Leadership: December 26, 2003

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After a two year study, the U.S. Air Force identified important "operational shortfalls" (problems), that had to be addressed soon. The biggest need is improving the ability to connect all headquarters, units and warplanes in a global network. Some of this was achieved during the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns and it made a big difference. But there's a shortage of satellite communications capacity and user equipment. In simple terms, what the air force wants is for everyone to have access to the equivalent of a satellite phone that also provides access to the military Internet. All the services are moving in this direction, and the air force knows it cannot afford to fall behind. While the obvious uses of this kind of communication in combat are known, what is often missed is the very helpful ability to search a global database for essential spare parts or other equipment. Warplanes are often out of action because of a broken part, and a replacement is somewhere. But if you can find the part in minutes, even if it is on the other side of the planet, you can have it in a few days. Same essential personnel (technicians, interpreters, specialists of all kinds.)

The higher speed communications will also help solve another problem, the ability to hit moving targets. Again, in Iraq, the presence of battlefield Internet allowed the air force to quickly (or at least in time) get a bomber to go after a target someone else had identified. Also recognized was new methods and tools for headquarters and commanders to deal with this higher speed warfare. 

There were also three old problems that are still awaiting a solution. There's a shortage of transport aircraft. Congress won't give more money just for transports, and the air force has been unwilling to cut warplane purchases in favor of transports. And then there's BDA (Bomb Damage Assessment.) Finding out if something you bombed was actually destroyed is still a major problem, just as it was during World War II. Solutions have proved elusive. Iraq also spotlighted another old problem; who defends air fields in combat zones. The air force has expanded it's security force (military police and light infantry), but they still have to depend on the army or marines for additional muscle. This has to be negotiated, and the air force would like to get the ground rules clarified. 

 


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