sum, it should be clear that these independent, forward-based Army units can become “change-agents” within the service, opening opportunities for transformational concepts, even as they perform vital stability operations in their regions. In addition, such units would need to train for combat operations on a regular basis, and will require new training centers as well as new garrisons in more relevant strategic locations. They will operate in a more dispersed manner reflecting new concepts of combat operations as well as the demands of current stability operations. In urban areas or in the jungles of Southeast Asia, they will operate in complex terrain that may more accurately predict future warfare. Certainly, new medium-weight or air-mobile units will provide a strong incentive to begin to transform the Army more fundamentally for the future. Not only would increased mobility and information capabilities allow for new ways of conducting operations, the lack of heavy armor would mandate new tactics, doctrines and organizations. Even among those units equipped with the current Abrams tank and Bradley fighting vehicle, the requirement for independent operations, closer ties to other services’ forces and introduction of new intelligence and communications capabilities would result in innovation. Most profoundly, such new units and concepts would give the process of transformation a purpose within the Army; soldiers would be a part of the process and take its lessons to heart, breaking down bureaucratic resistance to change.
American landpower is the essential link in the chain that translates U.S. military supremacy into American geopolitical preeminence.
In addition to these newer force designs for Europe, the Gulf, and elsewhere in East Asia, the Army should retain a force approximating that currently based in Korea. In addition to headquarters units there, the U.S. ground force presence is built around the two brigades of the 2nd Infantry Division. This unit is already a hybrid, neither a textbook heavy division nor a light division. While retaining the divisional structure to allow for the smooth introduction of follow-on forces in times of crisis, the Army also should begin to redesign this unit to allow for longer-range operations. Because of the massive amount of North Korean artillery, counter-battery artillery fires will play an important role in any war on the peninsula, suggesting that improving the rocket artillery capabilities of the U.S. division is a modest but wise investment. Likewise, increasing the aviation and attack helicopter assets of U.S. ground forces in Korea would give commanders options they do not now have. The main heavy forces of the South Korean army are well trained and equipped, but optimized for defending Seoul and the Republic of Korea as far north as possible. In time, the 2nd Infantry Division’s two brigades might closely resemble the kind of independent, combined-arms forces needed elsewhere.Army Modernization and Budgets
Since the end of the Cold War, the Army has suffered dramatic budget cutbacks, particularly in weapons procurement and research, that have resulted in the degradation of current readiness described above and have restricted the service’s ability to modernize and innovate for the future. The Army’s current attempts at transformation have been hobbled by the need to find “bill-payers” within the Army budget.
In Fiscal Year 1992, the first post-Cold-War and post-Gulf War Army budget was $91 billion measured in constant 2000 dollars. This year, the Congress has approved $69.5 billion for Army operations – including several billion to pay for operations in the Balkans – and President Clinton’s request for 2001 is $70.6 billion, more than $2 billion of which will be allocated to Balkans operations. Likewise, Army procurement spending is way down. Through the Clinton years, service procurement has averaged around $8 billion, dipping to a low of $7.1 billion in 1995; the 2000 request was for $9.7 billion, by far the largest Army procurement request since the Gulf War. By contrast, Army weapons purchases averaged about $23 billion per year during the early and mid-1980s, when the current generation of major combat systems – the M1 tank, Bradley fighting vehicle, Apache and Black Hawk helicopters and Patriot missile system – entered production.
In addition to terminating the Crusader artillery program, the Army’s annual budget must increase to the $90 to $95 billion level to finance current missions and the Army’s long-term transformation.
To field an Army capable of meeting the new missions and challenges discussed above, service budgets must return to the level of approximately $90 to $95 billion in constant 2000 dollars. Some of this increase would help the Army fill out both its under-manned units and refurbish the institutional Army, as well as increasing the readiness of Army National Guard units. New acquisition programs would include light armored vehicles, “digitized” command and control networks and other situational awareness systems, the Comanche helicopter, and unmanned aerial vehicles. Renewed investments in Army infrastructure would improve the quality of soldier life. The process of transformation would be reinvigorated. But, as the discussion of Army requirements above indicates, Army investments must be redirected as well as increased. For example, the Crusader artillery program, while perhaps the most advanced self-propelled howitzer ever produced, is difficult to justify under conditions of revolutionary change. The costs of the howitzer, not merely in budgetary terms but in terms of the opportunity cost of a continuing commitment to an increasingly outmoded paradigm of warfare, far outweigh the benefits; the Crusader should be terminated. However, addressing the Army’s many challenges will require significantly increased funding. Though the active-duty force is 40 percent smaller than its total at the end of the Cold War, several generations of Army leadership have chosen to retain troop strength, paid for by cuts in procurement and research. This cannot continue. While the Army may be too small for the variety of missions discussed above, its larger need is for reinvestment, recapitalization and, especially, transformation. Taken together, these needs far exceed the savings to be garnered by any possible internal reforms or efficiencies. Terminating marginal programs like the Crusader howitzer, trimming administrative overhead, base closings and the like will not free up resources enough to finance the radical overhaul the Army needs.
American landpower remains the essential link in the chain that translates U.S. military supremacy into American geopolitical preeminence. Even as the means for delivering firepower on the battlefield shift – strike aircraft have realized all but the wildest dreams of air power enthusiasts, unmanned aerial vehicles promise to extend strike power in the near future, and the ability to conduct strikes from space appears on the not-too- distant horizon – the need for ground maneuvers to achieve decisive political results endures. Regimes are difficult to change based upon punishment alone. If land forces are to survive and retain their unique strategic purpose in a world where it is increasingly easy to deliver firepower precisely at long ranges, they must change as well, becoming more stealthy, mobile, deployable and able to operate in a dispersed fashion. The U.S. Army, and American land forces more generally, must increasingly complement the strike capabilities of the other services. Conversely, an American military force that lacks the ability to employ ground forces that can survive and maneuver rapidly on future battlefields will deprive U.S. political leaders of a decisive tool of diplomacy.Air Force: Toward a Global First-Strike Force
The past decade has been the best of times and worst of times for the U.S. Air Force. From the Gulf War to Operation Allied Force over Kosovo, the increasing sophistication of American air power – with its stealth aircraft; precision-guided munitions; all-weather and all-hours capabilities; and the professionalism of pilots, planners and support crews – has allowed the Air Force to boast legitimately of its “global reach, global power.” On short notice, Air Force aircraft can attack virtually any target on earth with great accuracy and virtual impunity. American air power has become a metaphor for as well as the literal manifestation of American military preeminence.
Specialized Air Force aircraft, like the JSTARS above, are too few in number to meet current mission demands.
Simultaneously, the Air Force has been reduced by a third or more, and its operations have been increasingly diffused. In addition, the Air Force has taken on so many new missions that its fundamental structure has been changed. During the Cold War, the Air Force was geared to fight a large-scale air battle to clear the skies of Soviet aircraft; today’s Air Force is increasingly shaped to continue monotonous no-fly-zone operations, conduct periodic punitive strikes, or to execute measured, low- risk, no-fault air campaigns like Allied Force. The service’s new “Air Expeditionary Force” concept turns the classic, big-war “air campaign” model largely on its head.
Like the Army, the Air Force continues to operate Cold-War era systems in this new strategic and operational environment. The Air Force’s frontline fighter aircraft, the F-15 and F- 6, were built to out-perform more numerous Soviet fighters; U.S. support aircraft, from AWACS and JSTARS command-and-control planes to electronic jamming aircraft to tankers, were meant to work in tandem with large numbers of American fighters. The U.S. bomber fleet’s primary mission was nuclear deterrence.
The Air Force also has begun to purchase new generations of manned combat aircraft that were designed during the late Cold War; the F-22 and, especially, the Joint Strike Fighter, are a response to requirements established long ago. Conversely, the decision to terminate the B-2 bomber program was taken before its effectiveness as a long-range, precision, conventional-strike platform was established; in the wake of Operation Allied Force, regional commanders-in-chief have begun to reevaluate how such a capability might serve their uses. Further, the Air Force should reevaluate the need for greater numbers of long-range systems. In some regions, the ability to operate from tactical airfields is increasingly problematic and in others – notably East Asia – the theater is simply so vast that even “tactical,” in-theater operations will require long- range capabilities.
In sum, the Air Force has begun to adapt itself to the new requirements of the time, yet is far from completing the needed changes to its posture, structure, or programs. Moreover, the Air Force is too small – especially its fleet of support aircraft – and poorly positioned to conduct sustained operations for maintaining American military preeminence. Air Force procurement funds have been reduced, and service leaders have cut back on purchases of spare parts, support aircraft, and even replacements for current fighters in an attempt to keep the F-22 program on track. Although air power remains the most flexible and responsive element of U.S. military power, the Air Force needs to be restructured, repositioned, revitalized and enlarged to assure continued “global reach, global power.” In particular, the Air Force should:
• Be redeployed to reflect the shifts in international politics. Independent, expeditionary air wings containing a broad mix of aircraft, including electronic warfare, airborne command and control, and other support aircraft, should be based in Italy, Southeastern Europe, central and perhaps eastern Turkey, the Persian Gulf, and Southeast Asia.
• Realign the remaining Air Force units in Europe, Asia and the United States to optimize their capabilities to conduct multiple large-scale air campaigns.
• Make selected investments in current generations of combat and support aircraft to sustain the F-15 and F-16 fleets for longer service life, purchase additional sets of avionics for special-mission fighters, increase planned fleets of AWACS, JSTARS and other electronic support planes, and expand stocks of precision-guided munitions.
• Develop plans to increase electronic warfare support fleets, such as by creating “Wild Weasel” and jammer aircraft based upon the F-15E airframe.
• Restore the condition of the institutional Air Force, expanding its personnel strength, rebuilding its corps of pilots and experienced maintenance NCOs, expanding support specialties such as intelligence and special police and reinvigorating its training establishment.
• Overall Air Force active personnel strength should be gradually increased by approximately 30,000 to 40,000, and the service should rebuild a structure of 18 to 19 active and 8 reserve wing equivalents.The State of the Air Force
Also like the Army, in recent years the Air Force has undertaken missions fundamentally different than those assigned during the Cold War. The years since the fall of the Berlin Wall have been anything but predictable. In 1997, the Air Force had four times more forces deployed than in 1989, the last year of the Cold War, but one third fewer personnel on active duty. Modernization has slowed to a crawl. Under such circumstances, the choices made to build a warfighting force can become liabilities. As Thomas Moorman, vice chief of staff of the Air Force from 1994 through 1997, has stated:
None of us believed, at the end of the Cold War, that we would be doing Northern Watch and Southern Watch in 1998. Bosnia still exists – everyone [in the Air Force has] been there since 1995….Couple that with the fact that we've seen surges, particularly in Iraq. Saddam Hussein has been very effective in pulling our chain, and we've had three major deployments, the last of which was very significant; it was 4,000 people and 100 aircraft. And we stayed over there a lot longer than we thought we would.
As a result, Air Force “readiness is slipping – it’s not just anecdotal; it’s factual,” says Gen. Michael Ryan, the Air Force Chief of Staff. Since 1996, according to Ryan, the Air Force has experienced “an overall 14 percent degradation in the operational readiness of our major operational units.” And although Air Force leaders claim that the service holds all its units at the same levels of readiness – that it does not, as the Navy does, practice “tiered” readiness where first-to-fight units get more resources – the level of readiness in stateside units has slipped below those deployed overseas. For example, Air Combat Command, the main tactical fighter command based in the United States, has suffered a 50 percent drop in readiness rates, compared to the service-wide drop in operational readiness of 14 percent.
These readiness problems are the result of a pace of operations that is slowly but surely consuming the Air Force. A 1998 study by RAND, “Air Force Operations Overseas in Peacetime: OPTEMPO and Force Structure Implications,” concluded that today’s Air Force is barely large enough to sustain current no-fly-zone and similar constabulary contingencies, let alone handle a major war. While the Department of Defense has come to recognize the heavy burden placed upon the Air Force’s AWACS and other specialized aircraft, the study found that “specialized aircraft are experiencing a rate of utilization well beyond the level that the current force structure would seem able to support on a long-term basis.” The study also revealed that the current fighter force is stretched to its limit as well. Under current assumptions, the current fighter structure “has the capacity to meet the [peacekeeping] demand, but with a meager reserve – only about a third of a squadron (8 aircraft) beyond the demand.” An additional no-fly-zone mission, such as is now being conducted over the Balkans, for example, “would be difficult to meet on a sustained basis.” According to Ryan, the accumulation of these constabulary missions has had a dramatic effect on the Air Force. He recently summarized the situation for Congress:
Our men and women are separated from their home bases and families for unpredictable and extended periods every year — with a significant negative impact on retention. Our home-station manning has become inadequate — and workload has increased — because forces are frequently deployed even though home-station operations must continue at near-normal pace. Our units deploying forward must carry much more infrastructure to expeditionary bases. Force protection and critical mission security for forward-deployed forces is a major consideration. The demands on our smaller units, such as [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] and combat search and rescue units, have dramatically increased — they are properly sized for two major theater wars, but some are inadequately sized for multiple, extended contingency operations. Due to the unpredictable nature of contingencies, training requirements have been expanded, and training cannot always be fully accomplished while deployed supporting contingencies. Because contingencies are unpredictable, it is much more difficult to use Reserve Component forces, many of whom need time to coordinate absences with civilian employers before they are free to take up their Air Force jobs.
These cumulative stresses have created a panoply of problems for the Air Force: recruiting and retention of key personnel, especially pilots, is an unprecedented worry; the service’s fleet of aircraft, especially support aircraft, is aging significantly; spare parts shortages, along with shortages of electronic subsystems and advanced munitions, restricts both operational and training missions; and the quality and quantity of air combat training has declined.
Even as routine, home-station combat training has suffered in recent years, so have the Air Force’s major air combat exercises. Lack of funds for training, reports Ryan, means that “aircrews will no longer be able to meet many training requirements and threat training will be reduced to unrealistic level. Aircrews will develop a false sense of security while training against unrealistic threats.” Similarly, the Air Force’s program to provide advanced “aggressor” training to its pilots is a shadow of its former self: during the 1980s there was one aggressor aircraft for every 35 Air Force fighters; today, the ratio is one for every 240 fighters. The frequency with which Air Force aircrews participate in “Red Flag” exercises has declined from once every 12 months to once every 18 months.
Air Combat Command, the main tactical fighter command based in the United States, has suffered a 50 percent drop in readiness rates.
The Air Force’s problems are further compounded by the procurement holiday of the 1990s. The dramatic aging of the Air Force fleet and the resulting increase in cost and maintenance workload caused by air-craft fatigue, corrosion and parts obsolescence is the second driving factor in decreasing service readiness. By the turn of the century, the average Air Force aircraft will be 20 years old and by 2015, even allowing for the introduction of the F-22 and Joint Strike Fighter and continuing purchases of current aircraft such as the C-17, the average age of the fleet will be 30 years old. The increased expense of operating older aircraft is well illustrated by the difference in airframe depot maintenance cost between the oldest F-15A and B models – at approximately 21 years old, such repairs average about $1.9 million per aircraft – versus the newest F-15E model – at 8 years in average age, the same kinds of repairs cost about $1.3 million per plane, a 37 percent cost difference. But perhaps the costliest measure of an aging fleet is that fewer airplanes are ready for combat. Overall Air Force “non-mission capable rates,” or grounded aircraft, have increased from 17 percent in 1991 to 25 percent today. These rates continue to climb despite the fact that Air Force maintenance personnel are working harder and longer to put planes up. The process of parts cannibalization – transferring a part from one plane being repaired to keep another flying – has increased by 58 percent from 1995 to 1998.
Some of the Air Force’s readiness problems stem from the overall reduction in its procurement budget, combined with the service’s determination to keep the F-22 program on track – as much as possible. The expense of the “Raptor” has forced the Air Force to make repeated cuts in other programs, not only in other aircraft programs, but in spare parts and even in personnel programs; even the Air Force’s pilot shortage stems in part from decisions taken to free up funds for the F- 2. These effects have been doubly compounded by the changes in the pattern of Air Force operations over the past 10 years. Support aircraft such as the AWACS and JSTARS, electronic combat and tanker aircraft were all intended to operate in concert with large numbers of tactical aircraft in large-scale operations. But in fact, they are more often called upon now to operate with just a handful of fighter or strike aircraft in no-fly zone operations or other contingencies. As a result, these types of aircraft routinely are rated as “low-density, high-demand” systems in the Pentagon’s joint-service readiness assessments; in other words, there are too few of them to meet mission requirements. The Air Force’s modernization program has yet to fully reflect this phenomenon. For example, the formal JSTARS “requirement” was reduced from 19 to 13 aircraft; only lately has an increased requirement been recognized. Likewise, the original C-17 procurement was cut from 210 to 120 aircraft. In fact, to meet emerging requirements, it is likely that 210 C-17s may be too few. Overall, the Air Force’s modernization programs need a thorough-going reassessment in light of new missions and their requirements.Forward-Based Forces
The pattern of Air Force bases also needs to be reconsidered. Currently, the Air Force maintains forward-based forces of two-and- one- half wing equivalents in Western Europe; one wing in the Pacific, in Japan; a semi-permanent, composite wing of about 100 aircraft scattered throughout the Gulf region; and a partial wing in central Turkey at Incirlik Air Force Base. Even allowing for the inherent flexibility and range of aircraft, these current forces need to be supplemented by additional forward-based forces, additional permanent bases, and a network of contingency bases that would permit the Air Force to extend the effectiveness of current and future aircraft fleets as the American security perimeter expands.
In Europe, current forces should be increased with additional support aircraft, ranging from an increased C-17 and tanker fleet to AWACS, JSTARS and other electronic support planes. Existing forces, still organized in traditional wings, should be supplemented by a composite wing permanently stationed at Incirlik Air Force Base in Turkey and that base should be improved significantly. The air wing at Aviano, Italy might be given a greater capability as that facility expands, as well. Additionally, the Air Force should establish the requirements for similar small composite wings in Southeastern Europe. Over time, U.S. Air Forces in Europe would increase by one to two-and-one-half wing equivalents. Further, improvements should be made to existing air bases in new and potential NATO countries to allow for rapid deployments, contingency exercises, and extended initial operations in times of crisis. These preparations should include modernized air traffic control, fuel, and weapons storage facilities, and perhaps small stocks of prepositioned munitions, as well as sufficient ramp space to accommodate surges in operations. Improvements also should be made to existing facilities in England to allow forward operation of B-2 bombers in times of crisis, to increase sortie rates if needed.
In the Persian Gulf region, the provisional 4044th Wing should continue to operate much as it has for the better part of the last decade. However, the Air Force should take several steps to improve its operations while deferring to local political sensibilities. To relieve the stress of constant rotations, the Air Force might consider using more U.S. civilian contract workers in support roles – perhaps even to do aircraft maintenance or to provide additional security. While this might increase the cost of these operations, it might also be an incentive to get the Saudis, Kuwaitis and other Gulf states to assume a greater share of the costs while preserving the lowest possible U.S. military profile. By the same token, further improvements in the facilities at Al Kharj in Saudi Arabia, especially those that would improve the quality of life for airmen and allow increased combat training, warrant additional American as well as Saudi investments. The Air Force presence in the Gulf region is a vital one for U.S. military strategy, and the United States should consider it a de facto permanent presence, even as it seeks ways to lessen Saudi, Kuwaiti and regional concerns about U.S. presence.
The overall effectiveness of the B-2 bomber is limited by the small size of the fleet and the difficulties of operating solely from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri.
But it is in East Asia that the Air Force must look to increase its capabilities and reach. The service currently has about two wings worth of aircraft stationed at three bases in Japan and Korea; like the Army, the Air Force is concentrated in Northeast Asia and lacks a permanent presence in Southeast Asia, thus limiting its regional reach. The Air Force also has an F-15 wing in Alaska that is officially part of its Pacific force, as well. The Air Force needs roughly to double its forces stationed in East Asia, preferably dispersing its bases in the south as it has in the north, perhaps by stationing a wing in the Philippines and Australia. As in Europe, Air Force operations in East Asia would be greatly enhanced by the ability to sustain long-range bomber operations out of Australia, perhaps also by including the special maintenance facilities needed to operate the B-2 and other stealth aircraft. Further, the Air Force would be wise to invest in upgrades to regional airfields to permit surge deployments and, incidentally, help build ties with regional air forces.Air Force Units Based In the United States
Even as the Air Force accelerates operations and improves its reach in the key regions of the world, it must retain sufficient forces based in the United States to deploy rapidly in times of crisis and be prepared to conduct large-scale air campaigns of the sort needed in major theater wars and to react to truly unforeseen contingencies. Indeed, the mobility and flexibility of air power virtually extinguishes the distinction between reinforcing and contingency forces. But it is clear that the Air Force’s current stateside strength of approximately eight to nine fighter-wing equivalents and four bomber wings is inadequate to these tasks. Further, the Air Force’s fleets of support aircraft are too small for rapid, large- scale deployments and sustained operations.
The Air Force’s structure problems reflect troubles of types of aircraft as well as raw numbers. For example, when the service retired its complements of F-4 “Wild Weasel” air defense suppression and EF-111 electronic warfare aircraft, these missions were assumed by F-16s fitted with HARM system pods and Navy and Marine EA-6B “Prowlers,” respectively. The effect has been to reduce the size of the F-16 fleet capable of doing other missions. The F-16 was intended to be a multi- mission airplane, but the heavy requirement for air defense suppression, even in no-fly-zone operations, means that these aircraft are only rarely available for other duties, and their pilots’ skills rusty. Likewise, the loss of the EF-111 has thrust the entire jamming mission on the small and old Prowler fleet, and has left the Air Force without a jammer of its own. The shortage of these aircraft is so great that, during Operation Allied Force, no-fly-zone operations over Iraq were suspended.
The Air Force’s airlift fleet is similarly too small. The lift requirements established in the early 1990s did not anticipate the pace and number of contingency operations in the post-Cold-War world. Nor have the requirements been changed to reflect force design changes – both those already made, such as de facto expeditionary forces in the Army and Air Force, nor those advocated in this report. The need to operate in a more dispersed fashion will increase airlift requirements substantially.
Further, the Air Force’s need for other supporting aircraft is also greater than its current fleet. As Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Ryan has observed, his service is far short of being a “two-war” force in many of these capabilities. Even in daily no-fly-zone operations with relatively small numbers of fighters, the nature of the mission demands AWACS, JSTARS and other long-range electronic support aircraft; EA-6Bs and F-16s with HARM pods for jamming and air defense suppression; and several tankers to permit extended operations over long ranges. The “supporter-to-shooter” ratios of the Cold War and of large-scale operations such as the Desert Storm air campaign have been completely inverted. Air Force requirements of such aircraft for perimeter patrolling missions and for reinforcing missions far exceed the service’s current fleets; no previous strategic review has contemplated these requirements. While such an analysis is beyond the scope of this study, it is obvious that significant enlargements of Air Force structure are needed.