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Up, Up, and Out - my turn to whack the Paul Kane piñata

Bill and Dusty have whacked at it quite a bit already, maybe I'll be the one who knocks the candy loose.

I decided to take a different approach - I emailed out to the Old Soldier network, and solicited the views of men who'd commanded in war from Korea through OEF/OIF, from company-level to brigade level, from peace time to peace keeping to major combat operations, conventional and unconventional.  Men who'd commanded infantry, armor, aviation and artillery.  I also asked one service support guy, but he declined to participate.

Some were willing to be attributed and some weren't, so what follows is a pastiche of their responses.  

This response is from a retired Colonel, who commanded at battalion level, on the issue of the Air Force - Dusty will shake his head in annoyance, but also nod in agreement:


The Air Force certainly has a serious problem that they do not wish to address. They are not part of the present fight and have been working to marginalize themselves since before Vietnam when they decided that strategic airpower was their stock in trade and that support to ground forces was beneath their dignity. They paid it lip service for years, failed to develop the airplanes, weapons systems, and command and control construct necessary to fight in a ground centric environment. Their inflexible ATO process ensures that ground commanders will not have the air support that they need when they need it. The Air Force doesn’t care. Their ridiculous stance on commissioned officers piloting anything that flies, including UAVs is untenable, you simply do not need that level of talent to provide competent human oversight of these automated machines. Arrogance is a hard habit to break and if the Air Force doesn’t break it, they will find themselves in a fix, and the country will be harmed as well.

We are not going to get rid of the Air Force. The Corps of Topographical Engineers may be the last element of the services to be eliminated, although I guess you might have to include the tank destroyer corps and the Sanitary Corps in that list as well. We cannot afford to provide air support for the entire Armed Forces of the United States in the way the Marine Corps mans their Air Wings, and we don’t need anymore carrier qualified pilots. We do need an Air Force manned, equipped, and trained for the threats that we face today and tomorrow and buying more $300 million airplanes is not helpful in that regard.

As an A-10 pilot and commander of  the USAFE ALO teams that supported USAREUR, Dusty is probably going to take issue with the "...failed to develop the airplanes, weapons systems, and command and control construct necessary to fight in a ground centric environment" element of this and will talk about the Army wilfully failing to understand, to the point of obstinately so, the application and integration of airpower.But he'll like the rest.  I'll leave that discussion to others. 


The Auld Soldier (my father), who fought and commanded in peacetime and two wars with a draft-fed army was willing to be seen in the open, and offered this up - Dusty will both be annoyed with and pleased by it:


First -it ain't going to happen- none of it.

I agree that the AF is over sized, over funded and not over there, but I can't imagine congress approving the transfer of AF assets & missions to the Army & Navy. I'm not even sure the Army would be interested or would know what to do with it. We didn't do the best job in the word the first time around.  [Italics mine - and the part that Dusty should like]

My experience with draftees was very positive. I think 90% were at least as competent as the current all volunteer force after the first six months and therein lies a problem. If their term of service is only 18 months to two years units would always have a lot of turbulence with troops arriving & departing (probably 10% or more a month). You will also have a large number of folks in a non-deployable status. To make efficient use of the huge pool available the active army would have to be back up to a million and a half authorized & you know that isn't going to happen short of a major war.

This discussion of the draftees dovetails with some of my concerns about re-implementing the draft.  In the other threads the discussion of how the Army has become more expeditionary and plug-and-play in nature has been discussed - and this is exemplified by the ARFORGEN system - ARmy FORce GENeration.  Essentially, under this system, to preserve unit cohesion, only one-third of the Army is "fully ready" at any given time.  One third is deployed or deployable, one third is recovering, and one third is in training to become deployable.  Factor in the *bulk* of your junior troops being on short-term enlistments... well, it either isn't going to work, or say hello to Stop Loss again - that turbulence that the Auld Soldier was talking about.  Only this time you aren't stop-lossing volunteers who signed a contract (which 98% of them read and understood) - you're stop-lossing draftees.  That's going to sit well.

Arguably, of course, that is precisely an intent of putting the draft back in from a Lefty perspective.  It makes it much harder to use the Army for anything less than peacekeeping or full-bore war.

SWWBO brought up the cost issue in her comment on Bill's post.  The All-Vol force is expensive.  You expand the force significantly with a draft... you're going to either have a career/non-career pay system, which won't happen - not when the long service and short service privates are defending the same foxhole or assaulting the same enemy position... or you're going to cut pay in order to keep the costs containable.

I would note that former Marine Kane happily preserves his alma frater while eliminating the Air Force.  A former brigade commander of my acquaintance had this to say on that subject:


This is a narrow interpretation of the problem. I do agree that we cannot long afford redundancy. Because we have essentially four tactical air forces (including the Navy's and the Army having its own Air Force) the United States is paying for more Air Forces than it needs. However, Kane's solution is only one solution. Why not consolidate all Air Forces into a single department called the US Air Force. On the other hand why do we need a USMC with little or no distinction between it and the US Army?

Perhaps we should consolidate all ground forces into one department and call it the US Army or even do it the other way.

On the issue of the mega-draft proposed by Mr. Kane, our former brigade commander offered this up:


Ok; I did not take that seriously to tell you the truth since there is no chance it is going to happen but I do understand the urge.

In my view this is so improbable that I am not sure that it even requires discussion. A large segment of America has opted out of service or even considering it. That bothers me but not nearly as much as the sanctimonious way that same group dismisses those who are willing to serve only because they have no other option.

Even if that were so it is an appalling admission that America's foreign policy is carried out by folks who lack economic opportunity. What does that say about everyone else? Worse still the segment of society that won't serve actively campaigns to have recruiters barred from high schools. Is it from conviction that any military operation is wrong or the fear that their child might actually wish to serve if given the opportunity to hear what service means to those who have?


He went on to note that he suspects that before Mr. Kane and his fellow-travelers were done, the benefits accorded to a silver-spoon scion who traveled 20 miles from his comfortable perch in a gated community to teach inner-city kids to read would be earning the same GI Bill-style benefits of the Private climbing the mountains of the Hindu Kush winkling the insurgents and bandits out of their holes.

Me?  The Air Force is going to have change rammed down it's throat, one way or another - and can either choose to be a part of the process or steamrollered by it.  Of course, the same is true of all the services, including the Coast Guard.  The real question - and that is handled at the level of the White House and Secretary of Defense, is whether or not the strategic assessments and decisions that flow therefrom will be valid.

Which is all moot if Congress perceives a threat to their perks and pork in the change, as they get played by everybody in the military-industrial complex.

As for the idea of near-universal service... I have little confidence in the ability of the government to usefully orchestrate something that big - outside of turning it over to the military, as was done with efforts like the CCC during the Depression era. And that begs the question of who sets the priorities in that endeavor - while the Army of today does have a  better handle on nation-building than it once did - it doesn't mean it has the foggiest idea of nation-building in the context of Home Town, USA.

  The nature of federally-directed activities like that is to fall prey to the same thing that killed the Soviet economy - centralized planning, and the imposition of one-size-fits-all solutions to problems, and the creation of innovation-sucking bureaucracies that become self-perpetuating.  Better to allocate the funds to the states, impose fiscal accountability (especially on those Cook County hosers) and let communities decide what they need.

But if we're going to do it  - as Dusty said in his bit: centralized organization and decentralized execution.  But I'm not in favor of drafting people.  You want to incentivize them, fine. 
 

9 Comments

The Air Force certainly has a serious problem that they do not wish to address. They are not part of the present fight and have been working to marginalize themselves since before Vietnam when they decided that strategic airpower was their stock in trade and that support to ground forces was beneath their dignity. That's pretty much the standard Army Colonel line in my experience. Not all guys think like that but when they're frustrated, they either accuse you of cowardice (V Corps CoS) or lack of patriotism, i.e., all we care about is ourselves and screw the Army. True, the SAC mafia ruled before Vietnam but the fighter mafia took over and has run the place since this guy was probably a Captain. The "beneath their dignity" snark is pretty much what I expect from a knuckle-dragging ground pounder and I file it under "ignorant oaf."
They paid it lip service for years, failed to develop the airplanes, weapons systems, and command and control construct necessary to fight in a ground centric environment. I don't know what he means by a "ground-centric environment" unless he's talking about fighting on land. As far as the failure to develop jets and systems to fight in that environment, I'd refer him to A-10s, F-16s, F-4Gs, F-15Es, Predators with Hellfire, Mavericks, LGBs and lots of other things that, um, are designed to go after ground targets. The frustration with C2 is a two-way street...the USAF has a huge array of combat systems and combat power that when properly orchestrated and understood makes the ARMY ground commander's life a lot more pleasant. All BOTH sides have to do is make a little effort in understanding and thereby fully exploiting each other's strengths ands weaknesses. I offer him an enthusiastic "Amen!" if he says the USAF is as much to blame for not making the effort to understand the Army's side of the story but I saw a lot of eagerness to do so on the part of younger leaders when I was departing the service...and I saw it on the Army's side, too. That said, the latest backslide I can point to was in Afghanistan in the opening phases of the War there when a major operation went south because the Air Force wasn't even told about it until a few hours prior to departing the LD. Frankly, I fault BOTH the USAF support team embedded with the Army AND the Army commander for not rolling the air guys into his plan from the get-go.  Their inflexible ATO process ensures that ground commanders will not have the air support that they need when they need it. To use a technical term, Bullshit. The ATO is a lot more flexible than you might think. Let me translate, i.e., what I hear when guys make the above statement, "I don't understand it, I don't want to understand it and because I won't, I say you're inflexible. So there." Fine. Whatever. Come get me when you are ready to fight a Joint fight. The Air Force doesn’t care. Their ridiculous stance on commissioned officers piloting anything that flies, including UAVs is untenable, you simply do not need that level of talent to provide competent human oversight of these automated machines. Arrogance is a hard habit to break and if the Air Force doesn’t break it, they will find themselves in a fix, and the country will be harmed as well. Wow. And you're calling ME arrogant? The old "unpatriotic" canard--we "don't care," you know better how to man our systems than we do, yada, yada, yada. You don't want to know some of the prejudices many blue-suiters hold about Army officers. They are totally unfair and dispicable, but they came from somewhere. Just knock off the "they don't care" nonsense, OK? Makes you look stupid. 
 
Snerk.  I *knew* Dusty would get exercised.

But, dude - they all want to *keep* you!
   
You're never happy, Dusty.  Always want the whole enchilada...
 
John, As I look at what you are writing, you are talking about a very complex situation. But you and your group fail to bring into the discussion a question that requires an answer. The question is this, what is the overall context of the issue for all branches, not just the Air Force? We have two balanced views of warfare, "COIN" *AND* "FULL SPECTRUM". We live in this complex world and we need everybody at the table. Yes, we need the "warfighter" at the table. While we are at the table, we all need to talk about this Nation. Somewhere, in our thinking, we have deluded ourselves into the idea, "Freedom is Free". No, Dusty, I'm not talking about a draft, I came from that era. I'm talking about the teacher, who does their job well. The same is true for public safety, the trades, the professions, the geeks and the military, all of these people are paying the debt of freedom. There is a special group of people at this table, they are the character builders for the potential warfighter. They have one thing in common, they know they'll be required to let go. They are people like parents, teachers, coaches, friends and extended family members. But there is one very special warfighter, in their own right, they command the respect they truly deserve, the warfighter's spouse and family. Lastly, John, I want you to take a quick glance at the warfighter and take a mind's eye snapshot. Now you know the realm or region of the "Battle Space", Is he trained to fight in that particular "Battle Space"? Now, if we change the region, is it still true? Now, if change the realm, is it still true? This is the reason for "Full-Spectrum Warfare".

 We need to fight smarter and not harder.

Politicians need to understand from  all sides, both Houses, Parties and Branches, that we cannot solve everything.

As I look this, I see you writing from a limited group, command.  As an enlisted Airman, we used the call the whole group, " A Major Pain in the Brass". The truth was they were all good people. We were just doing the things they couldn't do.

My *thanks and appreciation* to *all of you* and for your *courage* to put ideas out there for *old fools like me*.
 
Many of you know me, but I cannot say everything that I want to say openly, and I will not say in hiding what I cannot say in the open.  I know that's convoluted, but it basically means I won't say behind a fake name things I would be afraid or bound by duty not to say behind my real name.

That said, since my father always told me that if I can't say something positive, to say nothing, I'll just say this about my 7 years experience with and opinions of the Air Force:  Go Army!


P.S.  Given my experiences with quite a few active and retired mid-range AF Officers, I am absolutely truly afraid to be openly honest about anything negative.  I have been lied to and about by military people I work for, and the guy in charge here told me to my face just two weeks ago that the truth doesn't matter.   My new motto: Form over substance, go along to get along, don't trust anyone!
 

A few comments from the foxhole of the "ignorant oaf":

First, I stand by my remarks.  If the Air Force wants to be relevant into the future, and they need to be, then they should listen to those they pretend to support.  As one who has enjoyed Air Force support on the borders of both Cambodia and Laos where no others dared to tread, I can attest to the value of brave pilots and their superb flying machines.  I would not be writing these words otherwise.

But, the Air Force of today is not the Air Force of that era or the 8th Air Force of my father-in-laws era when he was piloting B-24's and B-17's over Festung Europa.  Something has gone wrong, and while I cannot pretend to know all of the causes, I do detect the symptoms.  Technophilia is a rampant American disease and it runs rampant amongst the Boys in Blue.   Mastery of the machine is essential, of course, otherwise you become a greasy spot on the landscape.  But, the institution must remember its mission and its purpose.  Those who strap themselves into modern combat aircraft understand this and I do not point fingers in their direction.  But, the Air Force as an institution does not reflect the attitude and dedication of its indivdual pilots.  It just doesn't.  I love to understand why, and stand ready to be enlightened.

Ignorant Oaf I may be, but I do know that I owe my life to pilots who were willing to risk theirs flying low level at low speed in the midst of radar directed AA fire to put ordnance practically in my rucksack so that I could disengage my recon team and live to fight another day.  My cousin and his F-4G along with his backseater became one with the Canadian countryside one fateful day that was meant to be just another training exercise.  My father-in-law at 90 is one of the few left who lifted off the Anglian countryside, assembled, and led their squadrons and groups into the belly of the beast.  I understand, do you?

 
A lot said that amounts to little.

What *is* the fight we should be setting up for?  Does strategic values the AF attains by being either the fighter mafia or the bomber mafia matter?  Or is it just a bunch of crap?  I, for one, though I'm more loyal to the USN than any other Service, say, "Yes, indeedee, they do."  

What would happen if we did give it over to the Army?  Could it be that they would spend all their efforts on CAS while letting AirDom go, betting someone else(Navy) will pick it up? 

Yeah, the current set up isn't perfect.  Groundpounders are never happy with how fast(or lack of fast) support gets to them.  5 years ago it was complaints about how long it took lanyard pullers to get off their duffs.  That's not saying that there isn't a problem, but seeing the context.

Getting rid of the AF is a DUMB idea.  They may need to be brought kicking and screaming to take up other capabilities in earnest, at the cost of dominance in others, but that's not the same thing as getting rid of it.  There's value in how the AF sees things and woud conduct and design a war plan.  That would be lost entirely, and to our detriment as well.  

That said, maybe we could get there by doing redesigns of the F-15 and F-16 instead of going F-35/22.  Giving them the benefits of new materials and the like.  Most of the work is already done, so it's bound to be cheaper than either the Lightning Dos or the Raptor.  Which would leave more money for an A-10 replacement. 

But Grunts are never happy.  It's a soldiers' right to $itch, neh?
 
lvncenturion,

I stand by my remarks as well. When you say the Air Force doesn't care and don't qualify it like you just tried to do, you tar everyone who wears the blue uniform with the same brush. Moreover, I know you didn't intend it, but by lauding one group of flyers in the 40s you inadvertently denigrated those who, for example, spent years in camps in Hanoi after going against the most concentrated anti-aircraft system ever devised...and that dwarfed anything the Germans ever conceived...in 50s technology airplanes, under Rules of Engagement that should have had the political establishment indicted and tried. And the sons and daughters of those heroes fly the skies of Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea, etc., today. The warriors are still there and they spend lots of time WAAAAY behind enemy lines...tonight.

I'm glad you appreciate some of them even as you belittle the institution as a whole. But this is something we are used to.

Is there plenty wrong with the USAF? You betcha! But the sneer doesn't become you and I'll call you on it every time you try. It was my job as a Corps ALO then and it's my job as a retired milblogger now.

For your service, I salute you and I'd buy a round any time. Our Army is the best the human race has ever produced and the Air Force is populated from the same stock, as are sailors and Marines. Each, in their services, tries to do what they think is best for the country, despite what you may think. Are there aviation bigots out there? Yep. There are hundreds of idiots at ACC HQ alone that need to be taken out and slapped. Don't even get me started on the Pentagon. However, comma, are there Cav, Armor, Arty and straight-leg Infantry boneheads and bigots out there? Hmmm? And do they define the Army in my eyes? You tell me...but don't piss on my "Boys in Blue" and tell me it's raining. Fair enough?

Now, forgive me for not writing further this PM but I have a big plane to catch in about 5 hours (and have a really good seat up front, too) and I need to bag a few ZZZZs. 

Cheers! (Really)