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This article was Originally Published on Mar 06, 2004 in Volume: 3  Issue: 1

Expeditionary Transformation

Lieutenant General Duncan J. McNabb, deputy chief of staff of the USAF Plans and Programs office, talks about the Air Force’s role in the transformation process. Making the Air Force expeditionary and making its transformations at the same time is challenging but “do able.”

Lieutenant General Duncan J. McNabb

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This is a tremendous time for the armed services. As I look at the Air Force, the next couple of years are going to be truly huge in their impact, especially as we get more joint in nature, get this transformation right and set the course that will take us into the years ahead.

We are here today with a combat ready and experienced force that just went through Kosovo and Afghanistan and now Iraq. We’re still in the global war on terrorism, and our soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen are still learning and figuring out new ways and working together. We’ve really had a laboratory setting in combat.

As we look at transformation, we can sit back and say, “Hey, we’ve been doing this in combat. We’re missing something here. We’ve missed a seam here. How do we work together better?” This creates real opportunity. In the next two years, we have a chance to reshape our force—first through the BRAC, so we can get our infrastructure right to serve our force structure, and then through the QDR, which will kind of cement how we go about this transformation for at least the next six, seven or eight years.

I recently briefed our Chief, General John Jumper, the Air Force Secretary, Dr. James Roche and our senior air force  leaders at the Corona Conference about this being like the perfect storm. You’ve got the BRAC. You’ve got the QDR. You have an election in the middle of that. And it’s a great time to be the XP, because the chiefs all beat the heck out of us every day, saying, “How are we going to do this all, and integrate it?”

If you tie that with the fact that all the services are being equally dynamic on how they’re looking at change, and how they’re going to look to the future and transform, we have to do it together. We have to learn together. We have to learn how to trust each other. And so it really is an excellent time to be part of all of this.

When we look at the recent conflicts and the paramount lessons learned, those lessons are probably the things that we’ve got to look at first. And I think the paramount lesson learned is the transformational effect of a truly joint concept of operations—of working together in ways that we had not done before, teaming with the ground maneuver forces, with air and naval air power, in ways that we had just dreamed of before.

I think all you have to do is look at the race to Baghdad and think about the Marines, Army and special operations forces betting on air power in ways that, in the past, they hadn’t depended on to the degree they did this time. They’re not only talking about the indirect strike capability, but they’re also betting on our ISR enablers that would allow them to see what’s ahead of them to keep them safe.

They’re betting on our ability to resupply them with logistics, betting that we can open up another front for them if that is needed. And then, a space umbrella that allows all of us to navigate, communicate, and respond in ways and timelines that we had just hoped for before and now, with the technology revolution, is going to allow us to really take advantage of that.

I think the second critical lesson learned is for the Air Force to get in a truly expeditionary mindset. We really have to get away from the Cold War mentality. I think all of the services have really done tremendous things on getting past that and looking to the future. For the Air Force, that’s been our way of becoming a truly expeditionary Air Force, centered on our AEFs, our air expeditionary forces.

And the thought there is we’ve got to be able to have a sustainable rotation base that we can do day-to-day, through contingency ops all the way up to war, be able to surge it, bring it back down, reconstitute it and do it in a way that allows our people to have some predictability, so that we get the retention that we all depend on in a very big way.

The other thing is, we had to open up 38 bases in CENTCOM and EUCOM, and in many cases very, very bare bases with not a lot of infrastructure in place. We’ve got to get better at that—working/providing for the joint forces commander when asked, being able to get in there, figuring out what we’ve got to do, working in a joint arena, and figuring out what everybody else can bring to the fight. And again, this combat laboratory that we’ve had over these last three conflicts allows us to really have learned from that.

We just set up Eagle Flag at McGuire Air Force Base, NJ, to get the Air Force to be able to figure out what the packages are we need to go in, tailor them as they need to be by the joint forces commander, and then, ideally, get in theater, open it up, in some cases turn it over to one of the other services. And so all of that is being worked on. So, again, a very big step.

The third major lesson learned is kill chain compression, or putting cross hairs on the target, as our chief would say. We would create dramatic effect if we could do the kill chain in minutes rather than hours.

If you think about the B-1 that got the coordinates beamed to it, and 12 minutes later put four JDAMs on a restaurant when they thought that Saddam Hussein had gone into it, the part that folks maybe don’t realize is that from the time they saw Saddam go in, it took about 45 minutes to go up the chain of command and get approval, which is really tremendous when you really think about it.

And then it took about 12 minutes for that B-1, once it was given the coordinates, to put bombs on target. If you had made the whole kill chain process 30 minutes, rather than 57 minutes, the effect might have been completely different. If you could get it down to 10 minutes, again, the effect could be completely different.

And so that’s something that all of us are working on and betting on critical enablers to do that. And I think that there’s an awful lot that goes into the ability to compress that kill chain. And that would include all of the enablers that we’re doing in space. We are basically recapitalizing and transforming all our space constellations over the next five to 10 years. Again, all the services are betting that we can do that.

And then you talk about ability to make decisions, your command and control has to be upgraded. Our focus is on the Air Operations Center {AOC} as a weapons system and making it just like any other platform, where you have acquire, upgrade, train and evaluate according to well thought out standards.

General T. Michael Moseley, Vice Chief of Staff, was the Combined Forces Air Component Commander and the JFACC during OIF and OEF. He needed to talk very quickly and very intelligently to the other component commanders, to make very quick decisions, work together and say, “Hey, we’ve got a seam here. How are we going to work that?” This really enabled the kinds of things and successes you saw in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I think one of the best stories is of Tech Sergeant Markham in Afghanistan. He was one of our USAF Combat Control members embedded with the Northern Alliance. In the past, when a coalition general wanted some air power, he would be told, “Well, we’ll get that to you.” And it might be hours. It might be days. It might be never.

When the Northern Alliance General said to Markham, “Hey, I’ve got Taliban over there on that ridge, could you do something about that?” He was thinking that it would take a day or two. This time Markham identified the target, lazed it, got the coordinates, beamed those up, got approval from the CAOC, and minutes later, all hell broke loose on that ridge.

Now, that not only created the desired effect, but I’ll tell you what, Markham was “somebody” with the Northern Alliance after that. Compressing that kill chain in support of our joint partners is something that they’re all depending on. Another portion of this is, to do this right, we have to trust and build the confidence in each other. This is not only done through warfare, but with training and exercises.

Now, how do we make this happen? I’ve got to say that as the resource guy, I kind of look at this a little differently—what you might call the jaded programmer’s view. Everybody wants more of Air Force-provided joint enablers—our space assets, our ISR, our airlift and our tankers.

And they also want more of our fire support. They want more of our expeditionary capability, bases and so forth, our civil engineers and our medics and all of the parts that go into that support. You tie that with the fact that we had very chronic under-funding in the 1990s, driving us to have to recapitalize now at an unprecedented rate. We had a greater than 200-year recap rate on our aircraft in the 1990s. Two hundred years.

Now, the recapitalization rate is simply the math of how many aircraft you have now, when you got them, and how many you are buying to replace them. And in the 1990s, we had a lot of aircraft. We were living off of Cold War inventories. But eventually, no matter how many extra aircraft you have, they all start getting old, and you have to start replacing some of them. And that time is now, but what’s happened is that many of the bills for recapitalization are coming due at the same time. It really put us in a trick.

Four years ago, our former Chief of Staff, General Michael Ryan, testified that we needed about $20 billion to $30 billion dollars a year more, just for recapitalization. Because the costs of operations, maintenance and aging aircraft were just eating our lunch, we were spending an awful lot of money where it just didn’t make much sense.

At the same time, in 2010, you’re going to see a lot more baby boomers like me retire. What you will have is 30 million baby boomers joining the books for Medicare and Social Security. At the same time, we only have about 10 million new wage earners joining the workforce. There’s going to be tremendous pressure on our nation’s fiscal resources. You tie that together and the only way that you can meet all of these demands is through transformation.

And for us, the way we look at transformation is doing new things and using new things and old things in new ways. New things could be like stealth and precision weapons, or old things like B-52s dropping precision weapons, and doing things in different ways like working with the SOF, the Army or Marines, even using the old stuff in new ways. And then we modernize the old stuff as we need to. Again, we must focus on potential capability seams that again will have transformational effect.

So, what are the three components that we see as part of that transformation? It is organization. It’s CONOPs. And it’s technology.

I already talked about technology, and the fact that if you bring stealth together with the ability to do precision, you bring speed in there. I’ll give you one example—we can take two B-2s and four FA-22s with small diameter bombs and create the same effect as with a 96 aircraft guerilla package going in to take out 192 targets. Now, the support of those two different forces, one takes about 1,400 airmen to support 96 airplanes. The other one takes 125 airmen to support six aircraft.

So, the technology allows us to have some great synergy, but it must be tied with the concept of operations. And I talked about the race to Baghdad. The concept of operations needs to be truly joint because everybody is transforming at the same time. We need to continue to get better together.

We need to figure out where we need to have complementary capabilities, and where we may, in some cases, need to be redundant, because some capability is so critical. You see a lot of partnering going on that, from where I sit, is superb. My counterparts are feeling the same way as we sit down and figure out how we are going to approach truly joint warfighting.

The final portion that we see is organizations. The huge focus that we have is to again make our Air Force truly expeditionary. We’re going to continue to refine the AEF concept, get more people deployable, make sure they’ve got the right equipment and make sure they are trained well. As we bring on new equipment, we want to make sure that we resource that equipment. We want to take full advantage of it.

I’m an old mobility guy, and when I was working back in Military Airlift Command, we were getting ready to retire 267 C-141s and buy C-17s to replace them. And everybody said, “Hey, tails, tails, tails. This is going to be really important.” But the C-17 had about two and a half times the amount of cargo capability as the 141 and about the same operating cost.

So, what we said was, “You can get by with fewer number of aircraft, but you’ve got to resource it accordingly. You’ve got to make sure that it’s got the crew ratios, the parts and the spares so we can get the utilization rate up. But the capability that you get with the C-17 will not only exceed the million ton miles that you’re giving up, but the technological advances that allows it to go into tactical airfields and do things like a C-130 will truly revolutionize how we do mobility.”

And all you have to do is look at where we are today. We now have 180 C-17s coming. But the way we use the C-17 today, we need much fewer than we had of the C-141s that it replaced.

The Air Force has a tremendous relationship between our Guard, Reserve and active duty components, across the spectrum of conflict from peacetime to war. Our Guard and Reserve members are fully embedded with the active duty in our Air Expeditionary Forces. They’re a tremendous part of what we do all the time, and even more so when they mobilize. With the same standards and equipment, there’s no difference between these three components. In the Air Force, we call it the Total Force.

The biggest part of all this is obviously our airmen, soldiers, sailors and Marines. As they learn about all of this, they get excited. They’re the key. You know, our young airmen on horseback with their computer dangling on their saddle, with their laser goggles. They’re the ones that figured out how to get the coordinates up to the B-52, so our crews could put the coordinates in the JDAM, and rain havoc on our enemies. They’re the ones that are going to take us to the next level, and what they’re learning right now will take us to the future.  O

McNabb is the USAF deputy chief of staff for Plans and Programs.  The remarks above are from McNabb’s presentation at the 34th IFPA-Fletcher Conference on National Security Strategy and Policy on Security Planning and Military Transformation after Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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