For the story so far, see Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3
As mentioned earlier, Part 4 is where we will examine the part of the AF brief where they inadvertently highlight the US military’s slide into ‘superpower-lite’ status”. Since this turned into a particularly long piece, we will now defer the AF’s delusional ‘vision’ of the ‘better, cheaper, faster’ mantra as a follow-on in Part 5.
And now.... Part 4
Slide 13 is a 'marvel'.
Hmmmm, There is Something Missing….
What makes this slide extremely interesting is as much about what not shown as anything else, so we will give it special attention. While this slide is used as a simple attention-getter in preparation to the AF’s next point, it gives hints about so much of what has happened to the AF since 1989, while it avoids giving any information that would take the audience ‘off-message’. Indeed, the missing information must surely be considered ‘counter-message’ by HQAF.
As presented, this slide is little more than factoids on a timeline. To be useful as anything more, one needs to have a good grasp of the ‘whys’ behind the numbers. But an understanding of the ‘whys’ would also tend to subvert the AF’s message. Remember: The ‘message’ the AF is trying to sell is that 'force reshaping’ -- AKA force(d) reductions -- are necessary”!
There is a major intermediate ‘conceptual’ step that occurred between 1989 and 2006. Although a pure cynic might think it was skipped over only because it would be ‘counter message’, it was most likely not mentioned due to a combination of slide space considerations and the fact that in implementation, the intermediate step became little more than a whistle stop on the way to current force constructs, which would have made it harder to couch comparable numbers for that step on this slide. Therefore, I will generously chalk the omission up as due to chartsmanship and sloth instead of intent. As the AF suffered a major purge in 1993-7 (discussed below) it is also entirely possible that the 'functionary' that built the slide is a ‘newbie’ and has little or no awareness of what is missing.
Fact: Today’s ‘2006’ force construct is largely an outcome of Les Aspin’s (Clinton’s first SecDef) efforts to gut the military.
It is quite remarkable how much of our current perspectives on defense spending can be traced all the way back to Clinton, Aspin, and a Democrat-controlled Congress that was salivating at the thought of meting out the ‘Peace Dividend’ to their various pet projects and constituencies. If anything, the current force posture and the predicament the military is in are more than anything a clear statement about how disastrous and lasting the impact of an incompetent ideologue such as Aspin can be. This is what happens when a twit is given free reign over the DoD for even a short tenure (9 months!) by a feckless ‘party boy’ in the Oval Office.
Now: On to the missing piece!
The ‘step’ that is missing was ‘The Base Force’ (previously mentioned here, and for Lorna Jaffe’s definitive paper on the topic see here. What became "The Base Force" can be largely credited to then-JCS Chairman Colin Powell, and a few visionaries who picked up early on the decline of the Soviet Union and the impacts of President Reagan’s direct confrontation with the Evil Empire. Gen. Powell may not have been the originator, but he sure recognized the need and provided the horsepower that developed the Base Force concept.
The ‘Base Force’ construct was conceived as a rational way forward to draw down the size and composition of the post-Cold War military in a way that also allowed for future defense need uncertainties that the U.S would face as the sole remaining ‘superpower’. It wasn’t perfect of course, but it was at least based upon reasonable assumptions and prudence. At the time, Aspin was HASC Chairman---or rather I should say “was a HASC Chairman who envisioned that he alone understood what kind of military that was needed in the future”. Powell’s run-ins with Aspin on the subject were public and loud. I dare say it was one of the main reasons Aspin got the SecDef job, much to the chagrin of too many troopers in Somalia a short time later.
Overshadowing even his 'Blackhawk Down' moment in lasting impact, Aspin implemented what he called the ‘Bottom Up Review’ (BUR) which gamed all the analyses to arrive at the (his) predetermined conclusions. If Aspin got information he didn’t want, he ignored it: nothing would stop him from slashing the military to well below the levels required for the US to fulfill its superpower responsibilities and commitments.
While the objective of saving the almighty dollar was the most 'popular' excuse for this endeavor, in my opinion Aspin was determined to ‘demilitarize’ the US at any cost to our security and safety—and I stand on his voting record in Congress to say it.
Here’s a cheerful thought: The next Congress looks like it is going to be run by all the 60’s retreads who now have seniority, so expect ‘Aspinesque’ idiocy to be issuing forth soon. As far as National Defense needs go, we are entering another dark age. Remember, President George H. Bush lost re-election on the heels of fighting and winning exactly the kind of war the Base Force was designed to handle. But sometime between 1991 and the election in 1992 the winning political battle cry would become: “It’s the ‘The Economy Stupid”.
And so this chart rushes past any mention of “Why” we are continuing what might one day be acknowledged as our largest and longest running defense misstep in the 20th and possibly the 21st century: the gutting of the DoD (and the Air Force as a subset thereof).
There are a couple of gems here as well…
Force Sizing Basis
First, note the particular differences in ‘strategy’ as it is addressed in each column. This is a pretty ‘interesting’ summary of the decline in our national defense objectives over the last 15 years.
Reading across the top we can see that we are expected to believe we have gone from planning against an overarching known threat (threat-based), to a ‘capabilities-based’ planning approach, to a ‘capabilities-based & budget-constrained’ planning approach. If this wasn’t such a serious topic, this little twist on reality would be hilarious. Why? It is because even when we were using ‘threat-based’ planning, we were ‘budget-constrained’ --- as we (properly) have been since the end of WWII. Paul Kennedy’s fantasies aside, as a nation we have not had to choose between guns and butter since 1945.
What the ‘strategy’ line on the slide really tells us is that the AF 'leadership':
1. Cannot or is unwilling to make the case to expand the budget,
2. Cannot or is unwilling to even recognize the need to expand the budget, or
3. There are leadership 'factions' guilty of one or the other.
I just LOVE this part. Now the AF is telling its Airmen that the ‘expeditionary’ concept so prominently employed today is only ‘semi-expeditionary’! So I suppose things are really going to be ‘expeditionary’ in the future?!
The ‘expeditionary’ idea was conceived as an option to deal with the reduced force structure and projected associated reduced overseas basing footprint (but didn’t have the neat shades-of-Black-Jack-Pershing moniker at the time). It became absolutely necessary in the wake of Aspin’s BUR debacle, and now AF management is calling today’s concept ‘semi-expeditionary’? If the current situation is ‘semi-expeditionary’ then ‘future expeditionary’ has to translate into English as: ‘permanently deployed’. Yep, I can see a lot of people wanting to spend 20-30 years forward-deployed. Good luck with that!
And so now HQAF sets up the audience for the bloody details by first spreading a little pablum:
Oh, tell us! Please!
This slide is…is…-- Well I’ll just hit each point they try to make and you can come to your own conclusions. The second row will be dealt with last because that is the ‘money shot’ as far as I’m concerned.
First Row: Environments
The 20th Century was 'predictable'? Outside of two world wars that were telegraphed to us from a long way off before we got involved, what exactly was predictable about it? The 20th Century was about ‘conventional’ threats? Again, outside the two world wars, what was ‘conventional’ about them?
The only thing that makes the 20th Century 'predictable' is that it is now ‘history’.
Asymmetric threats are a new problem? For reference, here are some asymmetrical threat situations that the US has had to deal with in the 20th Century:
- 1910-1916 Mexican Expedition
- 1909-1933 Intervention in Nicaragua and,
- Most of the rest of these as well as,
- The entire Vietnam War involved dealing with asymmetric threats.
Third Row: “Force vs. Effects Focus”
This line looks like a ‘slide filler’. Either that or a ‘Butter Bar’ with no prior enlisted experience wrote it. We were never ‘geographically focused’ except in the respect that we set our butts in geographic regions necessary to address whatever the national defense needs required. We had forces forward-deployed because the threat they faced was forward deployed AND leaning forward, and we had unilaterally decided to give them the initiative (lest we be thought of as "provacative"!) in any combat scenario: hence the term ‘tripwire’ to describe our (NATO’s) posture. We would give up too much too fast if we hadn’t also been ‘forward deployed’. My fighter squadron wasn’t in Iceland because of the beaches, fiords, or volcanoes. It was there because the Soviets were very keen on sending submarines, Bear bombers, and other players down the Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom Gap so they could operate off the coast of the United States (frequently at a surprisingly high tempo), and pull good duty in the Worker’s Paradise. Somebody thought it would be a good idea to keep an eye on them as they came by.
We have always been an “effects-focused” force. We bomb = they die. This is just recognizing that the desired effects we’re looking for are somewhat different than before, or to put it another way: “We bomb = they die but also some other ‘they’ is ALSO terribly inconvenienced”. This is actually still an awfully abstract concept to be touting as a solution to anything. This concept has very vocal defenders and opponents in DoD, and what an “effects-based” air campaign looks like is still evolving. But it IS a really cool sounding concept so the term gets bandied about quite a bit.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for ‘effects based’: the better we define the desired effects we wish to achieve, the better we can execute the mission to meet our objectives. But this represents less a paradigm shift than a six-sigma quality effort in force employment. Structuring one’s forces so that they are perpetually stressed by the "ops tempo" hardly promotes the ability to ‘adjust’ the force employment and deployment patterns in pursuit of the current desired ‘effect’, much less address new needs that can and will pop up.
Operationally, the only advantage of forward deploying over forward basing is the cost savings from not having to move households and other infrastructure overhead, but even that isn’t a one-for-one-savings. Everything pretty much just changes ‘cost buckets’. For example, we can either pay to store bombs where we will operate or we pay extra to store them on pre-positioning ships or pay extra to ship them where we need them, when we need them.
We can pay to put the infrastructure in place where we need it, or pay a lot more to put less in
place when and where we need it. We could also pay more dearly in other ways when we don’t get it in place in time or at all. Again, don’t get me wrong, I’m actually for the US basing and forward deployment scheme as long as there is ‘enough’ Air Force to do the job over the long haul. The current path is only a good one as long as the world behaves in a way that is known and ‘hoped for’.
Fourth Row: “Trim the Fat”
This almost made the top of the list for reasons I will go into covering another slide later in the brief. At this time, just let us observe that for this aspect of the AF, the ‘20th Century’ ended about a decade earlier. Also please ask yourself the question: “If forward forces are ‘reaching back for support’, who are they reaching back to, if AF management is also gutting the home stations?”
The punch line at the bottom of the slide is good as far as it goes, but it is incomplete. It
This is a different Air Force we’re building…not “the same, but smaller”, and also a heck of a lot less capable and not nearly good enough to use as a
Seriously, this is eerily reminiscent of the early 90’s when we were looking at the post Cold War environment and were told something to the effect of:
In the past, it was ‘do more with less’, this time we’re going to ‘do less with
At least in the 90’s, AF ‘Leadership’ openly acknowledged the impact of the course we were taking. What a stark contrast to today’s AF ‘Management Team’.
And finally…..The Second Row: “Force Structure”
This is the most frightening bit in the whole brief, as it is an explicit admission that the AF on its current path will in the very near future NOT have the essential element of ‘mass’, and are consciously choosing to dispense with it. I’ve been on the bleeding-edge of operations research and have performed a ton of force employment studies. The number one question that is always asked is:
How many aimpoints can we service in X amount of time and how long can we keep it up?
To do well with either half of that question, the AF needs to be able to bring ‘Mass’ against it’s foes. Now the concept itself has changed somewhat in the sense we no longer need (for now) hundreds of platforms going against an industrial center in the hopes of hitting a couple of factories. But we still need the capability to strike many places at once, and do many missions at once, and do it over long distances. For all the above you need to have "mass".
To get the most out of any aerospace force, you need flexibility, precision, lethality, speed (airspeed, a subset of speed is only better to a point), and survivability/sustainability. If you want to be able to operate over a sustained period of time, or really press an advantage quickly, you need sufficient ‘numbers’ ladies! This slide tells me the AF is only planning on fighting wars against greatly inferior forces, which of course will only encourage undesirable behaviors in near-peer competitors, (or petty despots when they see us occupied elsewhere).
This line on the slide tells me that the 'leadership' either thinks we do not need mass anymore, and/or they really don’t understand the modern definition, or (most likely) is betting they can keep the hardware costs at bay until they can ‘afford it’ in the future. Any of these three beliefs should be completely unacceptable to any real commander of warfighters.
As Vegitus asserted "Igitur qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum." (loosely translated: “if you want peace, prepare for war”). It appears AF 'leadership’ has decided they want a ‘little peace’, so they’re only preparing for ‘little wars’.
Part 5 will be the last substantial post on the subject. If this had been an ‘external’ brief, instead of a sales pitch to the thousands of service men and women affected, most of the slides after this would have been ‘backup’ slides, but I will present those without a lot of comment to keep the full impact and thrust of this briefing in full view for posterity.