Archive for December, 2007

The Gee What?

Thursday, December 20th, 2007

War is one of the most serious things mankind endeavors to accomplish. The process of killing people and breaking things can get so complicated, which is precisely why we should be careful when we use simple names to label them.

Take the “Civil War,” there was nothing civil about the entire event. Americans killed each other in record numbers, half the country was laid to waste, and it created an embitterment that is sometimes felt in our debates over 146 years after it ended. For it did end.

What if we had chosen to call it the War in South Carolina? After all, that is where the fighting at Fort Sumter is supposed to have started the war back in 1861. Since federal troops are still stationed in South Carolina, would there be anyone demanding we end the war and bring the troops home? I’d like to think not, but maybe the only reason is because they were smart enough not to call it the War in South Carolina.

So what is this War in Iraq? Does that refer to what is sometimes called the First Persian Gulf War? No, that was a different war in Iraq from the early 90’s, which continued via Operations Southern and Northern Watch until 2003, when the new war in Iraq began. That sounds a little confusing, even though some smart people started off calling it Operation Iraq Freedom (OIF). What was OIF all about?

Regime change. Remember?

According to Clausewitzian theory, OIF was a total war against Iraq. The only thing more serious than a total war is a war of annihilation, where the goal is to kill the entire population of the target country. A total war is a war where the objective is to completely remove the existing government of the target country, which happens to be what was done—regime change. Saddam’s military was defeated and scattered; he and his government went into panic hiding; he was found, arrested, tried, and executed; a new government process was created, and democratic elections were accomplished. If that’s not “mission accomplished” for OIF nothing can be.

Nevertheless we keep hearing about the war in Iraq, as if we were still fighting the 2003 OIF. So what is really happening there?

Iraq is a willing and increasingly able ally in the US-led Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), and those who are on the terrorists’ side are concerned about what a strong united Iraq will mean to their cause. We can only understand the terrorists’ plans for us only if we can remember 9/11.

Annihilation. Remember?

How the current administration allowed the anti-war crowd to keep using “The War in Iraq” as a rallying point defies political logic. The US-led effort is fighting the terrorists in Iraq, just as we fight them in Afghanistan, and myriad other places at home and abroad—that’s why the word “Global” is in the name. They are all part of the same war being fought in multiple theaters around the globe.

We’re calling it by the wrong name. It should be called the “Iraqi Theater of the GWOT” or the “GWOT in Iraq” because that is what it is.

It just makes sense.

Here We Go Again

Sunday, December 16th, 2007

“Hold the flashlight while I shoot myself in the other foot, Nellie.”    “You know, Clem, I was thinking … this didn’t turn out so well last time; maybe there’s a better way.  At least wait till the sun comes up.”

“Just shut-up and watch.  I’ve got a lot of experience doing this.”

“Those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

The Air Force has a history of feast and famine when it comes to maintaining enough pilots to do its job.  The solution to feast and famine problems can be gleaned from Genesis 41:33-36; it’s basically to save some of the surplus during the feast to get you through the famine.  Why is it so difficult for the Air Force to put that principle into practice?

In 1975, the Air Force took drastic action to clear out its post-Vietnam feast of pilots.  During that reduction in force, officers with more than 10 years in service were offered the opportunity to complete their retirement requirements as an enlisted person or to leave the service.  Captains could start at the rank of sergeant (E-4) and majors were offered staff sergeant.  The specialty knowledge tests were waived for the first year, enabling most of them to advance to another grade within the first cycle.  Many pilots just left the service to do other things.  During that same time, military pay raises lagged woefully behind inflation rates.  Then the airlines deregulated in 1979, and something completely unplanned for happened–people got out, lots of them, and many of them were pilots.  Feast turned to famine in four short years, and the Air Force was 2300 pilots short of operational requirements.

The solution chosen was to surge the number of officers attending undergraduate pilot training (UPT).  The pool of eligible candidates was increased by relaxing stringent educational requirements.  The five UPT bases pumped double-shift classes for a couple of years with great success even though attrition was a bit higher than normal, probably because graduation standards remained constant.  The process proved that pilots don’t need an engineering degree to be good at the stick and rudder; of course earlier practice had already proven that.  And it worked for me, as I was career-NCO with a BS in Occupational Education about to leave the service in search of a vocation that didn’t require supplemental food-stamps to feed my family.

The surge created what was later called a bubble when personnel charts were viewed; it showed up as a huge anomaly for the 1980-82 year groups.  Slightly resembling a baby elephant being swallowed by a python, the bubble eventually slowed and then denied promotions to many pilots due to excessive numbers of people reaching their critical career points at the same time.  Officer promotions come at a certain time, and you either make it or you don’t.  With only rare exceptions, regardless of potential or ability, an officer twice passed over is done with promotions.

Another famine presented itself in 1988-89.  This coincided with the age-directed retirement of many commercial airline pilots and with many officers completing their initial UPT commitments.  The solution this time was to offer unprecedented bonuses of $12,000 per year to pilots with less than 13 years total service if they would commit to seven more years, and yes, prior-enlisted time like mine counted against that total.  Ironically, some of the pilots who took the bonuses they were offered to stay were later forced to separate for failing to advance to major, and then given severance pay as they headed to the pilot-hungry airlines.  It was a blend of personnel voodoo that still defies my logic matrix.

Then in the late 1990’s another famine cycle appeared on the horizon.  The base realignment and closure process and force down-sizing, accented with eight years of deliberately reducing the military pay by 0.5% annually, while the surviving three UPT bases operated at only 55% capacity, resulted in another pilot famine that was predicted to be deeper and longer than the one in 1979.  The solution chosen was to offer $25,000 a year to pilots for extending their service commitments, to increase UPT production, and to fill only 28% of non-flying pilot positions at staff jobs.  As an unplanned consequence, this solution denied pilots many temporary jobs that historically kept them competitive for promotions.  Still enough pilots took the bonus to keep the Air Force viable as UPT surged to 100% production hoping to meet future requirements.  But now, in 2007, we are at it again.

As the Air Force looks five years into the future and suspects that it will be over-manned with pilots without a one-to-one replacement of the F-15 and F-16 with the new generation of aircraft, it seeks to prevent the forecasted feast in the future by reducing pilot training numbers now.  Are you starting to see a pattern?

The requirements for college graduates to be accepted into pilot training are quite substantial.  Common logic dictates that after pilot training, those same officers would remain qualified to be employed doing things with less stringent requirements.  Instead of having less than 19% of Air Force officers wearing pilot wings, as they do today, why not fill another 2% or more of other line officer positions with pilots on career broadening tours of duty?  If another famine suddenly arose, those pilots could be requalified in short-order.

The Rand Corp’s Project Air Force offered three options to the Air Force, let me offer two more:

1. Use the surplus initial flight training gradates in scheduling, IT, or maintenance positions in flying units across the Air Force.  While they won’t be flying, they will be exposed to the flying culture during their first assignment.  This one would work, but it is not my favorite option.

2. Cycle pilots at specific gate intervals into flying support officer positions.  If the tour was limited to two or three years, the pilots would return to their weapon system with easily renewable skills, and they will be more knowledgeable of the oft-touted big picture.  Another benefit is that flying operations would be supported by officers with a superior understanding of flight requirements.

To make option 2 work its best, the pilots who volunteer for leadership positions in support should be rewarded for it in their career.  Make it competitive, and then use their performance in those positions to help determine their leadership potential to the Air Force.  But remember to bring them back to the cockpit and get them flying again.

One last thing must be done for this to succeed–a silent prejudice must be removed from the flying community.  A pilot returning to the cockpit should not be considered to be starting over.  Pilots who serve in staff/non-flying positions should be viewed as being at least equal to pilots who serve in similar ranked flying jobs.  Thus, the Air Force needs to ensure operational squadron- and group-level commanders consider the career broadening experience as a plus to the pilot’s record and not a stain.

The Air Force can’t fly, fight, and win if it runs out of pilots, and it needs leaders who will never forget that.  It just makes sense.

Perception is Everything

Friday, December 7th, 2007

The November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear intentions and capabilities has been lauded by some as proof that we have no reason to be concerned about Iran. Sadly this is far from reality. Most people will not read the NIE report, even though it is available to the public on the Director of National Intelligence’s home page and it is only nine pages long, counting the cover, instead they will rely on second hand commentary to develop their opinion. Maybe this is because, like most reports, intelligence reports are often imperfect. Interesting enough, they never claim to be perfect, only accurate based on the data available at the time. Much like a weather report, which even when backed up by the greatest technologies available in the 21st century, is better at observing than it is forecasting weather.

Did you ever have the experience of planning and then attempting an outing, maybe a picnic in the park or a softball game, based on a forecast of ”sunny skies with a slight chance of isolated showers in the afternoon” only to be drenched in a downpour as your family ran for cover? If you complained to the weather folks, they would have said, “We said there was a slight chance of rain.” After you reviewed the forecast, you would have had to admit they were correct and then might have thought that you should have carried some umbrellas with you. In retrospect, you would have been considered the hero if you had made the effort to plan for “the slight chance of rain.”  Being a hero is so difficult.

What seems like ancient history to many might shed some perspective on this. A NIE 85-3-62 “The Military Buildup in Cuba” forecasted on 19 September 1962, while the USSR could gain military advantage with ballistic missiles based in Cuba, such action would be incompatible with Soviet practice, strongly suggesting it would not happen. However, photographic evidence on 14 October provided an observation to the contrary. Forced to become reactionary, the US President publically stated his intentions to deal with the USSR in the harshest manner possible when matters escalated. To many, it appeared that nuclear warfare was imminent. Only after the USSR decision-makers repented from their nuclear Cuba plan did the high-level tensions subside.

Observations beat forecasts every time, but you can’t plan based on observations—they come too late. The forecaster needs to collect, interpret, and provide the data as his science and expertise allows. However, much like weather forecasts, intelligence reports are not everything a decision-maker relies on to make important decisions. That craft requires science and expertise also. Part of that expertise is to understand the imperfect and somewhat ambiguous nature of forecasts. Much more complicated than planning events based on weather, is planning actions based on the evolving perception of antagonist decision-makers.

Basing nuclear weapons in Cuba was probably a logical, progressive course of action for USSR decision makers if they interpreted US resolution against their world-domination objective to have faltered. What could have given them that perception? How about apparent communist successes at the Bay of Pigs, the Berlin Wall, and in Laos? These could have been interpreted as a US fear of USSR nuclear might as demonstrated by their late 1961 Tsar Bomba, declared at the time as a 100 Megaton weapon. But whatever the catalyst for the USSR’s initial motivation, their interpretation of the modified US stance against their actions and their knowledge of US military capabilities, via their well-established spy network, convinced them that a nuclear show-down over Cuba was not worth the price they perceived they would pay in return for continued aggression. Perception is everything.

So let’s take a look as the 2007 NIE about Iran’s nuclear intentions and capabilities. It never really says what the anti-Global War on Terrorism advocates are saying. It only gives several low to almost high confidence statements about what is probably happening. Some of the higher confident statements are that Iran halted their program in 2003 as a result of international pressure. What was the nature of that pressure?

Do you remember what was happening to Iran’s neighbors in 2003? To their east, the government of Afghanistan had already fell, and to their west, the mighty forces of Saddam were rolled over, scattered to the four winds, and the ones that wanted to continue fighting joined up with the terrorist organizations operating in their former country. Tehran did not halt their nuclear weapons program because they were seeking peaceful negotiations with the rest of the planet; they were hoping to avoid an OPERATION IRANIAN FREEDOM. The report makes the declaration, “In our judgment, only an Iranian political decision to abandon a nuclear weapons objective would plausibly keep Iran from eventually producing nuclear weapons—and such a decision is inherently reversible.” That is undeniably the truest statement in the report.

Political leaders make decisions based on their perception of the most desirable outcome according to their value system. Iran is the antagonist in this international drama. When their terrorist-supporting neighbors defied the demands of a resolute US-led coalition of nations, Iran watched them experience a force-fed regime change. Iranian decision-makers might have had the perception that such a future was in store for them if they continued their nuclear weapons development program. If so, they might have discontinued it in the hope of getting some sort of multinational support via some third-party or UN inspectors once they were confident it was their turn to endure the torched-end of the US spear. But something else has happened since then.

The antagonist may have perceived some weakness in the willingness of the US to take action against Iran. The will of a nation is derived from a product of three factors: population, government, and military. While the US military boldly executed OEF and OIF and showed no wavering of dealing with other enemies if needed, the same was not necessarily true of the US population and government, at least from a totalitarian’s perception.

Antagonists can be emboldened in their plans when even lesser officials in the protagonist government express opposition. The noise coming out of Washington inspired many people to argue about the validity of the regime changes in Iraq and Afghanistan, some arguing unrelentingly, though absurdly, that the US was the terrorist and the actions were illegal. Americans mostly understand that such debate is better than giving up the constitutionally recognized right of free speech. At the same time, we have historically expected our elected leaders, even when not in control of the country, to speak more respectfully of our President and to at least stay close to the truth when they disagree with national policy. Still, we are a free nation and disagreement is certain to exist in a nation of such diversity. We deal it in our own way. But we are the United States, and our internal bickering should not be misinterpreted as disunited resolve. It is important that we understand our enemies are listening to our words as we debate.  We send a message to the world with our words.

Sometimes that message is the toughest one for antagonists to understand. That was why Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, they believed we couldn’t or wouldn’t fight back. This was why the planes flew into the towers, they believed we couldn’t or wouldn’t hunt them down. If the result of the political debate during this upcoming election-year encourages Iran’s decision-makers that we won’t or can’t inflict the most serious of consequences on them for their development and use of nuclear weapons, who are we going to blame?

Certainly, we’d have to blame ourselves some along with our enemies, but only after we do what the majority of Americans expect us to do. We’d blame ourselves in the history books for the suffering that would follow, but it hasn’t happened yet so we don’t have to do it that way.  We can do something else.

We can tip the scales of the deterrence equation back towards producing acceptable behavior from the antagonist. As it now, the voices that are really just saying, “Look at me,” by demanding we should never attack Iran based on a report that clearly explains that the report might be wrong, may very well be the catalyst that motivates the terrorists to do the very things that will force our violent response against them.

Hang on tight because as I see it now—irony rules and common sense drools—this is going to be one ugly ride, unless Americans, especially our elected officials or those seeking to be one, learn how to debate without appearing unwilling or incapable of decisive action against those who choose to be our enemy.

It just makes sense.