Archive for February, 2008

Spirit Math

Monday, February 25th, 2008

Five percent attrition of a fleet is serious degradation, especially when it happens in one day.  It sounds like something that would happen to a military force after a hard-fought battle.  Its like losing 64 F-16s, or 26 KC-135s, or 4 B-52s.  What is was, was a single B-2.

It’s too early for us to know why the aircraft crashed shortly after take-off in Guam this weekend, but we do know that the two pilots survived the ejection.  One pilot is still hospitalized with the customary spinal-compression injury.  Ejection is a terribly violent experience.  Somebody must have been praying for them.

Smart pilots honor the potential danger of their ejection seats.  Honor is a bit like fear.  Nobody really wants to eject, the idea of it is scary.  Typically a pilot knows it is time to “bail-out” when his fear of staying in the aircraft exceeds his fear of ejecting.  So what caused the fear?

It might have been a fire, but we’ll know for sure later.

The Air Force is performing a professional investigation, after which it will reveal all those details to those who need to know.  Ultimately that information will be used to make the B-2 a better weapon system.

Somebody once said, “That which doesn’t kill us, only makes us stronger.”  Losing five percent of a fleet doesn’t sound like we’re getting stronger.

The price-tag of the advanced technology jet has brought some attention to this crash, but the question of how much the loss of one aircraft from a small fleet degrades the overall force hasn’t been addressed. The B-2 has been around for 20 years, and this is the first crash.  Not a bad record, but we only made 21 of them.  In comparison, over 700 B-52s were built.  Of course, things were different then.

It’s like supply and demand.  The fewer of something you have, the more it’s worth.  And we’re not going to make any more of the bat-winged bombers. So now each Spirit is worth even more, at least when it comes to accomplishing the mission.

The Global War on Terrorism has demonstrated that the freedom forces need heavy bombers.  The F-22 fleet’s size gets plenty of attention, as does the F-35’s.  While those jets have great promise for what they  are designed to do, they’re not heavy bombers.  The bomber roadmap needs to consider our peacetime attrition.  It is overly optimistic to plan on no losses.  Even the best Air Force in the world occasionally loses one.

Above all, we need to plan for that when we build all of our air fleets.

It just makes sense.

The Global War of Attrition on Terrorism

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

It can be argued as to when the terrorists began their war against the world. It was certainly before the suicide-terrorist attacks of 9/11. Some say it began in 1983 Lebanon with the horrific suicide-terrorist attack on our Marine barracks, others say it began in 1979 Tehran with the unlawful invasion and seizure of the US Embassy. Some historians argue that it was much earlier during the Crusades of the 11th century or even at the beginning of the Muslim invasions of their neighbors dating back to the 7th and 8th centuries. Regardless of when the terrorists began their war against the rest of the world, the United States began fighting with a purpose after 9/11.

Our President called it the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT).   He established objectives that were refined and spelled out in the 2006 publication National Military Strategic Plan for the War on Terrorism, also known as the NMSP-WOT:

1. Deny terrorists the resources they need to operate and survive
2. Enable partner nations to counter terrorism.
3. Deny WMD/E proliferation, recover and eliminate uncontrolled materials, and increase capacity for consequence management.
4. Defeat terrorists and their organizations.
5. Counter state and non-state support for terrorism in coordination with other U.S. Government agencies and partner nations
6. Contribute to the establishment of conditions that counter ideological support for terrorism.

The NMSP-WOT identifies the enemy as “extremists.”  The extremists oppose the right of people to live as they chose and they support the murder of ordinary people to advance their ideology.  Moderates or mainstreams are the folks who don’t support the extremists and oppose the killing of ordinary people.  Finally, terrorists are those who conduct acts of terrorism.  It goes on to stress that this is not a war between Islam and the West and then refers to some of the extremist organizations in the transnational movement responsible for the terrorism.

It even spells out an end state, sometimes referred to a better-state-of-peace:

“The national strategic aims are to defeat violent extremism as a threat to our way of life as a free and open society; and create a global environment inhospitable to violent extremists and all who support them.”

Victory is achieved only after those aims are met.

In 2006, Mitt Romney referred to the enemy as “jihadists” suggesting more than extreme behavior, but also extreme belief. His web site declared that victory will be achieve through a combination of American resolve, international effort, and the rejection of violence by moderate, modern, mainstream Muslims. He stressed that we need to support modern Muslim nations both militarily and diplomatically.

While the NMSP-WOT spells out a theoretic strategy that appears sound, the practice of the GWOT appears to be more of a war of attrition.  We seem to have so limited the definitions of the enemy that our fielded forces invest most of their time killing individuals, occasionally capturing or killing one of the ring-leaders and confusing that with strategic success.

Strategic effects are those that have far-reaching consequences with a cascading effect that result in paralysis of the enemy.  Killing foot soldiers, even a few of their regional leaders is not strategic if there is a continual supply of replacements.  The surge’s success in the Iraqi Theater of the GWOT worked well towards satisfying GWOT objectives 2 and 4.  But the results will be temporary if the terrorists/extremists/jihadists are allowed to rebuild their forces.  GWOT objectives 1, 5, and 6 are essential to achieving victory.

The seemingly endless supply of willing replacements for the attrited terrorists has to be denied.  Otherwise we will be forced to continue to kill them, one at a time, as they present themselves.  If that happens, this war of attrition could easily last the 100 years John McCain has talked about.

State and nonstate support to the terrorists has to become completely unprofitable.  Leaders must be convinced they will face the same consequences as Saddam Hussein and the former leaders of Afghanistan before they will alter their policies.  And ultimately, a counter ideology has to be established before victory can be won.

Shortly after 9/11, columnist Ann Coulter wrote the politically incorrect statement that we should, “invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity.” That statement generated a lot of criticism for her as it ironically blended the horrors of 9/11 with harsh Western humor and pointed out the realization that Western religious tolerance, which is sometimes credited with making us strong, may be our greatest weakness. Conversion to Christianity has always been by the word, not by the sword.

Since we obviously lack the national resolve to execute Ms Coulter’s suggestion, we must develop a different strategic course of action that renders terrorism equally unacceptable to the present supporters and future recruits of the violent extremists.

It just makes sense.

Clubbing The Veterans

Saturday, February 9th, 2008

Defending a nation has always required the service of strong people who often traded their health, limbs, and sometimes their lives so that the other citizens could sleep safely in their beds at night. In first century Rome it was not much different leaving substantial numbers of disabled veterans depended on the state for small pensions that sustained their modest lifestyles.

Then there was Caligula, the infamous Roman Emperor noted for his unquenchable desires, who decided to entertain the people by clubbing hundreds of disabled veterans to death in the Coliseum.  His joy was two-fold, while pretending to be a warrior the spindly sovereign helped balance his national budget by eliminating some fixed costs. Such behavior is repugnant to any observer of history who possesses even a modicum of humanity.

Today, the United States is fighting a global war, another way of saying world war, against an enemy who wants to disrupt the sleep of our citizens. The strong people who stand watch and do violence as required on this enemy often trade their health, limbs, and sometimes their lives for us.  Caring for those that survive the ordeal of service requires a cost.  Modern health care is more expensive than it was in 1st century Rome, but our longevity and quality of life is greater too.

So far, no one has suggested murdering our veterans to balance the defense budget, but other things are being done to them that endanger their health.  Just a few years ago a system called Tricare replaced a system without an annual fee.  At the time, some argued that it reneged on the promises of the past, but the argument was brushed aside because the fees were smaller than most civilian plans.  Those fees were designed to offset some of the cost of health care by collecting money from the veterans.  The resistance faded and the system went into effect.

Soon it was argued that having smaller fees for Tricare than for plans like Blue Cross, encouraged retirees to actually use the program resulting in a high cost to the defense budget.  Some proposed modifications to Tricare appeared to be designed to force retirees to abandon Tricare altogether and to seek healthcare elsewhere.  While it is not quite as horrible as Caligula’s clubbing of Rome’s veterans in the Coliseum, it is still a shame that the past service of our 20 to 30+ year veterans is not being held in high esteem.

The bean-counters in the Pentagon aren’t completely to blame.  All of us who served during the 80s and 90s experienced shrinking or eliminated entitlements.  Self-help was the mantra of how to get things done.  Costs were “transferred” from the budget to money acquired through fund-raisers or squadron dues.  And now when the budget spinners talk about “increasing revenues” they really mean collecting money from retirees’ pensions.

Balancing the defense budget on the wallets of retirees is repugnant.  Congress should fully fund military health care to stop the Pentagon budget planners from continually searching for ways to loot retirees of their hard-earned pensions.

It just makes sense.

Software as a Weapon, AOC as a Base

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

The air and space operations center (AOC) is a weapon system.  We’ve heard it said so many times lately that it generally goes without intellectual challenge.  But maybe we should make sure that we understand what a weapon system is before much more energy goes into this concept.

It’s difficult to find a standard definition for the term “weapon system”.

The on-line DOD dictionary provides the Joint definition: “A combination of one or more weapons with all related equipment, materials, services, personnel, and means of delivery and deployment (if applicable) required for self-sufficiency.”  The same dictionary doesn’t define “weapon” so it might leave a person with some questions as to how the Air Force is using the term.  Is a command center a weapon?  Is an airplane a weapon?  What is a weapon?

While the Army publication “United States Army Weapon Systems” doesn’t define the term, it does list about 129 things that it declares to be weapon systems ranging from rockets, aircraft, and vehicles to an aircrew ensemble, and even a tactical operations center (TOC).  The broad-brush approach the Army uses with the term seems to mean it is anything that can be or is used by a soldier to do a job.  Certainly an AOC falls into that definition.

But what does the Air Force mean when it uses the term?  While “weapon system” is not defined in Air Force doctrine, it has been used by airmen for decades.  I can’t find it written anywhere, but we use it as a synonym for airplane.

However, by saying weapons system, we distinguished it from the manufacturer’s product with the understanding that the airplane was an essential part of a system which had dedicated operators, support folks, processes, procedures, and roles that all came together to support the fly, fight, and win mission of the Air Force.  Being associated with a weapon system has always meant that your career would follow a certain geographical/functional track until such time as you separated, retired, or administratively removed that association.  It defined your purpose as an airman.

So what’s wrong with that?

Nothing, if we keep our heads about us.  We know, the Air Force has a history of standardizing our weapon systems.  The manufacturer standardizes the airframe, but if the rest of it went freestyle there would be no interoperability between like units and thus efficiency would be lost.  We want a B-52 stationed in Minot to organize and train pretty much the same way a B-52 stationed at Barksdale does.  The same idea applies to all the other “weapon systems” in the Air Force, from C-17 to F-22.

Of course that only applies within a weapon system.  No airman would ever think of trying to force F-22s to be standardized with B-52 processes, roles, and procedures:  stuffing five crewmembers into the cockpit of an F-22 would be ludicrous; loading it with 200,000 pounds of jet fuel would be dangerous and impossible; not using the capabilities of the F-22 to fly, fight, and win against our enemies would be criminal.  That’s probably why the Air Force doesn’t refer to a base or wing as a weapon system.  All bases, like all wings are not alike.  They’re different.

What about AOCs?  Are they more like airplanes or airbases?

When Lockheed Martin Corp was awarded the contract to serve as the AOC Weapon System Integrator, the press release referred to 23 AOC sites:  five Falconer AOCs for theater operations; four “tailored” Falconer AOCs for homeland and strategic defense; two functional AOCs for space and mobility; and 12 AOC support functions for integration/testing/assessment, technical support, training, backup, and augmentation.  If in the process of “standardizing” all these AOCs, the Air Force attempts to make them one-size-fits-all, we’ll be taking a process that needed some work and turning it into one that might not work at all.

General Keys once said, “The AOC is fundamental to what makes us great as an Air Force.  If you have a group of airplanes but you don’t have an AOC, you don’t really have an air force, you have a flying club.”  We can’t mess up the AOC and expect to remain great.

The Air Force has made great strides towards correcting many of the problems that General Keys addressed back in 2003, proper training and management of resources.  With a formal training unit in place, AOC personnel now attend centralized initial qualification training and move to their respective AOC to attain their combat mission ready status through their unit training programs.  The AOCs are now working better than ever.

When it comes to standardizing the AOCs, maybe the airman’s view should be that AOC is like a base and the software is the weapon system.  After all, if bombers are tasked to disrupt, destroy, or degrade our enemy, airmen assigned to bases operate weapon systems to generate desired effects.  Likewise when an AOC is tasked to accomplish something, airmen operate software to generate effects.  Viewing software as a weapon system requires us to use a cyberspace perspective in relating the company that produces the software to an aerospace company that makes aircraft; the personnel that operate the software to aircrews that fly airplanes; and the personnel that support the platforms that enable the software to the entire support structure behind the success of our airplanes.

If software is considered the “weapon” in the DOD definition of a weapon system, the airman’s traditional paradigm of being tied to a weapon system becomes easier to grasp.  Using this cyberspace perspective may be the key to avoiding inflexible design in regards to which capabilities can be added to an AOC’s inventory.  If so, then the goal of organizing AOCs for useful data exchange through focused connectivity and interoperability would remain the challenge.  The AOC should be viewed more like a base is viewed.While some Air Force bases are very similar, each base is a little different from the others. Nevertheless, all the units assigned to each base must cooperate within certain parameters to meet the objectives of that base. It is through the diversity of complimentary capabilities throughout the world-wide network of bases that the Air Force is able to remain the nation’s primary air and space power.

It just makes sense.