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Beam Me Up Scotty

Posted by aaron on June 12, 2008

Simo forwarded us this interesting outlook concerning what's going on in the USAF.  It's put together by the guys at Strategic Forecasting Inc.   Although it addresses issues within the USAF, the directions these kind of changes take may impact the fighter community, eventually, around the world.  It could be a life or death struggle between the space and computer geeks and the fighter pilots.  Beware fighter pilots, wherever you are, they're coming.

Fighter Pilots And The Future OF The U.S. Air Force

The forced retirement of U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley is emblematic of ongoing tensions in the U.S. Air Force as the service continues to realign itself for the 21st century.

U.S. Air Force (USAF) Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley (F-15 Eagle guy) (along with USAF Secretary Michael Wynne) was forced from office June 5, in the wake of mounting tensions with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Few were surprised, given the way things had been going at the Pentagon, but Moseley's tenure especially is emblematic of an ongoing shift in the U.S. Air Force.
Moseley is a fighter pilot. He moved to F-15s early in his career, only a few years after the craft reached initial operational capability -- when the F-15 was the plane to fly. Airpower was his experience and dominated his vision for the USAF. While the official story of Moseley's departure had little to do with his wings, deeper underlying forces are at work. The gentler voices inside the USAF began saying that Moseley had mortgaged the USAF's future on the next-generation F-22 Raptor stealth fighter by trimming tens of thousands of airmen from its ranks and tightening belts at every corner -- including shuttering its innovative battle labs -- to pay for the expensive airframes. (Others say less charitable things about the USAF selling its soul.) Some have claimed that recent mishandling issues were symptomatic of neglect due to these very cuts.
The issue is not that the establishment and maintenance of air superiority is not a cornerstone of what the USAF does -- or an essential military objective. Rather, the issue is that the proportion of USAF time, money and effort dedicated to this mission is shrinking. And while the mission is legitimate, it has little applicability in Iraq and Afghanistan today, where last-generation systems are perfectly sufficient to patrol unchallenged airspace.
But tensions within the USAF go deeper than the current fight. For a decade or longer, a whole cadre of USAF officers involved with efforts as diverse as space, cyberwarfare and unmanned systems have begun to see the fighter community as naval aviators once saw battleships: vastly expensive and yet actually undermining the service because they continue to absorb resources disproportionate to the mission they accomplish. The criticism of Moseley is not that he sought to sustain traditional airpower capabilities, but that he did so at the expense of all else.
Unfortunately, as the USAF's missions diversify, there will be increasing competition for resources and division among career specialties. It is not just the fighter community against everyone else, either. For example, USAF Special Operations Command -- deeply engaged on the ground in the current fight -- does not always look kindly on Space Command's efforts.
This is not to paint the USAF as fractured. Many within the fighter community see the value of dominating space and understand the challenges of cyberspace. Many in the USAF do see the need to balance and share resources to accomplish a broad spectrum of critical missions. But those who see Moseley as a divisive figure argue that it will take time simply to rebalance the USAF more appropriately.
Whatever the case, this will not be the last bout of fighting inside the USAF, as efforts in traditional battle space, outer space and cyberspace pull the USAF in very different directions. But the bottom line is that the USAF is less and less an organization of pilots, even though the bureaucratic structures it has inherited mean that it continues to be governed as one -- and governed by pilots. (Moseley's likely replacement, Gen. John Corley, has more hours in more fighter jets than his predecessor does.)
Whether Moseley's successor will better strike a new balance remains to be seen. But in the long run, the USAF would do well to remember its own origins -- Army Air Corps pilots tiring of a command structure of Army officers that did not understand what they did. There are already Space Command officers and cyber warfare specialists who are beginning to feel the same way about pilots.
Update: Defense Secretary Gates has made a unexpected nomination of General Norton Schwartz (C-130 Hercules guy) to replace Moseley as the USAF chief of staff. Although press releases state that Schwartz has a background in special operations, his roots are in tactical airlift. That’s certainly a different direction for the USAF.  That’s definitely a change from past chiefs and most assuredly not the expected choice mentioned in the article above. Appears that the space and computer guys caught the ear of the Defense Secretary. Gates also halted a USAF ongoing reduction in force, a draw down of personnel that was to help offset the costs of new weapon systems, mainly the F-22. Should be interesting watching the course that Gen Schwartz sets, along with Secretary Gates guidance, for the USAF.


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