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Strategy drills: Air Force maps out future, with an eye on the present.

Air Force strategists preparing for an upcoming war game are setting their sights on 2025, mapping out scenarios for how the service will organize, equip and train its forces two decades from now.

Current events, however, also will play a leading role.

Although the tabletop and computer-simulation drills, called Title X war games, are routine annual events in the military services, this year's exercise takes on added significance for the Air Force, as it will occur in the midst of a swirling debate on the value of air power in U.S. military operations.

In a departure from previous war games, the June 2005 event, called "Future Capabilities Game," will not only assess the Air Force's tactics and weapons, but also commanders' abilities to transition from traditional to unconventional combat scenarios.

Burning issues such as the U.S. war on terrorism and the expansion of the military's role in homeland defense are dominating the discussions within the Air Force about future strategies, officials tell National Defense. The debate is occurring as the Pentagon prepares the congressionally mandated Quadrennial Defense Review of military capabilities and strategy. The QDR also serves as conceptual groundwork for the Pentagon to make spending decisions.

The service's head of strategic planning, Maj. Gen. Ronald J. Bath, says his job is to think about "2025 and beyond." Nevertheless, he adds, the QDR compels the Air Force and the other services to take into account immediate priorities that the Defense Department must address in the next three to five years.

"What makes this QDR different is that we are in the middle of a war," says Bath.

Unlike the 2001 QDR, when emphasis on "air power" was at the core of the nation's military strategy, the ongoing review is about supporting ground forces. "We have a joint responsibility to make sure troops on the ground are taken care of," Bath says.

Against that backdrop, officials anticipate the upcoming war game to be dominated by "joint" concepts and tactics.

"We'll find there is a lot of common ground among the services," he says. "My job is to talk to other players to find out what their positions are. There is going to be communication back and forth."

Although the QDR work is just getting under way, and will continue for at least six more months, the Air Force already has articulated its posture in terms of how it assists troops on the ground.

"Everybody sees things from their own organizational culture," says Bath. "We see things from an airman's culture. We need to articulate what we bring to the table, why we bring it, what we think we should do in the future."

In the next 20 years, the Air Force's ambitious agenda involves two major goals: shifting more procurement spending towards systems that benefit all the services, and being better prepared to fight unconventional wars, explains Christopher J. Bowie, deputy director for strategic planning.

He says that by 2025, at least half of all procurement dollars will go to "joint" systems, which Bowie describes as those that contribute to the success of a combined air-ground-sea military force. Examples include advanced communications and intelligence-gathering satellites, improved cargo and aerial-refueling aircraft, and airborne surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.

The ability to gather timely information is key to combating the "irregular" enemies that the Pentagon worries about, Bowie says. "The irregular challenges were present all along before 9/11. We really missed them." In the future, "You don't want to get caught flat-footed by potential regional threats, the rise of a military peer, armies with nuclear weapons or failed states with nuclear weapons."

Another prevailing theme throughout these discussions is a new approach to managing people, Bath says.

The intent is to "use our people in new and creative ways," he adds. With plans to downsize the active-duty ranks by 20,000, the Air Force is adopting a new strategy for employing Reserve and Air Guard personnel.

A case in point is the growing number of Guard and Reserve officers on the Air Staff, some of whom are getting assigned to influential jobs that in the past bad been off limits. In Bath's organization, for example, two division chiefs are reservists, and a senior deputy is an air national guardsman. "We didn't see organizations like that before," Bath says. The changes came in response to specific directions from Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper to make better use of the skills that reservists and guardsmen bring from the private sector.

Increasingly, the Air Force is creating "associate" air wings that mix active-duty, Reserve and Air Guard pilots and maintenance crews.

Jumper, who is slated to retire later this summer, will host the war game at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.

From a technology standpoint, the Future Capabilities Game will focus on four broad areas that, according to Air Force officials, the service needs to bolster between now and 2025:

* Persistent Dominance: This includes the use of radar-equipped satellites and long-endurance unmanned aircraft for reconnaissance and surveillance missions.

* Dynamic Re-supply: This would involve the use of strategic and tactical airlift to support ground forces in remote, austere combat zones.

* Near-Space Systems: These would be lighter-than-air vehicles deployed at altitudes above 65,000 feet, but below 300 kilometers. These aerostats would be equipped with advanced sensors.

* Homeland Defense: The Air Force plans to step up its role in homeland security missions, particularly by improving global command-and-control technologies that can help shorten the time it takes to respond to a terrorist attack or catastrophic event.

RELATED ARTICLE: Pentagon strategists ponder value of high-tech weapons.

The Pentagon's sweeping review of strategy and programs is expected to bolster investments in sensors, networks, information technology and precision-guided munitions.

Although the Defense Department and Congress will be focusing their attention on issues of immediate impact in the months ahead, such as the soaring costs of military operations in Iraq, officials and analysts caution that a discussion on long-term investments should be key component of the debate over the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review, which is scheduled to be sent to Congress in February 2006.

"Technology for the military is the critically important issue," Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., told National Defense. Information systems and real-time intelligence are crucial technologies that need to be developed, said the senior House Armed Services Committee member.

The military should foster technology breakthroughs that can do "things smarter, faster and cheaper, and, if possible, save the taxpayer money from the cost of a $ 200-million fighter plane, or a multi-billion dollar vessel," he said in an interview during a recent Precision Strike Association conference.

His comments came against the backdrop of a shrinking Navy shipbuilding budget, and impending cutbacks in the Air Force's F/A-22 Raptor and C-130J aircraft programs.

The caveat of relying on sensors and networks is that the United States will need to develop technology associated with information dominance. China and North Korea, Weldon explained, "know that they can't match us plane for plane, tank for tank, ship for ship, and they know that we have smart weapons. But they also know that the smart technology is based on computers." Therefore, these adversaries would focus on "ways to neutralize that smart capability," he said.

"That means that, besides focusing on integration of systems for precision capability, we have to equally focus on the protection of security of those systems, so that they cannot be defeated," he said.

From the Pentagon's perspective, the 2005 QDR has great potential to change the military's approach to everything from strategy to technology.

"Strategic circumstances tend to be a pre-cursor to major change;' said Ryan Henry, principal deputy under secretary of defense for policy. "It is a critical juncture, and it is a good time to do a QDR."

The 2005 QDR also will be the first one tied to a base closure and a budgeting cycle, said Ryan, who noted that the completed QDR will be submitted to Congress next February. Decisions that will have significant implications for the budget will be done this May, so that they can influence construction of the 2007 budget.

That plays into the decision of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to have a "rolling QDR," with conclusions to be fed back into the programming or acquisition process, versus holding decisions until a final QDR report is released to Congress.

The review will be driven by the Pentagon leadership, rather than by issues proposed by service members, Ryan emphasized. Furthermore, the review will focus on broad "capabilities," and not on specific weapon systems, he said.

The underlying issue is that, while the U.S. military has capable fighter planes, ships and smart bombs, it lacks weapons and skills to fight unconventional wars, such as insurgencies.

The Pentagon attempted to take a capabilities-based approach back in 2001, said Henry, but it did not have the "tools and the intellectual foundation."

The Defense Department has to think about capabilities without necessarily tying them to a piece of hardware, he said. In his definition, a capability is the ability to generate a desired effect.

"The smaller the number of 'big issues' addressed in a QDR, the greater the chance of developing innovative approaches," he said. Past reviews tended to be "fire and forget" exercises.

The review will not produce one single assessment, as it did in previous years, but turn out a series of follow-on assessments for years to come, he said.

"We need to have a strategy associated with the QDR," he added. Current operational demands need to be balanced with long-term prospects. Lessons from the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq also should play a pivotal role, he said. Additionally, "we have to take into account fiscal realities and generate a resource-neutral QDR," he stressed.

The upcoming review will embrace everything that has changed since September 11, 2001, said Pierre Chao, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. But that also will prompt a series of questions on how to best deal with looming threats. For example, the government will need to figure out whether irregular threats are best met through military solutions or whether there is a "broader battle to be fought," he said at the conference.

Going forward, however, the Defense Department is looking at an expanded U.S. Special Operations Command, non-lethal technologies, more precise and discriminating precision-strike technology and constabulary forces. Yet to be seen is whether the Defense Department will choose to assign constabulary units out of existing forces or create a new organization, Chao said.

The U.S. government, he argued, will have to invest in intelligence-gathering technology, knowledge management, cruise-missile defense, sensors for both wide and narrow areas, security technology--which will entail a great deal of low technology networked together-data-fusion technology, language translation and biological defense.

Meanwhile, the central question for lawmakers becomes how to allocate resources, Chao noted. "There are pressures on the defense budget from the inside, from operation and maintenance, and personnel costs, which are exploding out of control," he said.

Chao talked of an "embedded crisis" in the defense budget, because the military equipment is becoming harder to maintain and the cost of keeping personnel at the operational tempo of the last four years is rising.

According to Chao, this is the first time in 80 years that the defense budget has gone up without a corresponding percentage increase for investment accounts.

The QDR will have a major impact on program funding, said a congressional insider. Weldon, in his turn, pointed out that the 2006 budget almost certainly would cut a host of acquisition programs, ranging from the F/A-22 to unmanned vehicles. Nevertheless, Congress will add to the president's request for overall defense spending, he said.

Even though the paramount concern will be focused on personnel costs, lawmakers will "make sure we don't cut the heart out of what we feel is the most critically important technology for the 21st century," Weldon said.

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Title Annotation:Defense Review
Author:Erwin, Sandra I.
Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2005
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