The Best Defense

Moseley: USAF’s future looks pretty bleak

By Lacy Hebert
Best Defense guest columnist

What does the future of the U.S. Air Force look like? Speaking recently at an event hosted by the Air Force Association's Mitchell Institute and AEI's Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies, retired Air Force General T. Michael Moseley painted a very dire picture.

The present state of the Air Force, he said, is not satisfactory, and if things continue as they are, at some point, someone is going to have to put together troops with no training and no equipment. The United States going to face a series of Task Force Smiths, the former Air Force chief of staff maintained, and it's not going to be pretty.

A capable Air Force is key, he said, to overcoming the challenges that the United States and the world will face in the next century. The United States Air Force in particular has a unique set of tools to see and access anything on the face of the Earth. Moseley said that the U.S. and its allies need to be serious about setting the conditions for peace, dissuading belligerent activity, deterring conflict, protecting populations, and promoting stability. The U.S. Air Force and other branches of the military are key to this effort.

The core concepts of the Air Force -- organization, equipment, and training -- in recent years have been neglected, he said. The Air Force fails in its mission when it misses the opportunity to properly organize, properly train, and properly equip. It fails when its people get too comfortable.

One major reason that the Air Force has recently suffered is the sequester, Moseley argued. The Air Force has four different accounts: personnel, infrastructure, operations, and investment. During the sequester, he says, the first thing to go is operations-training and flying hours are cut. The second thing to go is investment-there is less acquisition of new technology. As resources are chipped away, the quality and the performance of the Air Force declines.

People privileged enough to be in policy jobs need to draw a hard line on standards of training, organization, and equipment, he said. When the Air Force is able to partner, project force, and deter aggression, the likelihood that a conflict will arise declines. Investing in these very important capabilities is an insurance against future conflict. Gen. Moseley, a former F-15 pilot, said he is not sure that today's Air Force is organized, equipped, and trained well enough to fully serve this purpose. This is a serious problem, he said, and it is one that the United States needs to address.

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The Best Defense

The never-ending fight over aircraft supporting ground forces in combat: Close air support vs. interdiction

There seems to me to be a never-ending fight between close air support (that is, against the enemy's frontline forces) and interdiction (that is, on the lines of supply to those forces). Why do the twain never meet?

I suspect the answer is that both sides are totally right -- from their own perspectives. Air commanders want to be able to boast that they blew up 90 percent of the mortar shells that were being shipped to the enemy's front. But if you are on the receiving end of the remaining 10 percent, that means nothing. What you wanted stopped is the 100 percent of the shells aiming to kill you at that moment.    

How to resolve this? I suspect it is to drop the other shoe and give the Army its own fixed-wing close air support aircraft, to go along with the helicopters. Back when the Army Air Corps failed to provide enough spotting aircraft, the Army's artillery branch bought its own aircraft, Edgar Raines tells us (via the estimable Eugenia Kiesling).  If I were sec def, I'd say to the Air Force, "Dudes, it's like drones: By handling the mission so poorly, you've forfeited the right to sole ownership."  

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