Tuesday, January 21, 2014

My Thoughts on Military Affairs, For What They're Worth...

Reminders of a Bygone Era
Last week I chimed in on a post over at Bring the Heat, Bring the Stupid concerning the independence of the Air Force. If you need to refresh your memory, XBradTC's take on things is here, my two cents was here. The reason I bring this up again is that some of the comments I received on that post made me think. A lot.

First of all, the comment which really set the creative juices flowing was this one, from Pogue, a blogger-in-arms and Navy veteran currently serving in the Army National Guard -

I actually believe the Army and Air Force should both be reduced to cadre during peace time, using the Guard and Air Guard to handle the nickle and dime stuff that comes up. The Navy and Marine Corps should be the power projection forces in peacetime. As far as the Air Force and Army Aviation being rejoined, I can see ups and downs either way. We would probably get more value out of eliminating a percentage of the staff bloat. As a modest proposal, how about we get rid of 90% of the O-9s, 80% of the O-8s, 70% of the O-7s ans 60% of the O-6's - either eliminating their function all together or moving it down a couple grades. All services. I wonder if anyone would notice? :-)
 My co-blogger, Tuna, who is a retired Naval Flight Officer (NFO), chimed in with this -
As a taxpayer, I'm 100% in agreement. As a military guy, I'm not as convinced, at least for the combined USA/USAF. As for merging other areas (USAF or USN taking over USMC Air, for instance), we'd lose a lot of specialization that each service brings to the table, and we'd have even more parochialism within the force than we do now. Now if you want to just unify the training systems at the basic level, I'd wholeheartedly agree. You could have a computer guy (using the exact same computer systems that his Navy Information Tech brothers in arms are learning. Afterwards, they can attend a service school to give them the advanced training the USAF or USA wants them to get. We already do this with basic flight training and intermediate Navigation training. That's what JPATS Joint Primary Aircraft Training System) was built for. I'd also agree with merging our individual intelligence services, and not just for the military- for the other organizations in the government as well.
Long time reader and frequent commenter Juvat, who flew both the F-4 Phantom and F-15 Eagle as an officer in the Air Force, had this to say -
My job in CinCPAC involved training JTF staffs how to do Campaign Planning. I'll confess, I learned a lot more from them than they learned from me, but one thing struck me as common throughout many of the people I worked with. They took Air Superiority as a given. IIRC the last American killed by an enemy aircraft occurred in North Africa in 1942, that's a long time not having to worry about a basic requirement of battlespace prep.
But juvat, they would say, nobody can stand up to us Air to Air wise, heck, the Eagle has well over 100 kills without a loss and the Raptor is even better, we don't need to worry about that. Yep, unless we're fighting China.  
So, my concern is a Combat Commander who doesn't really appreciate the need, downplaying the priority and not allocating assets to a problem 
resulting in a disaster. Notice I didn't mention another service Combat Commander, because in this day, I don't believe many USAF Generals 
appreciate the danger either.
Finally, there was this from HMS Defiant, who is a retired Navy captain (O-6 for you non-nautical types). He's held command at sea and knows his stuff inside and out - 
I commented on XBradTC's place. I started out Air Force but, when faced with a hole in the ground, I went upstairs and joined the navy. If we look at the astonishing number of fighter aircraft in the USAF we could probably scream out loud. Why do we have so many? They can self-deploy anywhere so all we need is a couple of hundred and they can destroy any air force in the world and be home the next day. I agree with Pogue above. There is a lot of excess that needs to go. There's a difference between the services and within the services. Even in the naval service we have aviation rates and seagoing rates that provide the same function but differently. The sailors that do the jobs are not 
interchangeable without some severe drawbacks. Nobody ever talks QDR* anymore, or, at least not out here in MetroParkCentralis.
So, a quartet of guys whose opinions carry a lot of weight with me. They've all "been there, done that". So, like I said, all of that got me to thinking.

First of all, Pogue's idea of reducing the Army and the Air Force to a cadre intrigues me and concerns me at the same time. First of all, what's a cadre?
A nucleus of trained personnel around which a larger organization can be built and trained.
Reducing the Army and Air Force to just a cadre would save a lot of money. Rather than having approximately a million people on active duty, you could probably reduce that to perhaps a hundred-thousand. On the other hand, the size of the reserve would have to increase tremendously. Those cadre would only be useful to expand the size of the force, they would be, by themselves, useless. Calling up the reserves, men and women who have already been trained would be the only way to go. The intake of civilians would have to be a continuous process. Training them from scratch at the start of a conflict would take far too long. By the time they could be fielded, there would no longer be a use for them. The war would be over.

Things have changed since World Wars One and Two. While those oceans are still pretty big, modern air transport can put troops on the ground in hours. Troops to overrun our airfields prior to bringing in follow on forces. Who would stop them? The TSA? The Transit Police?

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld put it well, "you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time."

All a cadre and a large reserve will get you is a force ready to re-fight World War One. Lots and lots of semi-trained infantry. That's not going to deter anyone. And really, it's all about deterrence. If you can't deter an enemy, you will have to fight him. Or yield the field to him.

A cadre would also be useless for the Air Force. Pilots and aircrew need to fly nearly constantly to maintain proficiency. The only way around having a large active force is to increase the size of the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve. And you still have to pay for all of those aircraft.

Having the Navy and the Marine Corps handle the "nickel and dime stuff" which occurs from time to time might be feasible. But then what would be the proper size for those two services? Again, I think they would need to be expanded greatly. What do we consider to be nickel and dime stuff? Afghanistan?

However, eliminating the hugely bloated staffs we have now would save a lot of money. I would wager we could cut staff at the Department of Defense by at least 50%.

What Tuna has to say about combined training is a game winner. The WSO went through her training with both Air Force and Marine officers. No need to pay for the same training in two different services. If we can do it there in a highly technical field, we can do it for other things as well.

Both Juvat and HMS Defiant address the current size of the Air Force. Some serious study is needed in that area. How many fighters are enough? Do we still need manned strategic bombers? Though the ability of the B-52s, B1s and B2s to reach out and touch someone from literally thousands of miles away is impressive, those missions have, in recent years, been virtually unopposed.

Like Juvat said, many take air superiority for granted. However, not all of our potential opponents are lacking a modern Air Force. Many of them have very good planes and pilots. As good as ours? Maybe yes, maybe no. We don't want to come up short when the time comes to find out.

I will agree with all of those knowledgeable guys above that there is a lot of fat which can and should be cut. But cut fat, not muscle.

There are procurement programs that have been, and continue to be, money pits. Those should be eliminated entirely and the people behind them disbarred from ever spending another taxpayer's dime. If not actually put in prison. There is far too much waste in the defense industry. I see it every day.

But if you simply want to have the cheapest military possible, first step is to do this...

Bring back the draft?
And that is simply not going to happen any time soon. For many reasons.

Anyway, that's my two cents.

*The Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) is a legislatively-mandated review of Department of Defense strategy and priorities.


  1. "...there is a lot of fat which can and should be cut..."
    I concur
    Just don't let congress decide what's fat
    effin' maroons

    1. They are part of the problem. They have always had the power to fix things. Too many PACs run by the defense establishment.

  2. Most of your commentators have far more experience than me. I will say one thing, training is critical. Fifty years ago, as a Combat Engineer, I saw it took nine months to a years of active duty before someone (including me) was competent and reliable at the enlisted level. Probable as long, or longer, for Lietenants.

    1. Training is absolutely critical. You can't make a good soldier overnight!

  3. Reducing to cadre makes sense on a purely economical level, but part of the strength of our military is in it's size. Being the biggest, baddest mo-fo on the block does something to our enemies. It makes them question stepping out of line, makes them think before acting, keeps them in check. Sure, we might have a very costly military that may never go to war, but that's part of the beauty of it. One of the reasons it never (or fully or rarely) goes to war, is that we are able to keep aggression and hostility in check around the world. Now could we do that with a large number of F-22s and F/A-18 E/Fs vice JSFs? Yeah, almost definitely. Would we still be vastly technologically superior with those jets and not the F-35? Absolutely. Economically, it makes sense to do both- keep a large force, yet one that is not so insanely expensive. As far as having superior numbers, that only works as a deterrent if the enemy knows, cares, and fears it. Having forces like the F-22 that never really gets into the fight is a waste. We need to show the flag, sail the great white fleet, make irrelevant Air and Space Expeditionary Force (AEF) deployments, put Army boots on the ground for force exchanges, cooperative engagements, training and exercises, etc. Costly? Yes. Wasteful? Not if you look at the less tangible effects. The Navy and Marines already show the force quite strongly and regularly. The others- not as much. That doesn't mean they aren't vital, but we're not using them as much as they could be used. And not using them doesn't necessarily make them useless, it just puts them in the realm of strategic deterrence vice active kinetic forces. I won't start on the fat vs. muscle right now- there's plenty of the former, and I could stay on that soapbox for days.

    1. Tuna, I think you nailed it. If we have a military to match our diplomacy we are well served. For a long time our diplomacy has been the big stick approach and yet fewer and fewer cases call for a big stick and none of them fear it. What we have is a superpower force that was designed from the outset to fight two wars simultaneously because USSR. Those conditions no longer hold true. The navy can be anywhere in the world in 10 days if it puts its mind to it. Anywhere. In. The. World. When you have to move at the speed of diplomacy, what's a week or two?
      People keep getting trapped in peace-time warfare thinking and thinking we need to have all this stuff because that's the way we roll. Nothing could be further from truth. One battle group can destroy every other navy in the world. Two makes it easier. We keep so many around because we keep them deployed all the time. The sad truth is that is where we do all of our training with any meaning...on deployment. That's because we don't have the time or the dollars to do it Stateside since that part has been cut well beyond the bone. We really don't need 2000 fighter aircraft and 40,000 pilots anymore.

    2. The navy can be anywhere in the world in 10 days if it puts its mind to it. Anywhere. In. The. World.

      And if what I read is correct... either now or in the foreseeable future... the Chinese can put warheads on foreheads standing on the flight deck... Anywhere. In. The. World. THAT might could be a problem, assuming the missiles are carried by submarines as well as being land based.

  4. With all the military saber rattling going on in Asia at the moment this may not be the best time to be considering a major military overhaul. Then again, perhaps it's the perfect time. I suppose history will judge. For myself, I'm a former ground pounder (Artillery in a Light Infantry Division) so I have my on set of biases and desires. Policy is a bit over my simple head. I'm more a pointy end kind of a guy. The knuckle trails on the ground behind me as proof.

    It does seem to me that Strategic and Tactical do have different motivations and missions. What I'd love to see is the Army taking over much of the responsibility for their own CAS. Maybe those A10s the AF doesn't seem to want (and perhaps never really did?) could find better employment with Army Aviation. I have a few friends who are or were Army rotorheads. Most of them would have made fine fixed wing pilots. Fold the AF into the other branches? I have to say I'm not in favor. All the branches may bring their own biases and inefficiencies but they also bring their institutional expertise and knowledge. There are things the AF does that I really think they're best suited for and the same goes for the Navy, Marines and CG. Maybe some rethinking on priorities and who is best suited to address the various defense needs but I'm against wholesale restructuring, at least at the moment.

    As for fighters. Heck, I don't think we have enough now! I bet Davis Monthan still has a bunch of F14/F15s lying around... Nothing warms a grunts heart more than fast movers overhead filled with pilots with mayhem and destruction on their minds. Viva La Zoomies!

  5. The "big stick" approach worked well enough in the last century, and didn't require a huge standing Army. Do we need to protect ourselves from invasion? Probably not - our geographic neighbors don't seem all that interested and short of Russia lusting over Alaska I don't see us needing 1.5 million in arms with 800,000 reserve. That's not to say we could just change everything overnight. The Navy has some serious ship building and composition issues to work out (I'm a fan of Cdr Salamander on this one) and both the Army and Air Force need to have their missions defined - the middle east unpleasantness has caused the Army mission to be turned into something the State department ought to be doing, and the Air Force hasn't had much need for their fighters. Their cargo and tanker resources are the big dogs of the last decade's conflict, and they've been dragged kicking and screaming into the UAV world. Out of mercy we won't talk about the state of their nuclear forces. The Marines are probably already there - they've always looked at themselves at the country's QRF. I have to nit pick with Tuna a little - all the services are doing the cooperative training and showing the force thing, we just do it in different places that the Navy & Marines. But still, I am in general agreement, that is the kind of projection we need to be doing. So the question becomes, "How big a military do we need to protect our national interests?"

  6. President Reagan said, "Of the four wars in my lifetime, none came about because the U.S. was too strong." I served through the end of Nam & the "reduction in force" that came afterward. Wasn't smart then, and it's suicidal now.

  7. This isn't just a subject for idle debate amongst friends. There's this, FWIW:

    The Commission is tasked to submit a report, containing a comprehensive study and recommendations, by Feb. 1, 2014, to the president of the United States and the congressional defense committees.

    That would be the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force. They even have their very own web page. It will be interesting to read the report that comes out in a couple of weeks. I use "interesting" in its full meaning, too.

  8. Well, the Mothership is still down, so I can't cut & paste my comments there I once made on this subj which juvat knows well. IIRC his comments on mine were "Good shooting lead! Contact! Visual, press." And I was late to xbrad and then called away, so let me try to repeat my comments at Lexs' and embellish some. First some history. The reason that Army Air was taken away from OPCON by Division, Corps and numbered Army level commanders and organized/evolved into what is now known as the "Single-Manager TACC/DASC system is because of the proclivity of gnd commanders to hoard assets whether they were needed or not and refuse to release them to adj ops where they were needed more. Airpower is, by definition, a scarce asset--too scarce to be horded rather than shifted across operational boundaries to be employed where it is most critically needed. A classic example of ground commanders tendency to not only hoard but by-pass their own chain-of-command in order to utilize the AF was seen in Vietnam where they would game the TASE (Tactical Air Support Element--a joint Army Air Force element used to screen/prioritize Army pre-plan target nominations for the next days air ops thru the TACC system) by nominating tgts of dubious priority with the tot spread throughout the day in the area of planned ops just so they could insure air constantly overhead in case of TIC. If no TIC they would go ahead and expend expensive ord on the worthless pre-plan tgt. This all was done because they didn't want to risk getting into a TIC situation and getting a request for CAS denied by the AF because of an even higher TIC priority elsewhere. They also by-passed their own chain of Command. When in TIC rather requesting Company mortars, Battalion, Regiment or Div arty, etc and risk getting turned down by the TOC or risk a delay in getting the arty cranked up, they would go directly to the FAC on Fox Mike and request an immediate by the AF for TIC, reasoning the AF would get there quicker and would be more accurate. An August ' 68 HQ7thAF "eyes only" "Force Improvement study contended that out of all AF assets used for "immediates" in responding to requests for CAS because of TIC only 13% could have not been adequately handled by the Army's own organic fire-support system. All of this is a long-winded way of saying that, if one is to attach fixed wing assets to ground commanders, in order to be "effective" one MUST be, ipso facto. highly "in-efficient because of the much larger number of air assets required if remaining permanently opcon to each gnd commander.. Of course the Marine Corps operates EXACTLY that way, but only because their ops rarely involve anything more that a single beefed-up Corps operating over a limited geographical area. Composite Wings are the norm for the Marines because of their limited assets operating over smaller areas.

    The difference is a matter of scale. If the Army thinks in terms of daily ops of thousands of yards, the Navy in terms of hundreds of miles/day, the AF thinks in terms of thousands of miles/day. Only the AF is equipped in terms of doctrine, training, equipment and communications to seamlessly operate at all levels in all theaters of operation on a constantly adjusting global basis. If the Army was in control of TACAIR no aircraft would ever be designed or procured that had a combat radius extending 500 yards beyond the FEBA.

    Gotta scoot. More later to tie it together..

  9. A lot of good points for discussion and thought. Thanks to everyone for chiming in. There will be more along these lines in a future post. Especially in light of Buck's comment bringing the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force to our attention. While that seems like a good idea on its surface, anything the current maladministration does is highly suspect in my eyes. (I am of two minds where this "regime" is concerned. They are either (A) fundamentally stupid as regards military and international affairs or (B) completely evil and working actively towards the destruction of our nation. While I lean towards (A), I haven't completely ruled out (B).

    Thanks again for the comments and feedback.


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