Eliminate the Air Force?

Paul Kane:

ROBERT GATES, the secretary of defense, has proposed a budget overhaul that will go a long way toward improving our national security, but more can be done to meet his long-term goal: creating the right military for the 21st century.

Not since Henry Stimson’s tenure from 1940 to ’45 has a defense secretary been faced to the same degree with simultaneously fighting a war and carrying out far-reaching reforms. Yet there are three major changes Mr. Gates should add to his agenda, and they deserve President Obama’s support.

First, the Air Force should be eliminated, and its personnel and equipment integrated into the Army, Navy and Marine Corps. Second, the archaic “up or out” military promotion system should be scrapped in favor of a plan that treats service members as real assets. Third, the United States needs a national service program for all young men and women, without any deferments, to increase the quality and size of the pool from which troops are drawn.

At the moment, the Army, Navy and Marine Corps are at war, but the Air Force is not. This is not the fault of the Air Force: it is simply not structured to be in the fights in Iraq and Afghanistan. While Army, Marine and Navy personnel have borne the brunt of deployments, commonly serving multiple tours, the Air Force’s operational tempo remains comparatively comfortable. In 2007, only about 5 percent of the troops in Iraq were airmen.

Yes, air power is a critical component of America’s arsenal. But the Army, Navy and Marines already maintain air wings within their expeditionary units. The Air Force is increasingly a redundancy in structure and spending.

War is no longer made up of set-piece battles between huge armies confronting each other with tanks and airplanes. As we move toward a greater emphasis on rapid-response troops, the Army has tightened its physical fitness regime and the Marine Corps has introduced a physically grueling Combat Fitness Test for all members. Yet an Air Force study last year found that more than half of airmen and women were overweight and 12 percent were obese.

Next, the current military personnel system is a peacetime bureaucratic construct that serves neither national security nor those who wear the uniform. Congress sets the level of manpower for each military service. Within this constraint, military planners have to decide how many riflemen, mechanics, cooks, medics, pilots and such there should be within the military’s job types, known as Military Occupational Specialties. Then the Pentagon has to decide how many people will be retained in the ranks or promoted.

The result is an “up or out” system that demands service members move up the ladder simply to stay in the military. Any soldier passed over for promotion twice must leave or retire.

...
What this analysis overlooks is the air superiority mission of the Air Force. The Navy and Marines can't land F-22's on aircraft carriers. I think we also need to give the Air Force credit for adapting to the current mission. Keeping the A-10 in service has been critical to the success of our mission in Afghanistan. The arrival of the A-10 or F-16 over a firefight with the Taliban usually ends the debate over control of the real estate.

The Air Force is finally adapting to the need for more UAVs which have been a difference maker in Iraq and in the Afghan-Pakistan theater. This is an area of growing importance that gives us the persistence needed in counterinsurgency warfare. The UAVs act as a force multiplier at a time when when need all the force we can put into the theater.

I don't have a dog in the fight over the up and out promotion system. I think we need more troops and if we add more troops that problem will take care of itself.

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  1. A full response to Mr. Kane can be found at www.wingeddefense.com

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