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The Future is Now

The Future is Now -- A Perspective on Air and Space Power in 21st Century Conflict

Remarks at the Command Chief Master Sergeant Conference, Gunter Annex, Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., April 25, 2003, by Dr. James G. Roche, secretary of the Air Force.

Thank you Chief (Gerald R. ) Murray for that kind introduction. I'm delighted to be here with the senior enlisted leaders of the world's greatest Air Force. And what better moment in history could there be than now to spend time with the Air Force's Command Chiefs as we culminate a tremendously successful performance in combat by the men and women of the United States armed forces. I also have been asked by (Air Force Chief of Staff) General John Jumper to extend his respects and best wishes to each and every one of you.

Let me begin by thanking you, and the 700,000 or so active, Guard, Reserve and civilian airmen you represent who serve our nation. Our airmen were absolutely vital to the success of the recent campaign in Iraq. They demonstrated to the American people -- and to the world -- an impressive level of commitment, remarkable sense of competence, and steadfast professionalism. Along with their counterparts in the Army, Navy and Marines, as well as our coalition partners, they have done a service for our nation and the world from which many generations will reap the benefits. They put their lives on the line to defend our interests and our values. They did so without wavering for a moment, despite the grave risks and the extraordinary costs. As we gather today, we should remember that 132 Americans have given their lives in this war -- so far. They join the thousands of servicemen and women who have reminded us all for over two centuries that freedom is definitely not free. Our British allies have also suffered fatalities and casualties in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Many of you are personally familiar with the human cost of this war; in terms of families affected by the uncertainty of long deployments in dangerous settings and, most assuredly, in terms of lives lost. There can no longer be any doubt that we are an Expeditionary Air Force -- we have, as of today, over 47,000 airmen serving at expeditionary bases in the AOR, a couple of thousand additionally in the Pacific, plus another 60,000 airmen permanently assigned overseas.

You are there when the families are separated. You are the voice of the Air Force in the town hall meetings, commanders' calls, and other forums where our airmen and families gather to get the facts about deployments and operations. You have spent a considerable amount of time over the past few months -- and since Sept. 11, 2001 -- preparing our airmen and leading them in conflict. You are the sounding boards, trusted agents, and often, the conscience of our commanders as they deal with the challenges of sending men and women into harm's way, and keeping their bases operating smoothly here at home. You are the men and women who support our families and unit leaders when the call comes telling us that an airman was killed -- whether in combat or, all too often, in accidents.

You train, you inspire, you counsel, you sustain, you discipline and, most importantly, you lead -- and for all of your tireless efforts, we are the world's greatest Air Force. We just proved it once again, not only in the skies over Iraq, but in the Pacific and Europe, in Afghanistan and Africa, in the jungles of the Americas, and in the defense of our homeland. General Jumper, Chief Murray, and I could not be prouder of what you do, and for all that you do, we offer our sincere thanks and my humble applause.


Today, I want to spend a few minutes sharing my thoughts on how our combat air forces have performed and bring you up to speed on some of the things we are doing to improve the quality of life for our airmen and their families.

Some would argue that our world changed 19 months ago when Al Qaeda attacked us on Sept. 11. I don't see it that way. Rather, this attack was another manifestation of the persistent threat posed by radical fundamentalist ideologies and state-sponsored terrorism. For nearly two decades, starting with the U.S. Marines in Beirut in 1983, Americans have been the victims of a relentless progression of deadly attacks. For those of us charged with protecting America, these realities have forced us to redefine our enemies as well as our concepts of defense. It is these new challenges -- challenges that were intensified, but not created by the events of 9/11 -- that underscore the value of our Air Force to our nation.

The capabilities we deliver -- global reconnaissance and strike, and the mobility assets that make it all happen, often in enemy-controlled or politically sensitive areas -- these are exactly what America needs at this time in our history. Operation Noble Eagle -- over the United States -- began the moment the Air Force was notified of the Sept. 11th hijackings. Operation Enduring Freedom, our fight against terrorism, began less than a month later. The Air Force made possible distant operations in a landlocked nation. Everything going into Afghanistan moved by air, even the Marines that came ashore via ships transferred to Air Force aircraft to be flown into Afghanistan. In short order, but not without costs, we liberated that nation and have set it on a course of reconstruction. In the past month in Iraq, we have again liberated an oppressed people and have begun the process of rebuilding in a very difficult tribal and political climate. But we will succeed.

Our Air Force has been a major reason for these successes. You have done a wonderful job in the war on terrorism as a true total force working seamlessly in the joint environment -- at home and abroad.


While it is too early to fully digest and dissect the recent operation, we have been gathering lessons learned as we proceeded through the war effort. We've learned that there is truth to the phrase "flexibility is the key to air and space power." We've demonstrated that air and space power is vital to achieving strategic, operational, and tactical objectives.

I'm very proud of how our team of air and space professionals came together for this conflict, and how well they worked with our Navy, Marine, Army, and coalition partners. General Buzz Moseley (Commander, 9th Air Force and Combined Forces Air Component Commander) has fully integrated joint and coalition forces to form a flexible team, all commanded from single combined air operations center at Prince Sultan Air Base in Southwest Asia. Throughout the campaign, the air picture in the CAOC showed a dense presence of air and space power over the entire country of Iraq.

We showed that our ability to conduct multiple campaigns across a spectrum of operations could have a deterring and compelling effect on our enemies. Our diverse and parallel campaigns -- Strategic Attack, Interdiction, Close Air Support, Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses, Scud Hunting, and Information Operations -- enabled our maneuver, maritime and special operations forces to operate under an umbrella of air dominance throughout the theater.

We demonstrated the incredible effects that advanced technology could have on the battlefield. Weapons conceived in the 1970s and 1980s, and fielded in the 1990s, now are having a revolutionary effect on combat. A variety of joint and precise weapons, aircraft like the Joint STARS, remotely piloted aircraft, a generation of space capabilities, and the ability to integrate those assets proved decisive.

Our ground forces moved more swiftly and further than virtually at any time in our history, and our air-ground coordination was similar to the historic cooperation demonstrated by Generals Arnold and Patton in their famous breakout of Normandy, and Patton's race across France in 1944 - - a goal of General Jumper and I have shared for the last two years, to return to the relationships and capabilities of that era. And General Pete Quesada of the 9th Air Force in 1944 would be proud indeed of how Generals Moseley and McKiernan (Commander, Third U.S. Army, and the Coalition Forces Land Component Commander) worked together.

During the entire campaign, the Iraqi Air Force did not fly a single sortie against coalition forces. This is air and space dominance to the max! It is what we pledged to deliver to our combatant commanders and to our nation, and, our airmen have performed magnificently -- not just the Air Force, but also the entire coalition Air Force.

We destroyed those enemy forces that chose to fight. We have begun to set the conditions for the formation of a representative government in Iraq. Former members of the Iraqi regime are surrendering or being captured. And, a tremendous amount of food is being delivered to the Iraqi people, including thousands of tons of wheat from the United States.

In a broader sense, we've also learned that the American way of war has undergone a remarkable evolution in terms of how we command and control warfare, with respect to the speed and range with which we can deliver decisive effects, and, with respect to the global information dominance that enables our nation to see first, understand first, and act first. Years of development of integrated systems and the professional training of airmen, soldiers, sailors, and Marines in their application were on display for the world to see and, by all accounts, the results were simply unprecedented.

Since the advent of industrial warfare, one would be hard pressed to cite an example of greater speed, maneuver, and precision on the battlefield, all while simultaneously limiting collateral damage, delivering humanitarian aid, and saving the lives of combatants and civilians alike. This is a new age of warfare -- and you can be justifiably proud of the role you and your fellow airmen played in making it possible.


We are the best at what we do because of our focus on developing professional airmen, bringing technology to bear in combat, and integrating our people and our systems together in new and innovative ways. These core competencies have enabled the Air Force to consistently deliver excellence throughout its history. They form the foundation upon which we organize, train and equip, and are the cornerstones of our strength as a military service.

Recently, they enabled us to:

Adapt to the new homeland defense mission. For example, prior to 9/11, our nation's radars only looked outward from our borders and only the radars on our periphery were linked. Today, with the integration of FAA and NORAD radars, we have a networked radar picture providing air surveillance of the entire country, allowing us to respond to an FAA "track of interest" when called upon to do so.

Our focus on core competencies enabled us to develop new ways to bring air and space power to bear in ground engagements. In Afghanistan, our Combat Controllers integrated new technologies and precision weapons to do close air support from 39,000 feet using the B-1 and B-52 bombers; a mission that probably has Curtis LeMay smiling as he looks down upon us.

Our focus on core competencies led us to treat the Combined Air Operations Center as a weapon system. In it, we now fuse air, ground, space, and intelligence into a common operational picture, enabling us to deliver more precise effects faster than ever before.

Our focus allowed us to quickly adjust to changing conditions. Integrating airmen with the Special Operations Task Force and 173rd Airborne Brigade enabled our C-17 crews to plan and execute their first combat insertion mission conducting 15 airdrop missions of heavy equipment and soldiers into enemy territory, eventually putting 2,700 troops into northern Iraq.

Our focus on core competencies has led us to link sensors, weapons and people in innovative new ways, enabling us to better engage time critical and moving targets. There is no better example of this than our use just three weeks ago of four space-guided bombs, dropped using revolutionary new tactics developed by B-1 crews from Dyess (Air Force Base, Texas), to target Iraqi leadership. In just 45 minutes, we completed the entire process of finding, fixing, tracking, targeting and engaging this fleeting opportunity.

Our continued focus on core competencies has also led to a host of improvements in readiness and capability.

In space, we continued our professional operation of a variety of satellite constellations, delivering essential capability to warfighters and civil consumers. Last year, we launched 18 missions with a 100 percent success rate -- including the first space launches using Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles.

We successfully consolidated our B-1 bomber fleet and improved overall fleet readiness. Its mission capable rate is now over 71 percent, the highest in its history.

The increased investment we've made in spares funding is paying off well. Sixteen of 20 weapons systems improved mission capable rates last year. The C-5B achieved its highest mission capable rate since 1994, at 73 percent. The B-2 improved over 33 percent, the A-10 was up 8 percent, and our F-15s were up over 5 percent. These are the best mission capable rates we've experienced in five years and the greatest improvements we've achieved since the mid-1980s.

On the people front, we have much good news to report as well. Our 2004 proposed budget fully funds our education and force development initiatives, puts us on track to eliminate inadequate housing, and reduces out-of-pocket housing expenses to 3.5 percent. It also includes additional pay raises that continue to bring military pay closer to private sector compensation for our men and women. Our pay proposal provides an average pay raise of 4.1 percent, with the largest raises to going to senior enlisted. This puts pay where it is needed while ensuring all grades receive a raise. Yet despite the advantages that technology, organization, and strategy contribute to combat effectiveness, we recognize our most essential ingredient of success remains the professionally trained airman. This is why we choose to invest so much in training and education, and that is why we are working so hard to make force development a reality.

You will soon see a Chief's Sight Picture on Enlisted Force Development. In it, General Jumper will explain how we've begun to reshape training, education, and assignment experiences for our enlisted force. Chief Murray greatly assisted the Chief in developing these initiatives. Fundamentally, we view them as integrated processes that provide officer, civilian, and enlisted leaders the tools they need to be most successful. Our goal is to employ a deliberate process to create and grow leaders capable of taking our Air Force to the next level of excellence -- leaders who instinctively understand how to leverage individual skills collectively to accomplish the mission. There is no reason we should not be aspiring to have the best-educated enlisted force.

We've already implemented several initiatives, such as sending enlisted members to the Air Force Institute of Technology to earn master's degrees. In the future, more enlisted men and women will attend AFIT. As we graduate these senior NCOs, we'll use the force development process to assign them where they can best put these degrees to use. We are also developing ways to leverage the skills of those who already possess advanced education and examining how other educational programs could support Enlisted Force Development.

The feedback we've been getting from you on improving medical care has been loud and clear. One of the ways we're working this, among others, is by improving the promotion opportunities for doctors. What we were seeing in our medical promotion system was a misplaced emphasis on line officer requirements for our medical professionals. The unintended consequence of this focus was a decline in physician recruitment and applications to medical residencies in critical specialties. This created gaps in our force that outpaced our ability to attract fully qualified doctors. I changed my directions to the promotion boards to address this issue a year ago; the primary focus now is on delivery of quality medical care.

Using increased promotion opportunity has several positive effects. We retain physicians with clinical expertise who previously may have been non-selected for promotion. We recognize the value of physicians who are clinical experts and provide opportunities for them to practice medicine while in the senior grades. And we maximize the return on investment we get from training and sustaining the physician force. Most important, we are able to deliver better medical care to our airmen and their families.

It is too early to determine all the long-term effects of this strategy on our doctors, but it has already resulted in retaining several medical specialists who otherwise would have separated to private practice.

We face many challenges in our facilities and infrastructure across the Air Force, but one area where we have good news to report is in our housing program. Although over 40 percent of our current inventory of 104,000 houses is substandard, by 2009, every house in the Air Force will meet the high standards our airmen deserve. We have made a substantial investment in making good on this promise. We've awarded contracts with private developers and are now building over 2,300 homes on Lackland, Robins, Dyess and Elmendorf; we are working with private developers for 4,700 homes at Kirtland, Patrick, Wright-Patterson, and Little Rock; and have over 4,400 homes planned for Dover, Hill, Moody, and Offutt. Additionally, this year alone, we'll renovate or replace over 3,800 existing homes on bases across the Air Force. This is a tangible investment in our people, and, we need to make sure we see this through to completion.

As we continue to adjust to the demands of a variety of new missions, we must adapt to the new steady state that has stressed so many of the career fields in our Air Force. Over many months, we've expended considerable effort studying our "stressed career fields." While certain career fields are experiencing more pain than others, the results of each study yield similar conclusions -- every skill and most of our people are experiencing stress of some kind. Five of 21 Communications AFSCs are stressed and represent over 50 percent of deployed Communications personnel. Five of the 13 engineering AFSCs are highly stressed, and members in these career fields are deployed an average of six out of every 15 months. The demand on Security Forces is so great, we've had to hire 8,000 Army National Guardsmen to help secure our bases. While this relieved the stress on our guard and reserve Security Forces, and released augmentees to their primary missions, we must find ways to adjust to this and other stressed career fields -- and do it soon.

We are engaged in a number of complementary efforts, including a fundamental reassessment of the basic structure, assignment, and training policies for our most stressed career fields. We are reviewing who should fill, how we fill, how we can best fix undermanned career fields, and how to stabilize our force. We are using the NCO Retraining Program to help correct some of these imbalances, and we have also taken steps to move 3,700 "spaces" from less stressed to more stressed career fields. We'll follow these moves by adjusting accession requirements to get airmen in the door, and reallocating training seats to produce more personnel in stressed skills.

We are working hard to address these issues, because our airmen deserve it. They deserve fair and equitable pay for the work they do, first class medical care for them and their families, an opportunity to progress through advanced education and job experiences, quality homes in which to raise a family, and stability in their lives. We are making progress in each of these areas; I ask each of you to help us continue this process, and to get the word our to our airmen on what we are doing.

Let me close with a few comments about the Air Force Academy and offer my perspective on why the sexual assault controversy there also is important to the enlisted force.

What we have found at the Air Force Academy can be summed up in two thoughts. First, we found that the processes we use throughout the Air Force to respond to sexual assaults were not being used at the Academy. Second, and more troubling, the complaints were not finding their way into the chain of command or the investigative process due to, among other problems, a misplaced notion of cadet loyalty to their peers versus the larger Air Force.

We have implemented a broad range of initiatives to correct these problems including empowering to a much greater extent the enlisted training cadre in the cadets squadrons. Ultimately, our goal is to properly educate our graduates on character and Air Force values. Again, Chief Murray has been very helpful with his counsel and ideas. I want to note that we believe there are very few offenders at the Academy, and that thousands upon thousands of graduates for nearly half a century have served our nation with great distinction. But should we commission just one of those bums who would assault a fellow cadet, or fail to report these crimes, or shun or harass those who have the courage to report, that would be one too many. They do not deserve to lead in our Air Force, nor do they warrant a commission in which we would repose in them "special trust and confidence." They are criminals and they should go.

Most important, we want to ensure that we commission officers worthy of the great airmen who serve and sacrifice in our Air Force today. We want to make sure they are worthy of leading the men and women of character who populate our ranks; airman who epitomize all that we strive to instill in our future officers. We want to make sure that our officer corps is up to the high standards set by Senior Airman Jason Cunningham, Technical Sergeant John Chapman and you.

As we look to the future, we're excited at the opportunities we have to serve and defend our nation. We remain focused on developing professional airmen, transitioning new technologies to warfighting, and developing operational concepts that promote joint and coalition integration. Our men and women in the Air Force have continued to prove that when asked to fight for our nation, they will fight, and they will do so with professionalism and excellence. You have been toughened by a decade of conflict, and you are demonstrating to this country and to the world your bravery, humanity, competence, and dedication in the skies and on the ground of Iraq.

I thank you for your honorable and selfless service; you have my utmost respect and admiration for what you do. Thank you for having me here today. Let's open it up to your questions.

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).