The Demise of Secretary Wynne

The Demise of Secretary Wynne

By J. Bernhard "Jon" Compton

Recently I was privileged to witness a small piece of history. While visiting a friend at the Pentagon, I stood next to the office door of Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne as he left the building for the last time. After he left, and while all the rooms were still empty, I was given a quick tour of the offices. Surrounded by giant paintings of airpower, it was difficult not to reflect upon the current situation and how he got there.

My friend is Special Assistant to Secretary Wynne, Dr. Richard Andres, and once the Secretary had left, we sat down and had a long discussion on current topics. Rick and I have discussed our opinions on air power and the military many times before, and while I consider myself to be service agnostic, Rick is very much biased toward the Air Force, and I think with good reason.

Something I've often heard Rick say, and I believe he is correct, is that the Army does not understand air power. Often their plans minimize its use, and their after action reports under report its effectiveness. Case in point, the surge in Iraq. While sitting in Ricks E ring office, he asked me point blank whether or not I believed a 20% increase (or "surge") in troop strength could really make much difference to the situation. It was obviously a baited question, but it wasn't one I had to think about much. To my mind, the increase could not have been that effective; there had to have been some fundamental doctrinal change in order for that small an increase to have had the dramatic effect that it's had. Prior to this discussion, I'd already been pondering the issue for some time.

Sadly, civilians like me who do not have a clearance are left to fend for themselves when it comes to gathering information. Between the coverage of American Idol contestants and Britney Spears' mental condition, we're occasionally treated to an update of what's going on in the world. Taken at face value, all we ever needed in Iraq was an extra 20% troop strength and we'd have had the place stabilized years ago. Unfortunately the penetrating analysis of CNN only goes about that far, but the more discerning among us know that that cannot possibly be the whole story.

But the Army hasn't helped the perception. According to them, those extra boots on the ground was all that it took to better stabilize the country. Patreus has even said as much in his testimony to congress and in the reports he's signed off on in the field. So here is where Rick drops the bomb.

Rick's office was unconvinced. So they initiated an investigation to see exactly what had changed, other than boots on the ground. As is turned out, not only had the number of troops on the ground increased by 20%, but air strike missions had also increased by 400%. What's more, air munitions released had increased by over 1000%, all since the beginning of the surge.

What had changed was clear. It wasn't the extra boots on the ground that was turning the tide, it was the increase in HUMINT and the ability to hit a target with precision munitions from the air within a time frame of only 7 minutes. Gatherings as small as only 3 insurgents were being targeted for strikes, while predators and forces on the ground monitored the movements of any suspected insurgent. This aggressive doctrinal change was preventing insurgents from gathering, planning, and pulling off operations. It was classic COIN (Counterinsurgency) operations, conducted almost entirely from the air. But if we accept the Army's version of things, it never happened.

One reason that I like to consider myself service agnostic is that I happen to think that service rivalries are counterproductive to the national interest. This discussion so far is but one example. Once upon a time, the defense budget was stated simply as an amount, and the services then vied with one another for their slice of that pie. The role of the SECDEF was more or less an arbiter of the struggle. The various services consistently requested 30% over what was available in order to justify an increase in their share. Because oversight between the services and their budget allotments was scarce, there were many overlaps in procurement, each vying to accomplish the same mission. It wasn't until Robert Strange McNamara and his controversial "Wizkids" that this inefficient and redundant process was overhauled in the 1960s. Vestiges of it still remain today. The most apparent are the service rivalries.

As I said earlier, Rick is fond of saying that the Army does not understand airpower. He's right, they clearly do not; so much so that they are unaware of the role air power has and is playing in Iraq. Once the news of the percentage increases I mentioned earlier circulate more broadly, the Air Force will certainly rub the Army's nose in it, further discouraging the Army from wanting to think about airpower.

I was not at the Pentagon just to visit with Rick. I also met with several folks in the Irregular Warfare office in PA&E, OSD (Program Analysis and Evaluation, Office of Secretary of Defense). I had a long discussion there with one old timer who was very direct about the current situation at the Pentagon. He related that the perception of the Air Force among the other services and civilians was that they were arrogant. So much so, in fact, that it was hampering communication and cooperation with them.

The Air Force has good reason to feel proud of itself. They command the largest share among the services of the defense budget, at just under 30%, their capability is unmatched by any other nation, they are perhaps the most progressive of the services in soliciting new warfighting ideas from the civilian sector, and, as they are now demonstrating, can put in place an array of sensors and firepower that is very effective at COIN operations.

Unfortunately, all of this has been done in a culture that appears to take its own prestige too seriously. The figures on percentage increases I mentioned earlier were not just compiled to help build a broad consensus picture of force effectiveness in Iraq, they were also done to discredit the Army's take on the situation. That is the sort of thing the old timer in PA&E was talking about. However, I'm not letting the Army off the hook either. That they should not even consider the contribution of the Air Force in the effectiveness of the surge in Iraq can charitably be described as petty. At worst it should be described as damagingly misleading, especially for future doctrine planners.

In the news we are lead to believe that Secretary Wynne (and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley) was fired due to the mistaken shipment of nuclear detonators to Taiwan. This is nonsense.

Right now the Air Force has a problem. Its fleet of transports and tankers are aging and need to be replaced. However, the policy in Washington, or at least that of the SECDEF, is that we are at war, and that all procurement must be for the war effort. Instead of obeying the policy of the civilian head of the DoD, Wynne went to congress and advocated to update the fleet. I'd have fired him too.

Wynne is correct to want to replace the ageing fleet. However, the outside observer must ask a simple question: why wasn't the Air Force dealing with this problem before now? Given that the Air Force commands the largest share of the defense budget, and given that it seems to have had the foresight and budget to develop and procure a fighter plane that not even our own Navy is capable of flying against in a world where the adversaries we're actually fighting don't even have an air capability, one wonders what is going on in the planning. Again, it comes down to prestige over substance. As early as the 1960's, Enthoven and Smith in their book How Much is Enough identify the tendency of the services to develop and procure new items at the expense of the readiness of the inventory they already possess. The F-22 is a classic example of this tendency.

Although I felt privileged to be present at the Pentagon as Secretary Wynne departed the building for the last time, there is no doubt in my mind that he deserved to be fired. Under his watch he allowed a culture to exist that valued its own prestige over readiness and cooperation. He defied his civilian boss in order to improve readiness of the Air Force infrastructure while billions of dollars were sunk into a fighter that is, by most measures, unnecessary. Perhaps the new Air Force leadership can make headway, but only time will tell.

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Five Good Reads - Galrahn, Information Dissemination

If you read one thing today, J. Bernhard "Jon" Compton's assessment on why Secretary Wynne was fired should top your list. This is an interesting assessment, because the rivalry thinking we have observed in Iraq between the Army and Air Force exists at the same level, just in different ways, between the Navy and Marines. The data revealed is also very interesting and counter to so much of the conventional wisdom put forward regarding the role of the Air Force with COIN. There appears to be data worthy of further research here, without the service rivalry interference.

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Just as an FYI, this originally appeared over on ConSimWorld at

http://social.consimworld.com/profiles/blog/show?id=2011369%3ABlogPost%3...

I only throw that out b/c this has gotten a lot of play around the web, but no one's really credited the first appearance of it.

This aggressive doctrinal change was preventing insurgents from gathering, planning, and pulling off operations. It was classic COIN (Counterinsurgency) operations, conducted almost entirely from the air. But if we accept the Armys version of things, it never happened.

A more accurate description would be to say that Gen Petraeus changed the Rules of Engagement (ROE) and exploited previously gathered intelligence with additional troops.

US Army and Marine boots on the ground provided the validated HUMINT targeting data, the ROE change (removing the layers of lawyers who previously had to approve attacks) for precision guided indirect fire weapons (Guided MLRS in most instances) killed the enemy in Urban areas, and the 20% troop increase allowed rotating temporary major troop increases in those urban areas the terrorists had been driven out of so the local warlords could effectively stand up their own security forces ("Concerned Local Citizens) to keep the terrorists from coming back.

The Air Force Role here was to kill the insurgents flushed into rural areas by the Army and Marines.

Once disentangled from urban collateral damage considerations, the USAF's full weight of "high collateral damage" 2000lb JDAMS could be used to kill the insurgents.

This addresses both the USAF claims of increased use of munitions and the total weight of munitions used.

You also said:

I had a long discussion there with one old timer who was very direct about the current situation at the Pentagon. He related that the perception of the Air Force among the other services and civilians was that they were arrogant. So much so, in fact, that it was hampering communication and cooperation with them.

Ahem. The "Other Services" are speaking from cold hard truth.

Consider the following notional numbers:

Five strikes in six months. Twenty strikes in six months. Four hundred percent increase.

A 'four hundred percent increase' doesn't mean anything.

What matters to the other services is the Army's non-notional statistic:

Only 20% of validated requests for available combat aircraft satisfied (aircraft were actually sent and dropped bombs.)

Only 50% of Predator requests satisfied.

Only one time in five that the Army called for
a. aircraft,
b. aircraft that were in the air or available to scramble and
c. asked them to drop bombs did they actually do so.

Doing some math, if the AF had done two in five of requests that would be an eight hundred percent increase.

Point in fact, the inability of the USAF to field the small diameter bomb on its A-10 and F-16 aircraft lead the Army and USMC to cease using USAF strikes in urban areas for 2006 and most of 2007.

The following data is from a 20 Aug 2007 post on strategypage.com:

http://www.strategypage.com/htmw/htairw/articles/20070820.aspx

Note that the air force only dropped 177 smart bombs in Iraq last year (AKA 2006), and only fired 52 Hellfire (from Predators) or Maverick missiles. Activity is up this year, but still minuscule compared to past wars. So every smart bomb or missile counts, and accuracy is very important. Meanwhile, army and marine helicopters fired ten times as many missiles, as well as over 10,000 70mm unguided rockets and over 10 million rounds of cannon and machine-gun ammunition. This year, the air force is using a lot more Maverick missiles, and is borrowing laser guided versions from the navy.

The fact of the matter is that not only did the USAF dottle with SDB development to support the troops in contact, it was frankly embarassed by the US Navy and Marine Corps deploying a reduced explosive 30lbs of explosive in a 500lb JDAM bomb, see:

http://www.strategypage.com/htmw/htart/articles/20071022.aspx

Add to that list, pre-surge, the following developments that infuriated ground troops and didn't even register with USAF leadership:

1) The post 27 Nov 2006 ban on 20mm straffing in Iraq due to the loss of an F-16C, piloted by Major Troy Gilbert

See:

http://www.strategypage.com/htmw/htairfo/articles/20070404.aspx

and

2) The attempt to seize control of all UAV's over Iraq through air traffic control issues

see:
http://www.strategypage.com/htmw/htlead/articles/20070328.aspx?comments=Y

to the point that the USAF insistance that Iraqi based Raven UAV's file flight plans one day before the ground troops used them effectively made their UAV's useless to troops in contact.

So yes, the other services see the USAF as not being a team player, to the point of often being a hinderance the ground soldier to winning the war.

It is unfortunate that Dr Andres and Mr Compton choose to use the metrics of air strike missions and munitions employed to illustrate the importance of airpower to counterinsurgency operations. It seems that these are the standard metrics that the USAF tends to utilize regardless of mission. Perhaps better metrics for evaluating COIN effectiveness would be the increased mobility offered by intra-theater airlift, increased intelligence, surveillence, and reconnaissance (ISR), and the ability to provide "armed overwatch" in the event ground forces require fires.

While I agree with most of MattMurph's assessment, the relationship between ground and air forces in counter insurgency is significantly more important than he acknowledges. When MattMurph writes "The Army, especially those fire support officers and 13Fs calling in less and less artillery these days, have a crystal clear understanding of air power in the current conflict. The Army understands the wonderful capabilities the Air Force can offer (the Joint Fires Observer course at Fort Sill, OK is a prime example) and knows when to put them to use" he is viewing airpower through the same lens as Andres and Compton, namely bomb-dropping and airborne artillery. It is time for the military (and especially the USAF) to look beyond bomb dropping and strike sorties to other less glamorous, but equally important, airborne missions and functions. These missions and functions may not produce craters on the ground but they may be more effective in achieving the political and HHQ objectives.

Compton's assumption that the USAF was able to "prevent insurgents from gathering, planning, and pulling off operations" is indeed a form of counterinsurgency that was practiced by the British in Malaya and the French in Algeria. Hopefully this form of COIN operations will be incorporated into the joint version of FM 3-24. Another point to consider is if airpower aids in providing security to the local population. I agree when MattMurph states "During the surge we saw that our Soldiers and Marines lived with and conducted operations among the local populace. They got off the big FOBs and established Joint Security Stations and Combat Outposts." Is it possible that this shift in strategy and the ability of the ground forces to interact with the local populace was possible because of increased ISR and armed overwatch by airborne assets (from all services)?

While J. Bernhard "Jon" Comptons defense of the use of air power during the surge is made in good faith, it completely misunderstands the principles of counterinsurgency. He writes:

What had changed was clear. It wasnt the extra boots on the ground that was turning the tide, it was the increase in HUMINT and the ability to hit a target with precision munitions from the air within a time frame of only 7 minutes. Gatherings as small as only 3 insurgents were being targeted for strikes, while predators and forces on the ground monitored the movements of any suspected insurgent. This aggressive doctrinal change was preventing insurgents from gathering, planning, and pulling off operations. It was classic COIN (Counterinsurgency) operations, conducted almost entirely from the air.

Compton assumes that "preventing insurgents from gathering, planning, and pulling off operations" with air power is in itself counterinsurgency. Since when is counterinsurgency "conducted almost entirely from the air"? Counterinsurgency, rather, is a fight for the local populations support for the government over the insurgency through a combination of military, political, economic, psychological and civic actions. More importantly, these actions are executed in partnership with local security forces.

Compton is right to acknowledge "the increase in HUMINT," but this was only possible because the local population felt safe enough to inform coalition and local security forces of insurgent locations. When the location population feels secure enough in their homes to inform coalition and/or local security forces of insurgent locations in their neighborhoods, a key objective of counterinsurgency is met.

Indeed, the security of the population can only be achieved with the requisite ratio of boots on the ground to local residents. FM 3-24 offers that the minimum ratio be twenty counterinsurgent forces (which includes local and foreign security forces) to 1,000 local residents, but can vary depending on the conditions on the ground. Having an appropriate ratio of boots on the ground to local residents is not enough. Where they live and how they operate on the battlefield is just as critical.

During the surge we saw that our Soldiers and Marines lived with and conducted operations among the local populace. They got off the big FOBs and established Joint Security Stations and Combat Outposts. While some SWJ readers argue that this had been going before the surge, this policy was essentially formalized under GEN Petraeus command. Coalition and local Iraqi forces were essentially "walking the beat" and providing security in Iraqi cities and villages.

What is troubling is that Compton, his friend Dr. Richard Andres and, presumably, the ousted Air Force leadership did not and does not understand counterinsurgency and how the Army and Marine Corps have implemented theory into practice in Iraq. As I asked earlier, since when is counterinsurgency conducted from the air? This thinking reflects the conventional mindset that says we can kill or capture our way out of an insurgency. The fact is that without the increases in human intelligence that Compton acknowledges, our forces on the ground would have never been able to call in those air strike missions on those insurgent locations. Its the "how" that matters. We received more and better HUMINT because we executed successful counterinsurgency operations--on the ground, with more troops--the very thing Compton dismisses.

Lastly, and to make one final point, Compton passes on to us that Dr. Andres believes the Army does not understand air power. Lets be clear: that 400% increase in air strike missions and 1,000% increase in air munitions released came from soldiers calling in those air strikes. The Army, especially those fire support officers and 13Fs calling in less and less artillery these days, have a crystal clear understanding of air power in the current conflict. The Army understands the wonderful capabilities the Air Force can offer (the Joint Fires Observer course at Fort Sill, OK is a prime example) and knows when to put them to use.

As has often been repeated, counterinsurgency is the "graduate level of warfare." The big numbers from Dr. Andres office prove that our soldiers and marines have done undergraduate stuff, too.