View Full Version : U.S. Air Force Loses Out in Iraq War

12-19-2006, 12:08 AM
19 December Christian Science Monitor - U.S. Air Force Loses Out in Iraq War (http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/1219/p03s01-usmi.html) by Richard Whittle.

Fresh from its successes in Kosovo in 1999 and its initial Afghanistan campaign in 2002, the US Air Force was riding high on the notion that air power could transform warfare. But the war in Iraq has changed that.

Now the service's planes are wearing out. It is so short of cash that it plans hefty cuts in personnel. And its combat mission has changed so that, for perhaps the first time in Air Force history, hostile fire has killed more of its ground personnel than its pilots and airmen.

This reversal of fortune has been sharp, defense analysts say.

"At the beginning of the Bush administration, not only did it look like air power could win wars, but there was a new crop of policymakers ready to embrace that message," says Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va., think tank with close ties to top military officers. Now, "I'm hard-pressed to think of a time when the Air Force has faced more problems."

Air Force officials acknowledge the difficulties but point to the experience that they've gained.

"The Air Force is better because of these wars," says Gen. T. Michael "Buzz" Moseley, the service's chief of staff, in an interview. "The Air Force is a war-fighting institution. What we do for this country is fly and fight. You have the most combat-experienced Air Force you've had since World War II."

By his reckoning, the Air Force has been in combat since 1990, when its surveillance planes and fighter-bombers first started patrolling over Iraq in the wake of Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. After the 1991 Gulf War, Air Force pilots policed "no-fly" zones over Iraq for 12 years, along with Navy and British fliers.

Air Force fighter jets, bombers, and aerial refueling tankers played key roles in both the 1999 NATO air war to force Serbian troops out of Kosovo and in the 2002 campaign to oust the Taliban from power in Afghanistan. And the service's planes have seen action every day in Iraq and Afghanistan since the wars there began.

But if the past three years have made the Air Force stronger, it's in "much the same way that a death by cuts makes you stronger," says Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace industry analyst with the Teal Group, a Fairfax, Va., consulting firm.

For example: The average age of Air Force planes is now a quarter-century, and wear and tear from the wars are forcing the service to place limits on how some are flown.

General Moseley and Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne announced earlier this year that the service's new top priority is buying aerial refueling tankers to replace a fleet that includes aircraft nearly half a century old.

To free up more money for aircraft, the Air Force plans to cut roughly 40,000 people, reducing its force to 315,000 by fiscal year 2009. "The Air Force is sitting on the oldest aircraft we've ever had," Moseley says. "There's no way out of that but to seek efficiencies in the personnel account."...

12-19-2006, 09:14 AM
"There's no way out of that but to seek efficiencies in the personnel account."...


Steve Blair
12-19-2006, 08:56 PM
Typically lame response on the part of AF commanders.

Part of the reason their aircraft inventory is so old is that they've insisted on developing high-end, high price dream machines that take years to reach any sort of operational status. This means they've been flying the wings off the A-10 (which they constantly want to retire), the B-52 (which will outlast both the B-1 and B-2 according to the AF's own operations estimates), and their entire lift fleet (which they hate maintaining since it takes away from the fighters and bombers).

The other reason this has hit the AF so hard is their own culture, which trades on dreams and machines at the expense of personnel. The machines feed off the dreams, which explains why their tanker buy is so late in the game. Tankers don't have the zip or glamor of fighters (or the big bombers), so you ignore them until there's no other option. It's depressing when you work around it every day.

12-19-2006, 10:36 PM
Near the end of the article is this statement by Moseley:"So while the Air Force has been willing to provide ground personnel, "the real question is: How long do you do this?" Moseley says. "When do we reach a point that we say we don't have excess people to do this? And we're getting close."

I recently read some statistics regarding personnel deployment to Iraq. Less than 7% of the Air Force is currently deployed!! While we certainly have a few that have been to the sandbox many times for long periods, we certainly aren't anywhere the near the breaking point or even close to the strain on the Army and Marines. It seems like the Army and Marines have refocused their training to account for the small wars environment. Perhaps its time the Air Force did the same.

The newly proposed initiative for a new combat skills facility to train airmen is a right step. However, we to think about how we can absorb some of the missions for the Army and Marines. I don't have the complete solution, but it would seem that using AF personnel in more support roles would be a start. Couldn't AF finance troops, transport troops, jags, etc. fill in for some soldiers and Marines that could be shifted to infantry-type roles?

12-20-2006, 09:47 AM
My Air Force friends bemoan the "drunken assignment monkey" that appears to run the Air Force. They are involuntarily re-training some, while refusing to allow others with similar qualifications to volunteer for the same specialty, and eliminating some within the specialty that others are being retrained into.

Makes no sense, but it IS the Air Force.

Steve Blair
12-20-2006, 02:03 PM
The AF is busy cutting people so that they can buy their fancy new toys (the F-22, a follow-on to the B-2, and other stuff).

When the AF deploys, no matter how they spin it with the AEF stuff, it's only a small percentage of their total force that is impacted. A-10 units, tankers, AWACS, B-52s...you guessed it - they ALL go. Other units, not so much. There are people in the AF who have been stationed in the same locations for 10+ years. F-15 units (non-Strike Eagle) aren't going to be touched as much as Strike Eagle squadrons. And the small but growing F-22 community is immune to deployment for the foreseeable future. So that 7% is a small figure when compared to the total force, but certain communities are being tapped more than they should be, while others get to hang out and pay lip service to wartime footing.

Add to that the fact that the AF more or less denies the existence of small wars (at least as far as something they really need to take a major interest in), and you get to the center of the problem. From an AF perspective, Small Wars aren't flashy enough. They require equipment that the AF doesn't consider "high speed" (things like transports, slow attack craft, and the like) and thus doesn't invest much in as far as development. The A-10 has been a workhorse in this environment, and it's only been in the last YEAR or so that the AF has bothered to upgrade its avionics to give it a good night operations capability.

As for using AF personnel in support roles, it's those kind of support functions that they've been cutting back on for the past few years. Personnel career fields have been hard-hit, as have some of their IM areas.

12-20-2006, 02:41 PM
You are exactly right about the people vs. platforms argument. I read the Chief of Staff's letter to airmen a few months ago (I believe there was discussion about it here) and it clearly said that personnel were being cut to pay for weapons platforms. The value is with technology rather than personnel. This results in a number of problems too numerous to get into here, but this mentality permeates the Air Force and, I think, does it a disservice.

While other branchs of the service are relearning forgotten lessons of small wars, the AF never learned them. The AF thought of Vietnam as some sort of anomaly and refocused its Cold War thinking on China. While I believe that we certainly have to be ready for anything, including the rise of a peer or near competitor, we also have to fight the war we have not the one we want. Although I am unfamiliar with its exact mission, I know the Royal Air Force has an internal infantry regiment. Perhaps we should move toward something of this nature? It would certainly help us move toward helping our Army and Marine brothers.

There is a growing voice in AF circles that recognizes the lack of small wars focus. Lets just hope it gains traction. There are alot of us that want a bigger role in small wars.