Thursday, April 14, 2005

Can Of Worms, Don't Read This

Ralph Peters has a great piece in the New York Post today (linked above). It is a scathing commentary on the Air Force’s persistence in pursuing the F-22 in light of the fiscal austerity the Marine and Army operate under. I, of course, love the piece because it is very complimentary of the Marine Corps and Marine Corps Aviation. It hacks away at the Air Force for pursuing its expensive hardware agenda, while the Army and Marine Corps have troops dying in the field.

Because I have a foot in each pond…every Marine is a grunt, but also being an aviator, I feel I can make a fair assessment of the piece.

First of all, having an unmatched aerial capability can be taken for granted. US troops have not had bombs dropped on them in significant amounts since World War II, period. If our ground forces had been subjected to 1/10th of the air delivered ordnance that we have dropped over the last 60 years, our casualties would have been significantly higher, and the outcomes, in each case may have been different. Remember the Army in Grenada at the airfield? Add in significant aerial bombardment and what happens? My point is, that we have been achieving our superior results on the ground with a virtually impenetrable shield over our heads…some supplied by the individual services, some provided by the USAF, usually with significantly more capable aircraft, and with the unstated assumption that we will not get bombed. As has been the case for sixty years. So, on one hand, I can’t blame the AF for digging in, and pursuing a technological advantage.

I will agree with Ralph on the facilities part of his piece. I think the AF hurts its credibility when they over-do their “crew rest,” and “substandard facilities,” arguments. It was a bit ludicrous that the AF pilots had to live in ski lodges in the Dolomites while us Marine schmucks had to live in tents 300 meters from the end of the runway in Aviano, Italy. They couldn’t stay there because their sleep would be disrupted…somehow us Marine aviators are built a bit different than our AF brethren and are impervious to db levels above 140. A bit of advice here, toughen up, show good value at all times, and rarely will you be denied a legitimate request.

On the “dominating the battle space” arguments. If an AF general said that, then he is ignorant. Any moron this day and age, can arm three divisions and deploy them against our forces, and the schemes of maneuver possibilities are endless. The AF and Navy equations are a bit easier to deal with…ship leaves port, track it, shoot it. Aircraft takes off, track it, shoot it. Simple. No matter how simple ground combat may be viewed from a distance, trust me, simply getting your gear on an getting moving would drain most of us. Fighting and patrolling are exhausting activities that go on endlessly. I’ll say it out loud, the AF units I have come into contact with, would be looking for the ski lodges in the Dolomites after day one. No need for the AF Gens to slam the Marines and the Army while attempting to make their case. I can’t believe that they are not smart enough to know that they are comparing apples to oranges…if they are that dumb, then the AF is definitely in need of new leadership.

In the end, I believe we need to have a significantly superior air arm, but shortchanging our ground troops engaged in the field, and bad-mouthing their efforts while they are dying, is no way to get it.


Mike said...

You forgot that the first thing built at any AFB is a golf course...hell, if we just shut down all the golf courses, we'd probably have enough money saved to buy a squadron or two of Raptors.


Anyway, I've addressed this topic over at my blog, as has Air Force Voices...its obviously something that's going to shape the future of the military.

I would like to thank you, though, for understanding the work that goes into the air domination that we've enjoyed since World War II. Too often people don't understand that its not enough to have an Air Force that consists of recon drones, tankers, AWACS, Hawgs, and Beagles. The current F-15C is outdated; its no longer the world's premier A2A fighter. Now, whether or not the Raptor is the best solution is up for debate; what isn't debatable is that SOMETHING must be done unless the Army and Marines wish to have to actually use their Air Defense units in the next war.

Mixed Humor said...

Mixed Humor
Security Watchtower

Anonymous said...

The AF has always had a real and significant tension in deciding priorities when choosing between tactical and strategic targets. In WWII the AF gave first priority to the enemy's manufacturing base (strategic) over the troops in the field. This trend continued up to Gulf War I when the AF's plan was very similar if not exactly the same. At the time, there was a lot of talk about how the AF alone could win the war based on this plan that has since proved groundless. I very much agree that the AF should continue its technological edge for a variety of reasons but perhaps a shift from strategic targets to supporting the troops in the field is in order. The high priced systems that the AF constantly pursues is part of the price we pay for deterring other nation states from opposing us militarily. However, the magnitude of this strategic dominance may be such that it allow greater institutionalization of tactical priorities within the AF. It is not unreasonable for the people on the ground to expect all the services to support the battlefield. This may also be in line with Rumsfeld's transformation of the military into a more resonsive force.

devildog6771 said...

Well said Major Mike.

Licken Chicken said...

Here, Here.

Papa Ray said...


Well, if the R&D and the build prices were not so inflated as to make each unit (aircraft frame) cost almost prohibitive and then the add ons for all the gear that should come standard (but is not)cost almost as much as the airframe....

We might be able to afford to change to the next generation without everyone debating and "cost justifing" the change.

What ever happened to common sense and a sense of national pride coupled with giving the taxpayers value for their hard earned taxdollars.

Without making a corporation and its executives rich and its stockholders suck on the hind tit.

Never mind, I forgot that corporate greed and inefficient American business practices rule the day.

Papa Ray
West Texas

P.S. Maybe we could just buy a few new airframes from the Russians, they seem to be able to make them pretty cheap and they are pretty good from what I read (along with a few of their air to air missles).

Papa Ray
West Texas

Mike said...

Russian aircraft don't have stealth. (Unless you believe MiG's bunk about "plasma shielding")

And their electronics are quite inferior to U.S. electronics.

Which is part of the reason why R&D is so expensive. Electronic superiority requires much investment. But I agree, there is quite a bit of "overhead" that screws the taxpayers; it actually is very detrimental to the Air Force as well...thanks to the total screw up of the tanker deal, our tanker fleet gets to fall apart while Congress dithers over just how far the improper dealings went regarding the deal.

Anonymous, I agree that groundpounders should have the priority...but at the same time, without the priority given to targeting German industry (however misguided and wasted that effort was), would the Wehrmacht been so chronically short of fuel?

The point I'm trying to make is that support of the groundpounders is important, but this support can come in different forms; CAS is necessary, but is horribly inefficient in the face of anything resembling an air defense; interdiction is much more efficient and effective in the long term, but requires more deep strike capability as opposed to straight tactical capability...Beagles or F-111s, say, vs. A-10s.

Anyway, the debate is kind of irrelevant in regards to the GWOT, because with the introduction of the JDAM, any bomb carrying aircraft can provide CAS. B-52s to F-16s to A-10s.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't trying to make a critique one way or another of the AF's past targeting priorities. I certainly don't have the knowledge or expertise to make such a judgment. I was just trying to comment on what I see as historical trend. But, the point I was trying to make in a round about way was that the AF seems to have complete domination in all aspects of airwarfare of such a great magnitude that a shift to tactical considerations wouldn't make much of a difference regarding strategic priorities.

Air Force Voices said...

Comments are forthcoming...Peter's commentary touched off lots of conversation at the Air Command and Staff College (especially around the "espresso bar").

I have been out of the loop the last week as I was in the throes of completing my research paper (spent more time fighting with the Chicago Manual of Style to format the final product).
Anyway, I haven't been reading or posting lately. Still trying to catch up on email and blog posts.

Response is forthcoming.


Major Mike said...

Great...congrats on finishing your paper...nice to have you back. MM

Mixed Humor said...

Hey MM...just wanted to give you a heads up that AF Voices posted his thoughts on the Peters column in case you didn't catch wind of it elsewhere.

Mixed Humor
Security Watchtower

Dave said...

The Air Force has historically taken a strategic view of combat at the expense of the tactical. In the Cold War the focus was on the Deep Fight, striking strategic targets that had little or nothing to do with the immediate tactical and even operational goals, not unlike the Air Force and RAF bombing campaigns in World War II. This was largely driven by the Air Force's focus on nuclear weapons and the religious belief that "the bomber will always get through."

This approach results in an air campaign that is often disjointed from the tactical and operational wants, but can still reap benefits with the tactical and operational needs. This is what happened at Dunkirk, where the BEF soldiers were punching the RAF officers for "not being there" when in fact the RAF was farther inland intercepting the bomb-laden Ju-87s, where the Stukas were literally flying rocks in air-to-air combat with the British Hurricanes. Still, the BEF never forgave the RAF for saving their lives.

The Air Force persisted in this mentality during Vietnam, with their insistence on shiny metal fighters that could fly very very fast in straight lines and shoot down bombers and drop nice nuclear bombs, but couldn't do a damn thing for the grunts on the ground. Heinie Aderholt learned this when he fought the "Big Blue Air Force" to create the first Air Force Special Forces unit, the Air Commandos, and bring real CAS to the troops in the form of AC-47s and other propeller-driven aircraft that provided the low speed, high loiter times and large weapon payloads needed to lay the hurt into the enemy at close range. For eschewing the Buck Rogers approach and focusing on saving grunts' lives, he was an immediate pariah.

But he was right.

This isn't to say the concept of strategic warfare and the Deep Fight are wrong; on the contrary, they are necessary components in the effort to compel an enemy to submit to your will. But the Air Force has a long track record of ignoring CAS. They recently decided to scrap the A-10 in favor of the F-16 for CAS, and while in a pinch anything will do, I guarantee any Army or Marine grunt in the field would give his left nut for an A-10 over a lawn dart any day.

The F-22 is just the latest in this series of decisions. It's a wicked-cool plane that any pilot in his right mind would sell his own mother to fly (hey, checkout the toys, it has an IR laser-based wireless network between planes!) but it remains to be seen if it really will be worth it. As mike said, the F-15C is outdated and we need something. Will the F-22 cut it? Technically, yes, it will probably kick the ass off any plane on the planet today, though that will not be solely because of the plane but because of the integrated find-fix-destroy technology the Air Force has in terms of JSTARS, AWACS, etc. Those are huge value-adds that the other side doesn't enjoy.


But damn, given the way contracting works, for the price of one F-22 we could provide a hell of a lot of high-quality body armor to our grunts...

Max C said...

The question every thinking and concerned mil aviation buff needs
to consider in relation to the F22 debacle is,

Is a meager force of 100 - 200 or so of those aircraft, at an
individual cost of well over $100 million USD per-copy really
in the longer term interests of the defence of the free world ?

Is it in our front line combat pilots interests, to send them into harms way, even further out numbered, on that basis ?

Since Korea, being out numbered is not unusual for the USAF, but with the cost associated with both the Raptor, and the new JSF, and as we've seen with the B-2, this maybe increasing that pressure, by yet another order of magnitude, as out of economic nessesity those limitations are creating ever diminishing caps on the quantity of these aircraft that we can afford to procure, and feild.

We need to consider to what degree and to what critical threshold, this
in itself, will begin to constitute an insurmountable handycap, against a forseeable advisary, regardless, of what-ever wiz-bang "capability" that the manufacture's, USAF, and Pentagon promise for these "systems."

Furthermore, will they actually perform as advertised under adverce conditions ? So far we've been asked to take it all on faith, after countless billions in research, prototyping, and the most costly, protracted testing and development program to date.

What are the prosects in today's enviroment of rapid technological
paradyme shifts, that the attributes and advantages of these systems
could be to various degrees mitigated, or even nutralised, in the not so distant future, by technogical breathroughs, or even reletively modest, and available means to our enemies ? Including, simply overwhelming numerical advantage.

This might not be such a critical issue, if not for the horendous costs and effort being poured into the development of these systems, however, we maybe in effect, putting far too many eggs, into that single, very expensive basket, and therefore are left with no alternative means what so ever, if it fails. This is crtitical, and I cannot over emphasize the importance of this single point, this what the costs of procurement of
these advanced systems has come to.

There are also many valid questions with respect to the overall effectiveness, and even usefullness, of these systems against
terrorist religious fundementalist suisidial fanatics, and in several of the guerilla, urbanised 4th generation warefare style enviroments that we've experienced in Afganistan, Iraq, and also the Balkans.

Just for example, might some percentage of the exorbident cost we've poured into the development of these systems perhaps be better spent on human intelligence gathering, persistant survelliance, covert operations, including infiltration of the terrorist organisations, etc,,etc ?

The military industrial complex would have us believe and follow without question, the foundation, and nessesisty of the F-22, but these are
real, and valid concerns, that every thinking American, and Western
ally should be cognicient of.

Consider that the USAF currently is supposidly geared to wage 2 wars,
or significant conflicts on 2 fronts at the same time, in addition
there's the ongoing NORAD and NATO commitment, Korea, Afgfanistan, and Iraq, for the forseeable future, and all simutainiously.

Will a force of 150, or so, Raptors, and only a few hundered JSFs be enough, as the current F15s, and F16s age relentlessly towards the limits of metal fatigue, and economicaly viable repair ?

Another concern amoung sceptics is the track record of the USAF,
for taking an otherwise good airframe, and others being not so good
from the onset, and then ruining thier "performance" by pileing on
so much extranious crap, in the name of "enhanced capability"
all by concensus and commitee, with the goal of pleasing everybody.

In the case of the F-22 it seems to be more goal driven with the
expectation that all the "extra crap," piled on, will somehow render it invincible, or somehow enable it to be in 3 places at the sametime, as the diwndling procurement quanity may by nessesity require, in a forseeable

Just some food for thought, and believe me, there's a lot more to it, the further you dig into this issue. There's also the micro economic factors, in the form of corporate wellfare, or susbidies to the Mil. Industrial Complex. With Boeing and Lockheed involved, the USAF, not to mention the USN are now essentialy procureing from one and only a single monopolistic, and monothythic source, where, less than 20 years ago, we had nearly a 1/2 dozen suppliers.

I encourage everyone to do thier homework thoughly, by looking into this in depth, and not to just take the USAF, Lockheed, Boeing, and program enthusiasts, information and advertising as the thier one, and only perspective.


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