Friday, April 27, 2007

Let the Real War Begin

A high stakes battle in the skies between USAF and the other services for control of unmanned aerial vehicles is in full swing. Former Spook looks at the Air Force's claim to be the "executive agent" for all "medium- and high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicles across the U.S. military." RofaSix smells a plot. Congress has entered the debate to fight Homeland Security's corner. Defense Industry Daily notes that the clash is partly cultural. The Air Force insists that all UAV operators, even if they are sitting at video terminals, must be rated pilots but the Army says this nonsense, pointing out that the best Army UAV operator in Iraq was trained as a cook.


Blogger Greg said...

This is classical rivalry - just another dimension. Of course they are assuming command. The USAF is still pissed how the USN & Marines have their own fighter squadrons.

In one of Chevy Chase' movies - he explains why the USAF is against his product - an unmanned figher. "Because there 's no pilot - and who runs the USAF ? Pilots!".

This rivalry will be settled with each service branch getting their piece of the pie - much like aviation and intelligence.

4/27/2007 04:46:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

I suspect that the high end UAVs, like Global Hawk will still be "flown" by pilots, while the tactical UAVs will wind up with the cooks, infantrymen and whoever else is around the ground battlefield. But the UAVs which are in the middle tier, or which can demonstrably be better operated by a videogame ace are going to be the bones of contention.

4/27/2007 04:55:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

We have been through this before in various other ways. The USAF and the Army got into a fight over armed fixed wing aircraft and armed helicopters during Vietnam. The Army got the attack choppers and quit arming its fixed wing assets.

Before that it was missiles. The Air Force ended up with ICBMs and the Army tactical missiles. This was a good thing; the Army insisted on thinking of missiles as something strapped to a tank. Given the technology of the time, ICBMs strapped to tanks would have been hard to do, at best.

Within the Air Force, the massive draw-downs of the 90's led to redefining space launch operations as something to be done by some of those ICBM crews and pilots who no longer had jobs, rather than the engineers who had been doing it since day one. The result was the launch disasters of the late 90's and a former USAF Chief of Staff saying "It's simple, really, we fired the wrong people in the early 90's."

But, as Wretchard points out, the term "UAV" covers a lot of ground. UAVs range from large aircraft with intercontinental range to devices soldiers remove from their backpacks, unfold, and toss into the air to get a look over the hill or past the next building. And meanwhile, that high flying stealth UAV may just deploy some small vehicles the same size - or even a lot smaller - as the ones the individual soldiers use to get a close up look at something interesting. Already, there have been reports of sightings of UAVs smaller than a sparrow at defense contractor facilities. So size and range will not cut it as a dividing line.

If anyone was left in the Air Force with had a lick of sense they would propose that the Air Force act as DoD INTEGRATING AGENCY for UAVS. Such as figuring out how the different size UAVs from the different services can work together.

Properly handled, interservice rivalry can act as an impetus to future dvelopment. The USN's fear of the US Army Air Corps led to both services fielding weapons that were far beyond what the enemy had in WWII. Gen Billy Mitchell scared the bejesus out of the US Navy in 1921 and that turned out to be very good. (Magzine article in work). Individually the Navy and Gen Mitchell were both wrong; collectively they were awesome.

4/27/2007 05:57:00 PM  
Blogger allen said...

Defense Tech is reporting that the Air Force is claiming more kills in both Afghanistan and Iraq than either the Army or the Marine Corps. Defense Tech does not appear to be buying into the back slapping.

CoS: Air Power Most Deadly Component


4/27/2007 06:46:00 PM  
Blogger allen said...

About $500,000 per copy and no cup holders:

H/T Defense Tech


4/27/2007 07:21:00 PM  
Blogger Pangloss said...

I am coming around to the opinion that there should be two professional branches of the U.S. services. I could easily be convinced otherwise, but let me go on. The Army and the Navy. The Navy would be responsible for the surface and deep water and all long range strategic assets (and for future FOB use of carriers and amphibious assault ships). It would be a combination of the current Navy and Air Force, slightly rejiggered. The army would be responsible for all boots on the ground from marines to sf to infantry to cavalry, and shorter-range tactical assets. It would be a combination of the current Army and Marines, slightly rejiggered.

If a huge force of infantry, civil and support staff is needed then bring back the militia (of 2nd amendment fame) with a draft or mandatory service.

Alternately, consolidation of government functions may be exactly the wrong thing to do, as the larger a bureaucracy gets the less efficient and competitive it seems to get. Maybe the missing piece is some kind of official deputation for companies like Blackwater and Dyncorp that adds the market and competition into the mix.

As for who "pilots" the UAVs, the AF is going to lose this one. As we have all heard somewhere, the last U.S. fighter pilot was born before 2000 A.D. Game Consoles will train the kids who get started with combat flight games by the time they are 6 so well they will pass anyone who waits to start playing until he's 18, or even 16. Imagine what the old grognards will think when the Tiger Woods of UAVs comes along. And also think about where all the UAVs will be parked. They can't fly them all the way from the US to the theatre. There is no onboard pilot. So they have to be carried in something else, either a cargo plane, supply caravan, or cargo ship.

4/27/2007 07:42:00 PM  
Blogger allen said...


Given the decentralized nature of the plethora of adversaries we will be facing in the future (look at Iraq, Ethiopia, and Somalia) "off the shelf", highly agile and infinitely adaptable units would seem the trend. Global Guerrillas' John Robb (Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization) has addressed these issues. Moreover, if Keeley's research (War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage) can be trusted, as I think it can, then, "civilized soldiers [can] defeat primitive warriors only when they adopt the latter's tactics."

Don't even think about touching the Marine Corps!

As for the Air Force, jocks always need adult supervision.

4/27/2007 10:16:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

The wide range of adversaries we face and the expanding capabilities offered by technology argues strongly for greater specialization not less. We need a Strategic Air Force, a Tactical Air Force, a COIN Air Force, a Special Operations Air Force, a Missile Air Force, a UAV Air Force, at least a couple of Air Transport Air Forces, a Research and Development Air Force and a Space Force. The current leadership of the USAF says that they can do it all, but they can’t, because FighterPilot/Engineer/Astronaut/MedicalDoctor/RocketScientist/IntelligenceSpecialist/ComputerProgrammer/PRExpert/StaffOfficer personnel are quite rare, to say the least.

The only country to combine all of its forces into one is that huge imperialistic military powerhouse, Canada.

4/28/2007 06:22:00 AM  
Blogger Pyrthroes said...

Well, now! Pangloss' puissant posting in re UAVs stumped me --he of the vaunted vocabulary-- with his term "grognard". Turns out the word is of Napoleonic origin, transmogrified in the 1970s to characterize obsessive video-game aficionados.

We learn something every day (mostly due to Wretchard). Try looking up etymology for "ketchup"... you'll find everything from "love apples" to the Battle of New Orleans and California Gold Rush, thereafter all the 19th Century's post-bellum continental economies-of-scale.

"Grognard"-- a perfect pejorative, redolent of eruditon in arcane realms "known only to you and the cat". Wow.

4/28/2007 10:57:00 AM  
Blogger Evanston2 said...

Using pilots as UAV operators is a huge waste of funding. Looks like the Air Force has trained too many pilots and is looking for some way to retain them.

As others have noted, the UAV "pilot" issue is simply another iteration of the century-old dispute between the (now) USAF and Army. For a flyboy, the ideal would be total control of air space, including elimination of all rocketry, artillery, and of course air defense assets from any external entity (particularly the Army). They'd prefer a defenseless Army (hence the fixed wing limitation) over 1 friendly fire (or "golden beebee" incident).

I completed the Air Command & Staff seminar with USAF officers and they thought air superiority ended any war. So their vision is not merely fixated on a desire to eliminate friendly fire casualties -- they possess an institutional cluelessness. I'm not surprised by any claims that aircraft have killed more enemy in Iraq than the ground pounders, this is classic "air power" propaganda that ignores the fact that boots on the ground are drawing out and making the call for fire on these targets.

As a retired Marine, I'm glad we are most often paired with naval aviators instead of USAF. The Army and USAF deserve each other.

Regarding Pangloss' opinion that we reduce to 2 services, he clearly doesn't understand that 2/3 of the globe and most of its economy rely on sea power. Placing either the USN or USMC in another organization (that is, eliminating the Department of the Navy) is an argument for mixing our most successful services with the worst.

I served 1 tour with the USAF and 2 tours with the Army. The USAF is good at what it does, but as I mentioned is narrow-minded. The USA has loads of equipment but at its heart lacks a warfighting ethos. During my tour in Iraq the convoy commanders were the only soldiers who were truly focused.

So Pangloss, I have no idea what you've done in your life but don't mess with success. Iraq has mainly been an Army & Air Force operation (outside of Anbar) and it shows.

4/28/2007 11:03:00 AM  
Blogger falcon-niner, out said...

It is always amusing to hear Marines pump up the Corp as the Hand and Legion of God, providing the Most Holy Service of Sending Souls to God.
It is kind of a stupid statement to say Iraq is a USA/USAF op and "it shows." Of course it is .. what else could it be? You have another large military complex up your sleeve that we need to know about? Have the Marines all of the sudden tripled in size and gained "long war" capabilities?
It is amazing how similar the USAF and the Marines are, on occasion. I remember many joint op briefings where gung-ho officers of both branches spouted off very similar loads of crap to the effect of "we are the best, we crap gold bricks, and the army just screws everything up."
Whether it is the Marines making noise about their "warrior ethos" like high school jocks, overlooking their own very glaring defects, or the USAF whining and griping like a Worker's Union about their vaulted pilot corp ... it is all the same old-school bs that keeps real work from getting done.
The best of the best who rise above this nonsense get plucked out of their respective commands and get into the Special Forces Command, where honest-to-god joint work is done without (for the most part) the normal service bs.

4/28/2007 12:05:00 PM  
Blogger Pyrthroes said...

Stuck pre-Vietnam in the Aleutian Islands, we operated as an Air Force sensor site with Coast Guard administration and tight Navy coordination. In Germany, outside Air Intelligence (not tactical), Army units were of course most visible. Marines remained a race apart.

Inter-service rivalry is most likely ineradicable. Remember McNamara's "joint forces" fighter-- too heavy for carriers, too light for Army air-support, a "golden brick" to Air Force dogfighters.

Though Cadet Colonel of our college AFROTC program, my great disappointment in life was that Marines were out of reach. (This was in deep peacetime, so long ago that high-tech to us was Fire and the Wheel.) Anyhow... keep up our marvelous technological innovations, and reserve mission allocations to Joint Chiefs. Lord, do we admire troops today!

4/28/2007 03:40:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Isn't it nice that America has enough to go around for everyone, and produces toys that are neato enough for people to fight over them? As opposed to, say, France, which has to ask England to go in halvies with them on one itty-bitty aircraft carrier. Or Russia which is resorting to one-on-one poisoning with their left-over radioactive sludge.

4/29/2007 11:34:00 AM  
Blogger allen said...

Talking about the use of air power:

US aircrews show Taliban no mercy

H/T Small Wars Journal

Do watch the video provided by the telegraph.

"‘When you are on top of the enemy you look, shoot and it's, 'You die, you die, you die.
The odds are on our side. I really enjoy it. I told my wife, if I could come home every night then this would be the perfect job.’"
___Lt. Denton

4/29/2007 05:26:00 PM  
Blogger hank_F_M said...

I thing that Panglosses idea has some merit with a few changes.

Have two military departments,. Army and navy. The Navy department with Navy and Marines are “small war” oriented. The Army is large war oriented with large reserves and expansion capability. (Note: this is pretty much historical policy pre WWII.) both have the appropriate aircraft to support their mission. If (for political reasons it can’t be avoided, a separate Air Force is an Aerospace Force for strategic services ( such as space operations, continental air defense, strategic bombing that is not directly related to ground or naval operations.)) Tactical aircraft that support the Army are part of the Army. The key point in this case is not “does it have wings? but “what does it do? There would of course need to be systems of coordination and preventing duplication. One obvious system would be the Army loans reinforcements to the Marines if a small war expands and the Navy loans the Marines to the Army in a large war.

Any way the big thing is that whatever is done it is defined by missions and functions not equipment types. Missions and functions are relatively stable equipment changes over time, that is why the move from manned aircraft to UAV’s is a problem for the Air Force, it’s existence defined by equipment (planes with pilots) not what is done with it.

4/29/2007 05:30:00 PM  
Blogger Bob1 said...

Folks are mixing terms here. RWE has it mostly right: executive agency has to do with acquisition, not operations. With the boom in UAVs, everyone's buying their own, but the problem is that most of them have stovepiped comms -- there's no way to share the information and feed the larger picture. Designating an exective agent could help fix that. That's just one aspect.

The Air Force isn't saying that pilots should control ALL UAVs. That's just the Air Force's solution for the ones they operate. And they operate the large, complex ones. BTW, one reason for a pilot at the controls is that the FAA currently doesn't allow totally autonomous air vehicles in US airspace. So, how are you going to deploy Global Hawk from the CONUS (it's current deployment mode) without a pilot at the stick?

Finally, the Air Force does have a very valid issue regarding having a say in UAV emploment in-theater. One of the air component commander's task is airspace management -- kinda acting like the FAA. As such, the air component commander has to deconflict the use of airspace among all the competing users, including UAVs and any commercial air traffic. We've already had some mid-air collisons involving UAVs in Iraq. Thankfully, they've been small UAVs running into much bigger helicopters (and I think a C-130). It's only a matter of time before a micro-UAV gets sucked into an airliner's engine and causes a crash. Came you imagine the resulting crapstorm? So it's not so much as the Air Force "controlling" (as in commanding) all UAVs as much as it is deconflicting airspace usage.

4/29/2007 05:48:00 PM  
Blogger Evanston2 said...

Bob1, thank you for your comments. As a former DAWIA Level II acquisition officer, I agree with your Executive Agent observations.

I disagree, however, with any assertion that airspace control should delay the deployment of UAVs by ground commanders. I acknowledged that low and slow moving UAVs can be a hazard to aviation (just like artillery or ground air defense) but I believe that if they are fitted with IFF type transponders (if not already done) air controllers and pilots can navigate around them. Timely recon by ground commanders should not be handicapped by an approval process.

Delay kills on the ground, more frequently (though not as spectacularly) as potential UAV vs. fixed wing and helo incidents.

4/30/2007 12:10:00 PM  
Blogger Evanston2 said...

Falcon-niner, I'm glad to entertain you. Permit a few observations.

First, you state that members of joint commands (in particular SF) are "the best of the best." This sounds like the same sort of narrow-minded bombast that apparently offended you from your "joint ops" meetings with USMC and USAF officers.

Second, I have a question: do you recollect the source of all the units that are assigned to joint commands (such as USSOCOM) to EXECUTE these joint ops? Answer: they are chopped from the services, that train, equip, and lead these units. True enough, USSOCOM drafts up the joint plans and directs the operations at a headquarters level, but the personnel you say are "plucked" for these commands (maybe so for the Army, but not for the USMC) make paper plans and transmit telecom orders. You may call this "honest-to-god joint work" but don't overstate its scope. The real warfighting is still done by the services, so their capabilities and culture are relevant.

Third, if officers from other services (such as the USMC and USAF) were proud of their capabilities, perhaps you took it the wrong way. As I recall, these officers are there to inform others about their capabilities. Simply put, this was legitimately part of their job.

Fourth, it's really too bad you find the words "warrior ethos" to be "normal service bs." You mention the "long war." The long war would have been shortened in length and size if the Army had responded aggressively after the seizure of Baghdad to any attacks. Instead, convoys were shot up and all they did was drive on. They abandoned vehicles and failed to attack back into the ambush. Commanders focused on force protection inside the bases (bigger shelters, highway-type barriers) and opening PXs and fast food franchises instead of patrolling outside. Overall, the Army and Air Force declared ground and air superiority and used the excuse of winning hearts and minds to cease aggressive ops and allow a power vacuum to form outside the wire. This weakness and chaos undermined American power and gave the jihadis time to get organized and refine their tactics.

Marine Corps operations in Anbar were markedly different. You assert that the Marine Corps would need to be "tripled in size" to do what the Army is doing today. No kidding. I assert that if the Army had a "warrior ethos" THEN(attacking back when attacked) the Army wouldn't need such a large force NOW. So, when I say "Iraq has mainly been an Army & Air Force operation (outside of Anbar) and it shows" this is what I mean.

Fifth, if you believe this is a "kind of a stupid statement" you are certainly entitled to your opinion. I was a logistics officer during my career, I personally got mortared and rocketed for a few months but never shot at anyone. I don't pretend to be an expert on all things military, particularly not about combat. Still, your focusing on USSOCOM as some sort of exemplary organization is extremely narrow-minded. How much larger would USSOCOM need to be to fight the "long war" in all of Iraq? 1,000? You mentioned that the USMC lacks long war "capabilities." What's your fix, a Long War Command? Like I've said, you need to change the culture of the services that train, equip, and lead these units to have any real change.

Oh, and when say "Marines pump up the Corp as the Hand and Legion of God" it is spelled "Corps."
And when you say the USAF whines "about their vaulted pilot corp" you mean "vaunted."
When you spout your own "loads of crap" get it right.

4/30/2007 12:46:00 PM  

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