AF chiefs: Cuts will not keep America prepared
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on June 16, 2010 1:46 PM
The former Air Force chief of staff and the former secretary of the Air Force say decisions made in Washington, D.C., regarding equipment and personnel could have serious repercussions on the nation's ability to remain strong in the face of increasing threats around the world.
Former Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne and former Chief of Staff retired Gen. Michael Moseley spoke specifically of the Department of Defense's call -- supported by President Barack Obama -- to end procurement of the F-22 Raptor and addressed delays in the production of the F-35 Lightning II and a restructuring of the Air Force that would mean fewer airmen in the ranks.
Using history as their guide, they questioned whether those decisions would see future generations of Americans coping with the consequences of what they say would be the country's loss of global military dominance.
"You can either say, 'The mission of the United States Air Force is to put a silver cloud over any place on Earth that the president would direct,' or you can say, 'Well, the odds are very, very low that you'll actually have to do that. So, if the odds are very, very low, now we can just not do that,'" Wynne said. "We all saw the choices that have been made recently ... and those choices have been legitimized, but if you could redefine war in the sense that there's never going to be one, then you would never have to invest in bullets. If you can't redefine war in the sense that there's never going to be one, the question becomes, 'How many bullets do you need?'"
Wynne was referencing the decision to end procurement of the F-22, a fifth-generation fighter jet with capabilities once-described as "unmatched by any known or projected aircraft." In July 2009, the U.S. Senate voted to end production of the fleet at 187, citing the economic burden of the aircraft, and some argued that since the Raptor was not used in Afghanistan, no more jets were necessary.
"I don't buy any of that," Moseley said. "Let's take the F-15 series, for example. We bought the airplanes and started bringing them on board in the mid-1900s. I got into the airplane in 1976. We fielded the airplanes, first, in Europe ... and then we moved them to Langley (Air Force Base), then we moved to Seymour (Johnson Air Force Base) and to Holloman (Air Force Base) and then we got them into the Pacific at Kadena (Air Base).
"The Asian challengers, North Korea, etc., when they looked at that airplane, there was a deterrence and a dissuading value to having that capability in those wings and being able to get there fast from Seymour, Holloman and Langley into Europe or the Pacific. So here's what you don't know: What didn't happen because you had that capability in that capacity? What dog didn't bark because you had the latest technology with the best people in the world?"
"Quantity has a quality all its own. Even the best fighters, if they are surrounded by small fighters, will succumb," he said. "So quantity really does have a quality all its own, and the other thing I would say is right now, it almost appears that the world is sensing that the U.S. is basically giving up its margin, its asymmetric advantage of air superiority.
"God knows how much. We would argue that we would like to stay 20 years ahead. Others might argue 15 or 12 years, 10 years may even be sufficient. The problem that we tried to argue is you'll only know it's insufficient if they are kicking your ass."
And for the two most powerful men in the Air Force from 2005 to 2008, that potential reality is simply unacceptable.
"The Air Force is a uniquely different organization than the Army or the Navy or the Marine Corps. The United States Air Force's job is to dominate ... international air space, space and the cyber world," Moseley said. "That takes you then to the questions of 'How big should the Air Force be? How capable should it be? What is the organizational structure to fight? What is the training model necessary to be able to go to Korea, Iran, Afghanistan, to do oil spills ... to do response to Katrina?'
"So when you think about all the Air Force is responsible for and when you talk about the technology deltas -- the F-22 and F-35, the new bomber, the new tanker, the new helicopter, the satellites -- they all represent the leading edge of the fifth generation. If you come off of that, or you somehow denigrate or degrade the capability, you will allow others, with marginal expenses, to catch up."
And for enemies no longer faced with hundreds of F-22s, catching up is as simple as purchasing the latest surface-to-air missiles.
"My example is, you're one check away from being able to deter and dissuade the American combat aviation forces with the new surface-to-air missiles," Moseley said. "You buy the new S-300 or S-400. For a little over $100 million dollars (you) could have one. You don't have to have hundreds of guys in white lab coats and production facilities to make these things. You can just go buy them. So if you were looking to be able to deter and dissuade the American military, you would write a check for $100 million and you're in the game.
"And unless you have an F-22 to go in at that altitude and that speed to deal with that SAM system -- the F-35 wasn't designed to do that, it was designed to be the stablemate -- so if you take the F-22 out of the game and you delay and play with the F-35 program ... you deny that airspace.
"So for us to go from the 380 to the 400 number (of Raptors) ... to be able to deploy to locations and provide a presence, to come down to (187), where 40 to 50 of the airplanes we have are not combat-capable because they are the training birds ... you're effectively down to about 100 airplanes," he added. "And of the 100 airplanes, to be able to deploy them and sustain a deployment, you're down to about 40 or 50. So if I'm the enemy, I write a check for the S-300 or S-400, because the Americans can only deploy 40 or 50 (F-22s) to maintain any kind of a presence."
And the result of that could be a challenge that American air forces should not have had in the first place -- an emboldened enemy, Moselely said.
"I put pressure on the American military and pretty soon, in a fascinating twist, because of all these program decisions and our focusing on the bottom lefthand corner of a bigger theater challenge, you deter and dissuade the Americans. Boy, that is not the intent."
Wynne looked down and shook his head.
"Well, it's going to cost too much. Well, we don't need that many airplanes. Well, we're too sophisticated. Well, we don't need that technology," he said. "That's scary thinking if you're using history as a guide."
He then talked about how military powers throughout history have fallen because of similar thinking.
"Hitler canceled the four-engine bomber in Germany because he was convinced he was re-fighting World War I and close-air-support was really going to be the end-all. So he went with the marauders," Wynne said. "So the Brits went back to Scotland and set up anti-aircraft so the Germans, in their two-engine planes, couldn't go north. That one program decision that didn't allow loiter time for those bombers coming north out of France might have cost Hitler that whole engagement.
"The Luftwaffe had married itself so tightly ... to the notion of a close-air-support Air Force, they canceled the four-engine bomber. ... That one afternoon, because they didn't have the range and payload, cost them the Battle of Britain. The Germans gave all that up. What if they had won the Battle of Britain? What would Europe look like now?"
Moseley cited other examples.
"The same thing happened to the Brits in the 1930s. They didn't organize themselves or equip themselves to be able to fight in a fast-moving, very, very challenging environment and they ended up at Dunkirk, and they had to evacuate 250,000 to 300,000 of their soldiers off the beaches of France. So there are examples along the way that if you take yourself down to this convenient, comfortable notion of, 'Let's just deal with today's problem' ... little flags should go off. Danger. Danger. Danger."
The general said he fears the current leadership's excessive focus on the fights in Iraq and Afghanistan could lead the U.S. down the same path.
"Let's not forget that counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism, and the fights that we've got right now in Afghanistan and Iraq, are kind of the bottom left hand corner of a bigger picture," Moseley said. "We have to be able to defend the country across the full spectrum of operations to include, potentially, North Korea, northeast Asia, an Iranian scenario ... so you have to be able to do business across the full spectrum.
"But we've been driven into this corner of counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism because our people are at risk and we're losing people. That's the fight we've got so we're not going to walk away from that. But that does not exclude us from the bigger requirement of having to defend the country across the full spectrum. And that includes a high-end threat that is getting more high-end every day."
So without a shift back to a philosophy more in line with theirs, both Moseley and Wynne fear future enemies would be able to, as unlikely as it sounds to many they have come into contact with, minimize the U.S. military's ability to defend itself across the globe.
"Honestly, it's too ugly to even think about. It really is," Wynne said. "It's like chess, warfare. Every time you move, the enemy moves as well. ... So if you're a bad guy and you don't want to suffer, you learn what ... your enemy is using and use (it) to your benefit."
"We want to win decisively. We don't want it called in the bottom of the ninth by one run," Moseley added. "So have the program decisions and the policy decisions that have been made moved the ball toward the direction of maintaining that margin of successful potential on a global scale? If not, by just sheer math, (your enemies) will catch you."