Flight Check

Former F-15 fighter pilot Gen. T. Michael Moseley rose through the ranks to command air operations in Afghanistan and lead the air campaign during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But it's a different order of battle that's now testing his skills. As Air Force chief of staff, he is trying to recapitalize an aging fleet while organizing, training and equipping nearly 700,000 active-duty, National Guard, Reserve and civilian personnel during one of the most turbulent periods in American military history. Over breakfast at the National Press Club on Aug. 18, Government Executive Editor Timothy B. Clark spoke to Moseley about some of the challenges facing the service. An edited transcript follows:
Q: How much concern is there that the Air Force is running short of what it needs to get the job done?
A: When I put this uniform on in the mid to late 1960s, the average age of the inventory in the Air Force was about 8.5 years. Today the average age of our inventory is 24.5 years. If we get everything that we're programmed to get through [future defense budgets], the average age will go to over 30 years. The challenge is to be able to get rid of the old equipment. Fifteen percent of the United States Air Force inventory is somehow restricted from divestiture by congressional language. It's hard to manage recapitalization and modernization if you can't get rid of the old equipment. The maintenance cost of ownership-cost per flying hours, break rates, unscheduled maintenance, all of the things that a wing commander worries about-has gone up about 90 percent over the last decade in operating this old equipment. We have asked to be able to ground or retire 953 aircraft.
Q: A recent congressional staff memorandum said that Air Force readiness is "at a historic low, and the factors associated with the current shortfalls will likely fuel a continued decline." Was this report overly alarmist?
A: I don't know that I would paint it as bleak as that. The readiness of the Air Force, the ability for the Air Force to fight this morning, is still there. The ability to generate bombers or to generate the spacecraft or to generate mobility assets or fighters or [unmanned aerial vehicles] is still there. The depth in our maintenance is still there. The part that alarms me, though, is the maintenance of these old airplanes-the requirement to continually have to pour huge amounts of money into operating aircraft that are either obsolete or approaching obsolescence relative to what new technology can bring to bear, or more importantly, what the threat requires. We're going to reach a point where we could conceivably be forced to fly an 80-year-old airplane in combat, and to me that's unconscionable.
Q: The Air Force has received some criticism for continuing to invest in weapons conceived during the Cold War, like the F-22 fighter jet. The rap is not that these weapons have no value, and the F-22 is highly capable, but that they're the wrong weapons for the threats we face today given the resources the Air Force has to invest. How do you respond to that line of criticism?
A: If you want to maintain air dominance in a theater, or if you want to be able to dissuade and deter [an enemy], you cannot do that with 1960s technology. What we found with the F-22 is the airplane is one of the finest bombers we've ever had. [Editor's note: The F-22A Raptor originally was designed as an air-to-air fighter, but the Air Force added bombing capability to the aircraft during development.] You can drop a supersonic GPS-guided weapon from high altitude and high speed. A 1,000-pound-class weapon, you can deliver it at a range of 25 or 30 miles. The smaller weapon, of which the airplane will carry eight, you can deliver that up to about 65 miles. So when you talk about the surface-to-air missile systems that we have to deal with, you can stand off against these missile systems and kill them. Being able to get into the airspace and kill these systems and to kill the fighters is important in the business of air superiority and air dominance, and that's what the F-22 does. That's what the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will do for the entire joint team: Army, Navy and Marines.
Q: It seems that fighting insurgencies-guerrillas hiding in urban populations-requires better human intelligence as much as technological capability. The killing of [Abu Musab al] Zarqawi in Iraq in early June is a good example. Without human intelligence, the F-16 pilot would not have been able to drop the bomb on the house in which Zarqawi was hiding. In the latest issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute makes a strong argument that our military services are putting too much money into technology and not enough into boots on the ground. As a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff you must engage in debates about this topic. Can you describe the tensions between manpower and technology, how they're resolved and what your own view on the topic has been?
A: Yeah, let me take issue with that fellow. It is not always about boots on the ground. If you go down the road of assuming that the end state is to occupy, then you put large numbers of people at risk. I would offer that if all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. The art form is to be able to look across the entire spectrum of conflict and to understand what is the desired effect or what is the key mission task.

The business about Zarqawi-I would say human intelligence is critical, but I would also say signals intelligence is critical. Electronic intelligence is critical, and the ability to listen and to see and to play in a three- or four-dimensional game. Human intelligence [is a challenge]. How do you go buy it? Do you go to Lockheed or Boeing or Northrop and say, I want $2.5 million worth of human intelligence? No. This is an issue of cultural expertise, cross-cultural skill sets, language skills, regional experience.
Q: In Iraq, to some extent in Afghanistan, and most recently in Lebanon, we've seen that air power may be effective in the initial stages of the war, but it doesn't ultimately solve the problem, and to solve the problem you've got to have people on the ground.
A: I'm fascinated by this debate, both as a member of the Joint Chiefs and somebody that's done this for a long time, also wearing this color uniform. I've never said that air power is the only answer, nor have I ever said that land component or maritime component or special operations is the only answer. It is fascinating in the media to have people attempt to put fissures or distance between an air and space, a land, a maritime and a special ops activity. We live in an interdependent world. We live in a joint world and a coalition world. Some of the academics or some of the editorial writers that talk about air power as unfulfilled have probably never been on the ground attacked by anybody from the air. And their notion of air power seems to be either strategic bombardment or delivery of ordnance. They miss the notion of the GPS signal, the communications signal, the weather signal. They miss the notion of early warning. They miss the notion of signals intelligence, electronic intelligence. They miss the notion of mobility, combat search and rescue.
Q: You've also been looking at air forces over the past decades with the aim of learning what makes for a successful air force. And I wonder what you've learned.
A: There is a great book out there, Why Air Forces Fail [University Press of Kentucky, 2006], and there's some key elements that I think are constant [in failure]. One is that you don't train the people relative to the task at hand, that you don't understand the nature of the threat; you don't understand the nature of your opponent so you train for the wrong set of endeavors. Another interesting element of this is that air forces that have historically failed have been subservient to land component activities.
Q: The cost for the F-22As has doubled from earlier estimates, so we're spending twice as much getting them and we're getting them in much smaller numbers-183 in the current plan versus the original estimate of 648. First, what are the principal drivers of the cost escalation? And second, does this large decline in the projected buy leave the United States with enough fighters to meet emerging threats?
A: Not long ago, we changed the name of the F-22 from F/A-22 back to F-22A. That was not an idle decision. We sent a signal to our own acquisition program that we're going to field an A model, that we will not continue to add multiple millions of dollars' worth of duct-taped flashlights to it while we're attempting to get it into squadron strength.

Another factor that has cost us money is the reduction in numbers. When we started this, we wanted 700 airplanes, and we've gone through a bottom-up review; we've gone through two [Quadrennial Defense Reviews]; we've gone through several sets of sizing functions that the military has come down in overall strength. And so, as you come down in overall strength, you can come down in overall numbers of systems. All of the studies say we need 10 squadrons out there [or] 240 airplanes. We're sitting at 183 out of the QDR. That's what we've got in the budget.
Q: So you say that we need 240, but we have budget for 183. Is that accurate?
A: We're sitting at 183 right now. That will give us seven squadrons.
Q: And so, how are we going to get to the 240?
A: Well, we'll work our way through this. My challenge is to get the A model out in squadron strength.
Q: So we've got a budget problem, it sounds to me. I take it the fighters remain your priority, is that right? A story that we published last year [cited a study by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, which found] that the Air Force had spent 20 times as much on short-range fighters as on long-range bombers since 1999. So the fighters are still the focus?
A: No, no, not at all. That's a great question. The B-1 and the B-2 [bombers] have been fielded since we built the F-15, F-16 and A-10. I am on record as saying that if the F-22 cost goes off the table or if it gets to be exponentially more expensive, we'll kill it. That's why we need to get the thing stabilized as an A model, same with the Joint Strike Fighter. I'm equally motivated to get the mobility portfolio squared away-the C-17, the tanker, the joint cargo aircraft, the C-130J. I'm equally motivated to get a combat rescue helicopter because it's a moral and ethical imperative that we'll go get our people. I'm equally motivated to get the space portfolios and navigation and surveillance and weather and communications squared away. But when people say that you fighter pilots only care about fighters, that's just not true. And the facts are we have built two bombers since we built a fighter.
Q: You touched on the C-17. Boeing, it is reported, is about to begin shutting down the C-17 program. Does that concern you?
A: It does. But let's talk about how we got there. The congressional limitations on retirement of the C-5 gets us into the place where we terminate the C-17 at 180 aircraft. We have the mobility capability study that talks about the number of strategic airlifters that we need, roughly 300. If you go beyond 300, now you begin to impact incentive in the commercial reserve aircraft fleet. You can't get rid of the C-5 by congressional limit. So if you can't get rid of them [and can't exceed 300 cargo aircraft], that takes you back to the 180 for the C-17. And even if the Congress in this session lifted the restrictions, we still couldn't get rid of the C-5s now, because we've got the aviation modernization program going on. But had we had the ability to begin to divest ourselves of the less-capable A model C-5s, we would have begun to do that three or four years ago and we would have been buying more C-17s. But that's not going to happen.
Q: UAVs have proved to be essential in current operations, and now Lockheed Martin is said to be working on a drone version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Are we going to see a day when pilots are no longer needed?
A: Well, we may. That was a surprise to me when I read in the paper that Lockheed is talking about an F-35 version that is unmanned. I mean, I'm not averse to that. I love UAVs. I've used a lot of them in combat. I've sent a lot of them out. I've lost a lot of them.
Q: According to studies by the Government Accountability Office, I believe, it costs $112,000 on average to pay and house and provide the health care and retirement for a single service member. Are people, like weapon systems, becoming unaffordable?
A: The health care costs inside the Department of Defense are becoming very, very alarming to all of us. Defense health care costs may approach $90 billion a year. We have to figure out a way to make that more affordable.
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