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The Need For A Greater Expeditionary Capability In The United States Air Force

The Need For A Greater Expeditionary Capability In The United States Air Force


CSC 1992


SUBJECT AREA National Military Strategy








Title: The need for a Greater Expeditionary Capability in the

United States Air Force


Author: Major Richard A. Fryer Jr., USAF


Thesis: The changing world scene implies the USAF must be an

expeditionary force to be able to project significant power in

all contingencies.


Background: The Chief of Staff of the Air Forces sees a major

challenge for the USAF as the need to move toward a more

expeditionary Air Force. An expeditionary capability requires

the right organizations, logistics network, and, perhaps most

importantly in the near term, hardware. World events bear this

out as the U.S. either voluntarily or involuntarily falls back

from its overseas basing network; a network the USAF is heavily

dependent upon to project significant combat overseas. But, what

constitutes an expeditionary air force is not clear. The author

presents his view of the "ideal" expeditionary capabilities of an

air force which include low reliance on developed basing

structure, various necessary support organizations, and the

logistically infrastructure which best supports expeditionary

operations. When this "ideal" is compared to present USAF

capabilities the most glaring limitation to Air Force expeditionary

operations would appear to be the operational limitations of its

primary fighter aircraft. More specifically, the.lack of

capability of present USAF aircraft to operate from the austere

bases. Follow-on aircraft such as the ATF, and perhaps the

A-X, appear to be capable of overcoming this limitation. In the

meantime, the USAF should consider means of overcoming these



Recommendation: The USAF should study means of overcoming the

limitations of its present fighter aircraft to operate from

austere airfields.








Thesis: The changing world scene implies the USAF must be an

expeditionary force to be able to project significant

power in all contingencies.


I. World political scene is changing


A. Gone is the major conventional/nuclear war threat


B. Political pressures to pull back from overseas bases


C. Not restricted to Europe, Pacific as well


II. Impact of world changes upon the USAF


A. USAF is dependent upon oveseas basing to project

significant comabt power


B. Coalition warfare provides attractive solution


C. Coalition warfare does not cover all eventualities


D. U.S. must be prepared to go it alone


III.        Capabilities of an ideal expeditionary air force


A. In a scenario where we have no regional allies


1. USAF can not fight until bases available


2. But basing choices limited by USAF aircraft needs


B. Ideal expeditionary Air Force:


1. Has aerial refueling and airlift capabilities


2. Can use just about any available airfield


3. Viable support organizations


4. Pre-packaged contingency sets


C. These same capabilities enhance coalition warfare and

low intensity conflict


IV. Expeditionary characteristics the USAF possesses today


A. Airlift and aerial refueling


B. Largely viable support organizations


C. Pre-packaged contingency sets


V. The critical limitation to an expeditionary USAF


A. Aircraft limitations


1. Most fighter aircraft are not austere capable


2. Future aircraft (ATF and A-X) should be austere capable


B. Air Force must address this limitation to be a truely expeditionary force









Major Richard A. Fryer Jr.




The world political scene is in transition; this is not


new news. Nor is it new that no one can predict the future


world political steady-state with absolute certainty


(assuming such a "steady-state world" lies in store for us).


In this paper, I will not discuss possible outcomes of this


transition, but instead will discuss a major implication of


this "new world order" for the United States Air Force (USAF).


This implication is what General Merrill A. McPeak,


Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, sees as one of


two larger challenges facing the Air Force. One involves a


blurring of the distinction between tactical and strategic


"air forces" resulting in the need for what he calls


"composite structures." The other challenge is. the need to


move toward a more expeditionary Air Force, one "that moves


quickly from a CONUS [continental United States] location to


a forward position and is ready to fight immediately when it


gets there."(7:4) The former challenge is presently being


addressed in a major, USAF-wide re-organization. However, it


is the latter, more difficult challenge the USAF must


overcome if it is to remain the premiere air force of the


United States and, consequently, the world. An expeditionary


capability requires the right organizations, logistics net-


work, and, most importantly in the near term, aircraft.


It is this latter challenge to which I turn my attention


in this paper. The intent of this paper is to examine in


broad terms the capabilities the USAF needs to be expedition-


ary. Specifically, I intend to discuss the changing global


political scene and how it implies the need for a more


expeditionary Air Force. Then, I will present the capabil-


ities of an "ideal" expeditionary Air Force and determine


which expeditionary capabilities the USAF presently


possesses. Finally, I will discuss what I see as the critical


limiting factor the Air Force must overcome to fulfill


General McPeak's challenge, the limits of our aircraft.





The world political scene is in transition. The


Director of Strategic Plans and Policy for the Joint Chiefs


of Staff, Lieutenant General George Butler, put it this way,


[T]he global arena in which these aims [fundamental U.S.

security objectives] find their context is undergoing

such a profound transformation that virtually all of the

givens that have shaped our national strategy for four

decades have been called into question.(3:1)


However, this is not to say that this new "context" means an


end to threats to U.S. security. "These changes do not


promise a tranquil world nor an end to threats to American


interests around the globe."(11:2) Yet, the apparent death


of the Soviet Union with the resultant lessening of tensions


for a major conventional/nuclear conflict fought on the


European continent has brought questions about national


defense postures in European countries as well as in the


United States. Cut-backs are planned in most NATO (North


Atlantic Treaty Organization) countries and are already


underway in the United States. Politicians, both at home and


in Europe, are questioning the need for a continued U.S.


presence overseas. (9)


The same questioning of U.S. presence is on-going in the


Pacific despite the continued existence of major regional


threats such as North Korea. In one area, the pull-out has


begun as we depart from major, long-held installations in the


Phillipines. In another area, the Republic of Korea (ROK),


the U.S. has unilaterally removed its nuclear weapons.


Moreover, slight reductions of U.S. forces in the ROK have


been proposed. However, these reductions could conceivably


mirror that of the Phillipines should further reconciliation


occur between North" and South Korea. Additionally, with


increased trade tension between the United States and Japan,


it is not inconceivable that Japan could limit our presence


or operations at any point in the future in retaliation for


trade disagreements.





The overarching effect of these world events upon the


USAF is the potential loss of overseas bases critically


needed to carry out its missions. An inescapable fact of


airpower is that it must to come back to the surface for


refueling, maintenance, rearming, crew-changing, and


redirecting. Effectively, an air force is tethered to the


airbases from which it is launched, whether they be land-


based or sea-based.


The USAF is especially vulnerable in this regards due to


its need for in-theater bases with long, well-paved surfaces


for its fighter aircraft. As the Secretary of the Air Force


put it, "typically, land-based fighter forces require forward


basing to sustain power projection options."(10:9) The Air


Force does the nation a disservice if it cannot "get" to a


war due to an inability to use existing, austere in-theater


bases. To be an effective force capable of what the


Secretary of the Air Force calls "global reach/global power,"


the USAF must have this capability.


Additionally, the USAF needs expeditionary capabilities


to free itself from being a "hostage" of overseas basing


agreements. I refer to the ability of other nations to


deny or constrain our operations overseas. A fairly recent


example of this dependency was demonstrated during Operation


El Dorado Canyon (the 1986 Libyan Air Raid) when striking F-


111s were required to fly a long, indirect route from the


United Kingdom to Libya because Spain denied basing and


France denied overflight.


An answer to this dilemma, put forth by some, would


seemingly be that the United States will not fight further


regional conflicts without partners (i.e. coalition warfare


such as we saw in Desert Storm).(8) Clearly, under such a


philosophy, the U.S. would always expect to have access to


regional basing rights in any theater of operations where we


would fight. In other words, "when the interests of our


allies are threatened, basing will normally be made avail-


able."(10:9) Indeed, some prominent leaders in America


believe the U.S. will not go to war again without partners.


Yet, there are potentialities unaccounted for in the


answer presented above. Specifically, it ignores circum-


stances where only our vital interests are threatened and


where, consequently, others would have no national self-


interest in assisting us. Additionally, it ignores circum-


stances where others may have a self-interest, or where


others are threatened as "well, but they choose to deny us


bases and access for reasons of fear, for cultural reasons,


or for some other reason valid to that government.


In the National Security Strategy of the the United


States, President Bush delineates the nation's strategy for


regional conflicts as one that always seeks allied support,


while still retaining a credible U.S. capability for global


reach and power projection (hence, the ability to "go it


alone" if necessary).(2) Clearly, the armed forces of the


U.S., including the USAF, must be prepared to respond to any


eventuality. As stated in Joint Pub 1, Joint Warfare of the


US Armed Forces,


The strategic context confronting the United States is

unique, and our friends, allies, and interests are

worldwide. Accordingly, the arena of our potential

operations is the entire planet.(6:2)


The U.S. must be prepared to go it alone, anywhere on


the globe to defend our vital interests. For the USAF, this


means being able to project airpower beyond our shrinking


overseas basing ring. To do this, the USAF must have the


capability for expeditionary operations.





At this point, I will examine the operations, and


necessary capabilities, of an ideal expeditionary Air Force.


To do this, I will present what I believe to be the worst


case scenario for employment of the Air Force: a conflict in


a remote part of the world without in-theater friends or


allies (and thus without basing). Then, I will present what


1 believe are the capabilities the USAF requires to operate


ideally in such unfavorable circumstances. Finally, I will


review these expeditionary capabilities and their possible


effect in other types of conflicts including a coalition air


effort similar to that of Desert Storm.


The scenario I present involves the need to conduct


combat in an area remote from the United States and its


overseas bases. To add to this, the scenario will assume no


regional country will allow our forces to operate from or


through their territory. In sum, these are the worst case


conditions for a conventional war from the USAF viewpoint.


Admittedly, it is possible to apply some USAF combat airpower


independently in the form of unescorted bomber strikes


launched from the U.S. or U.S. territories. However, over-


whelming combat airpower can not be brought to bear until


aircraft can be brought into the theater and operate out of


seized territory.


Clearly, the first step to Air Force operations in such


a scenario would involve the seizing of territory containing


airfields by ground troops. Then, support forces would be


introduced to secure the base (security police), repair and


expand critical airfield surfaces to the minimum necessary


for preliminary operations (engineers), and establish the


initial logistics infrastructure (logisticians). Next,


fighter forces would be introduced into thee seized territory


with an initially constrained tempo of operations due to


logistics and support limitations. Delivery and build-up of


logistics and the development of the infrastructure necessary


for sustained high-level operations would be an on-going


priority operation, heavily dependent upon available sea- and


air-lift reception facilities (ports and airfields). Initial


flight operations would likely center on combat air patrol


(CAP) and limited offensive counter-air missions as these


require the least mass of munitions (although fuel require-


ments are still sizable). As the logistical infrastructure


grows, operations could shift to a full-scale air superiority


campaign to include CAP and offensive counter-air operations


against enemy airfields, command and control, air defenses,


and communications. Once most forces were in place, full


logistics support available, and the air superiority campaign


essentially won; air operations could shift priority of


effort to "strategic" targets, air interdiction, battlefield


isolation, and/or close air support at the choice of the


joint task force (JTF) commander. Clearly, all this hinges


on that first step, seizing ground somewhere in theater for


the introduction of Air Force airpower.


But, to make this task practical, there must be air-


field(s) suitable for the introduction of the Air Force.


That is to say the Air Force hardware must be expeditionary


itself to a certain degree or there would be no place


available in-theater for ground forces to secure capable of


sustaining USAF air operations. For instance, if all USAF


aircraft could only operate from 7,000 foot runways and only


3,000 foot runways existed in theater, the USAF would be


unable to contribute its airpower to the conflict until


adequate airfields were constructed (which takes considerable


time and resources). However, the problem would still not be


solved even if there were one or two airfields with the


necessary facilities. An opponent would know our needs and


would, accordingly, concentrate his defensive and denial


efforts on those particular airfields. Clearly, the more


expeditionary the capabilities of the USAF, the greater


flexibility ground forces have in securing adequate


facilities. Moreover, the chance of success will be greater


due to the enemy's greatly increased defensive problem.


I believe the "ideal" expeditionary Air Force is


one that could deploy from the United States, fly to any


point on the globe and conduct combat operations out of a


small pocket of captured enemy territory. Obviously, the


first capability needed is aerial refueling; both long-range


aircraft with the capability to refuel and others with the


capability to be refueled. Next, the expeditionary Air Force


operating out of hostile territory must be flexible in its


basing needs to allow for operations off of any available,


long, straight strip of pavement (to interject a note of


practicality, say longer than 2,000 feet). Thus, either the


Air Force's aircraft must be capable of operating unassisted


off such a surface or systems must be provided to assist them


in doing so (such as barriers and catapults). Additionally,


the expeditionary Air Force needs its own organic maintenance


and support organizations capable of supporting it in any


environment and requiring the minimum of people, equipment,


and supplies. Amongst the support organizations must be


security, services, logistics, and engineering. The latter


must be capable of infrastructure development to include


runway and parking repair and expansion as well as facility


and utility repair and expansion. In that line, the expedi-


tionary Air Force should require minimal facilities beyond


pavements and packaged airbase kits. These kits containing


personnel shelters, generators, field kitchens, and such


equipment could be transported with other bulky items such as


equipment, spares, fuel, and munitions. However, adequate


airlift would unlikely be available to bring in anything but


the most urgently needed bulk items. Thus, the ideal


expeditionary Air Force would use pre-packed maritime pre-


positioning to save time transporting bulk requirements.


Having identified what I see as ideal capabilities of


the expeditionary Air Force, a review of these capabilities


as applied in other types of conflicts indicates no incompat-


ibility. In a coalition theater war such as Desert Storm,


all the capabilities above would only serve to enhance the


Air Force's effectiveness. For instance, systems that allow


for operations off of austere airfields would allow for


greater basing flexibility and enhance force protection by


allowing greater dispersion. Additionally, maritime pre-


positioning enhances rapid build-up of bulk logistics and


equipment, thereby, enabling sustained, high-tempo combat


operations earlier. These capabilities are-not limited to


enhancing just maid- and high-intensity conflict.


Low-intensity conflict can occur in remote locations


with no secure rear area. With adequate security forces and


the ability to operate out of austere facilities, the


flexibility is available to choose the most secure option (if


that is the important factor) from a wider variety of


options. Moreover, the flexibility inherent in expeditionary


engineering and medical forces can provide added "forces" to


fight a low-intensity conflict through civic action.





The USAF has made great strides preparing for high tempo


combat, improving its supportability, and, to a certain


extent, improving its expeditionary capabilities. An example


of the first is provided by the close integration of assets


we have achieved to fight and survive in today's more


sophisticated combat environment. Airborne warning and con-


trol, fighter escort, electronic warfare, and reconnaissance


are routinely orchestrated and synchronized in conjunction


with air strikes.


Moreover, the USAF has championed airlift and aerial


refueling to provide all U.S. forces with the mobility to


reach any area on the globe.(5) The Air Force has not


ignored the need to update its strategic lift as exemplified


by its commitment of resources and focus to the replacement


for the C-141. This aircraft, the C-17, will incorporate


expeditionary features such as "survivability, ability to


operate from short, unimproved airfields, agility and


enhanced maneuverability in the air and on the ground, and


the ability to employ various methods of airdrop."(5:2l-22)


Additionally, the USAF has spearheaded the development


and fielding of better munitions; better in terms of accur-


acy, lethality, and range. Aircraft range, endurance, and


all-weather operating abilities have also been extended.


Maintenance has been greatly improved resulting in more


aircraft in service, requiring a smaller logistics train, and


(important for support and sustainment considerations) less


maintenance personnel.(12) For example, "the F-16C


requires, in terms of dollar value, only one sixth the spares


needed to support the F-111, and less than half that of the


F-15C. "(12:2)


The Air Force has also learned lessons from past


conflicts and recognized some of its vulnerabilities and


shortcoming. In response, it has developed, structured, and


improved organizations for airbase security (using relatively


heavily-armed, air-transportable security police squadrons),


combat "services" support (specifically food, laundry,


billeting, and mortuary support provided by mobile services


teams), and engineering support.


This last organization factors heavily upon the expedi-


tionary capabilities of the USAF. The Air Force, by Depart-


ment of Defense directive, is required to rely upon U.S. Army


support for airbase construction. However, in recognition of


the failure to receive that support in the Korean and Vietnam


wars, the USAF developed and still maintain its own organic


engineering capability. These engineers are structured to be


able to repair and develop existing in-theater bases. Two


types of engineering organizations exist to provide the


necessary expedient base development capability.


The first, Prime BEEF (Primary Base Emergency


Engineering Force), is resident in the base civil engineering


squadron at every active Air Force base. Prime BEEF teams,


consisting of trained military engineers, are linked to the


wing's flying squadrons and, ideally, deploy in advance of


the aircraft to prepare receiving base facilities for flying


operations. However, they rely heavily on either pre-


positioned kits, host nation support, or equipment and


supplies flown or shipped to the base.


The other, RED HORSE (Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy


Operations and Repair Squadron, Engineer), are Major Command-


owned squadrons designed to accomplish major repair and


development of airbases. Similar to a small Army construc-


tion battalion ore a Navy "SeaBee" battalion, they possess a


large amount of heavy construction equipment that requires


sealift or a great many airlift sorties to transport. While


a great capability, USAF engineers require a friendly port or


significant airfield in-theater in order to receive their


necessary equipment and supplies.


Additionally, the USAF has recognized to some degree its


reliance of bases and has developed and pre-positioned


airbase kits at strategic points around the globe. One type


of kit, Harvest Bare, is designed to provide all the


facilities and equipment needed for a 4,000 man airbase.


Another kit, Harvest Eagle, provides the same for a 1,000 man


force, which could operate at a co-located operating base or


augment a main operating base. However, use of both kits is


predicated upon an existing runway and parking area and water


source suitable for combat operations.(4) Moreover, use of


these kits requires a great deal of transportation.


Finally, the USAF has used maritime pre-positioning to


store necessary bulk supplies such as munitions. These


assets were tapped during Desert Storm to supply- deploying


combat forces. Reconfiguration, and possibly expansion, of


maritime pre-positioned supplies, as a result of Desert Storm


lessons, is likely.





As presented above, the USAF has, or is, acquiring many


of the capabilities necessary to be an expeditionary Air


Force. However, the above discussion should have made it


clear the greatest single factor Influencing further develop-


ment of an expeditionary capability is the hardware


(specifically, the fighter aircraft) the USAF owns.


The great majority of the Air Force's present combat


aircraft are the multiple-purpose fighter, F-16 (over 1,000


as of 30 September 1989), and the air superiority and ground


attack fighter, F-15 (over 700). (1:52) These are very


capable aircraft with good range and a good maintenance


history, but with poor austere-field operating capability.


One aspect of this manifests itself as minimum runway length


(MRL); the design length and clearance pilots require to


"recover safely from emergencies."(4:4-2) For the F-15 and


F-16, this design distance is 6,000 feet at forward operating


locations and 8,000 feet in rear areas. This is high


compared to the MRL for a more austere capable aircraft such


as the C-130 (MRL of 3,500 feet for forward locations and


6,000 in rear areas).(4:4-2)


Another aspect of austere field capability is the rough


field operability of an aircraft. This generally measured by


the capabilities of an aircraft's landing gear and airframe


to absorb the shock of "bumps" in airfield pavements


(referred to as sink rate of landing gear struts). Both the


F-15 and F-16 are poor in this regards compared to other


"tougher" aircraft such as the A-7 or A-10. Additionally,


the F-16, because of its low engine inlet, requires pavements


completely free of debris to forestall foreign object damage


(FOD) to the engine. Thus, spalling airfield pavements


(where runway surfaces are breaking up), found in many third


world countries, are unacceptable for F-16 operations without




However, aircraft presently under development for the


USAF will have far better austere capabilities. While exact


figures are classified, minimum runway length and rough field


operability for the Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) will be


significantly improved over present fighters. Additionally,


the ATF will self-contain much of what is presently needed


for ground support equipment and provide easy access for


maintenance crews.


Also, the Air Force's next generation ground attack


aircraft may well be the A-X, the Navy's attack aircraft


under consideration. By its very nature as a carrier


aircraft subject to great stress from catapults for take-off


and barriers for landing, the A-X should be capable of


operating under rough conditions in austere environments.


Unfortunately, we will be into the next century before both


aircraft become fully operational.


However, given the aircraft the USAF presently owns and


operates and the likely period before they are replaced with


aircraft more favorable to expeditionary operations, the Air


Force must come up with solutions to cover the difficulties


I have outlined herein. An answer to one aspect of this


problem, that of landing aircraft on austere bases, may


already be found in modifications to the barrier systems the


USAF uses to catch aircraft with brake problems or other


emergencies. While these are not presently designed for


continuous engagements, modifications may allow them this


capability. Perhaps a solution to the take-off portion of


the problem may be expeditionary catapults or cheap, dispos-


able rockets designed to provide the extra thrust necessary


to take-off in shorter distances.





The Air Force has many of the capabilities necessary to


be an expeditionary air force. However, one critical factor


limits the ability of the Air Force to deploy in strength,


fly, and then fight in any region on the globe. This is the


inability of the majority of its fighters to operate from


austere airfields. A long-term solution appears already


available with the next generation of fighter aircraft under


dvelopment. But, in order for the Air Force to have an


expeditionary capability soner as senior leadership feels is


necessary, a near-term solution to this problem must be






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States. Washington DC: The White House, August 1991.


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military strategy." Remarks to the National Press Club's Center for

Defense Journalism, Washington, DC, 27 September 1990. Aerospace Speech

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8. Nitze, Paul H. "World order from Hiroshima to Kuwait." Naval War College

Review. Newport RI: Autumn, 1991, 7-15.


9. Reserve Officers -Association. ROA National Security Report, Candidates

`92: Their Positions On Defense. Washington DC: Reserve Officers Association of

the United States, February 1992.


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12. Viccellio, Henry, Jr., Lt. Gen, USAF. "Tactical Air Warfare: Planning in a Changing World." Remarks to the Air Force Association Annual National Symposium, Orlando, FL, 1 February 1991. Aerospace Speech 91-3. Secretary of the Air Force, Office of Public Affairs, Washington DC, 1991.

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