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Security Force Assistance: Just Do It

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Security Force Assistance: Just Do It

Appendix to Accompany CRS Report 41817 "Building the Capacity of Partner States through Security Force Assistance"

by Thomas K "Doc" Livingston

Download the Full Article: Security Force Assistance: Just Do It

In February 2009, a sudden ice storm blanketed Washington D.C. and Andrews Air Force Base significantly complicating military and commercial traffic into and out of D.C. On the eve of the 4-star irregular warfare (IW) summit--the culmination of 6 months of effort from the cross-MAJCOM IW task force--Major General Stephen Mueller (now LTG) found himself fielding a call from one of the MAJCOM commanders who asked, "Why are we having this meeting? It is really even necessary?" The weather adequately reflected this commander's frosty interest in the Air Force endeavor to "institutionalize" IW. Unfortunately, his candor represented a majority disinterest of the MAJCOM commanders and Air Staff leadership that attended the summit. Over two years later, the AF, while wholeheartedly supporting the ongoing counter-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan, has only marginally developed an enduring capability to prepare itself to counter irregular threats through the security force assistance (SFA). Getting the Air Force to embrace SFA as an enduring mission today is akin to the Navy shifting from the battleship as the lead in surface warfare circa 1940.

Download the Full Article: Security Force Assistance: Just Do It

Col Thomas K "Doc" Livingston recently completed the Air Force Fellowship program while serving as a Research Analyst for the Congressional Research Service. Prior to the fellowship, he served on the Air Staff as Division Chief in the Air Force Irregular Warfare Requirements office and has a career background in Air Force Special Operations.

This addendum accompanies the paper written for the Congressional Research Service to fulfill the academic requirements of the Air Force Fellows program for 2011. It is provided to include opinions and recommendations gleaned from the research associated with the CRS report. As a matter of policy and legislation, and in a fashion to ensure unbiased and non-partisan analysis, CRS reports are absent of recommendations and opinion. This appendix reflects the opinions of the author and is not representative of the Congressional Research Service, Air Force Research Institute, Air University, or the United States Air Force.

About the Author(s)


FMS is only one means to help facilitate FID, and contrary to Pave Low's comment the USAF does do FID, and in some cases they have been effective, in others there are challenges with the local culture (literacy and drug abuse as two examples) that limits their degree of success.

With new leadership coming into DOD, I agree with Robert Jones that is time to relook our obsession with SFA as a cure all. I stand by my first post that SFA needs to get fixed, because while clearly not a silver bullet, it is still important, and furthermore doing it right (getting a return on our investment) is obviously more likely to result in mission success, and just as importantly obligate us to spend our taxpayers hard earned dollars more effectively.

One aspect of the SFA debate in my opinion should be over how we source SFA (to do SFA right). In my opinion SFA should not be a core mission for our combat forces/units. That is a huge distraction from their primary mission, and standing up new organizations to conduct SFA (especially with looming personnel cuts and budget cuts) does not seem to be in the best interests of our national "defense." Our historical approach, while not perfect can work. That will involve pulling individual NCOs and Officers based on their skill sets and aptitude to do FID, sending them to pre-mission training (not a shake and bake course), then employing them in a trainer/advisor role (that does not hurt their career progression). However, much of the heavy lifting for SFA can be done my contractors like MPRI, etc. The key to making contracting work is oversight and quality control, which was largely in place until 9/11 distorted the picture and demand exceeded supply. As an active duty soldier I have seen MPRI do very professional work down range in Africa using retired officers and NCOs who were high quality and experienced individuals. I assume other contractors have done the same.

Addressing Bob's point about getting the Russians to train the designated nations on their air platforms, that may also be doable via contract (I don't know). While using contractors is probably more expensive in the short run, I suspect it is cheaper in the long run, since the USG won't have to pay for their retirement benefits. It also reduces DOD requirements to form and sustain new units focused on SFA. It also allows us (if we use quality control) to get seasoned vets (both military and police) into these jobs.

I am not prepared at this time to say this is the right answer, but it needs to be part of the debate. How many people can the Air Force afford to convert into advisors? Can the Army really afford to fund a SFA Bde? Not sure what the Navy and Marine proposals are. Iraq and Afghanistan are NOT the new normal, they were aberations from the norm (yes they "could" happen again, but strategy means setting priorities based on most likely scenarios). Lets start by looking at FID outside the high demand signal of OIF and OEF-A to get a more realistic assessment of what is really needed. I think we'll find it is several small sized advisor teams working on niche skills, senior NCOs helping host nations develop their NCO academies, etc. Not deploying hundreds of troops and advisors to run a nation's basic training program.

Bob's World

Wed, 06/15/2011 - 12:29pm

USAF FID is better known as "Foreign Miliary Sales." Sell someone a squadron or two of second generation aircraft, and thereby rope them into an enduring partnership relationship through training, spare parts, etc.

I don't have a problem with that.

As to the USAF maintaining a fleet of old Russian helicopters and then teaching various partners in their own language how to fly and maintain them? I don't blame the USAF for trying to shrug out of that mission one little bit. Let the Russians run that program.

Capacity Building has been built up almost as much as Development as a cure to our current security challenges, but both are fingers in the dike of a failing, obsolete strategic constuct rooted in the controlling mechanisms of Cold War Containment.

Pave Low John raises some good points. The Pave Low guys used to be the kings of AFSOC, no more. The CV-22 has been every bit the burden that the F-22 has been. "not a replacement to the Pave Low" we are told, there just isn't any money left for anything else, particularly when the 160th has leveraged a variety of sugar daddies to cast itself as a JSOC unit rather than a SOF unit; and the empahsis on JSOC. USSOCOM has to clean up this mess sooner than later, and agonizing over Big Blue's unwillingness to do FID as we describe it is not the answer.

Pave Low John (not verified)

Wed, 06/15/2011 - 12:11pm

Good article, nice to see the aviation part of 'Small Wars' getting some attention for a change.

Unfortunately, from what I've seen since 2006, the AF leadership has almost no interest in 'doing' FID. FID work runs counter to just about everything institutional in the USAF (small teams fixing and flying antique aircraft? Sorry, we only do 5th generation fighters and UAVs, go talk to the Army...)

And while what the Air Advisors are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan is important, it's not foreign internal defense. The debacle that happened last month when those 8 unarmed (yes, unarmed, they didn't have ammo for their M9s, from what I've heard thru the grapevine) advisors were shot in Afghanistan provided a grim highlight to that fact.

The biggest hurdle is simply lack of growth. The last QDR directed the Air Force to double the size of the 6th SOS. That didn't happen, it's almost the same size it was in 2008. No one with stars on their shoulders has gone down to San Antonio and explained to the AFPC (AF Personnel Center) folks how important it is that the USAF grow the capability currently residing in the one (one!) squadron in the entire DoD dedicated to aviation FID.

So class after class, we have empty slots in the Aviation FID training pipeline (last training class was supposed to have 28 students. We had 19 and 5 of those were reservists, so you had AFPC filling 14 out of 28 active duty slots. Imagine the Navy or Army personnel commands doing the same thing to a NAVSPECWAR or USASOC training program.

Therefore, it is obvious to us down at the worker-bee level that no one on the Air Staff gives a damn about a bunch of flyers and maintainers training partner nation personnel on foreign aircraft while speaking funny languages. As one MAJCOM staffer put it to a co-worker of mine "If we increase funding for aviation FID training, we'll have to divert money from units that are, you know, doing real combat operations". Because it's so much better to send 60,000 troops later than 60 troops right now, que no?

You might then ask, What about AFSOC, don't they care about FID? Not really. They talk a good talk, but when it comes to action, the truth is revealed. The AFSOC leadership is convinced that they can eventually pawn off the rotary-wing half of the 6th SOS to USASOC, and besides, AFSOC is too busy trying to figure out what to do with the funding disaster that is the CV-22 program.

Here is the truth about AFSOC. AFSOC is the child of divorced parents (SOCOM and the 'big blue' USAF) and right now, they are trying to suck up to 'Mom' (aka Big Blue) because 'Dad' has been giving most of his money and attention to his favorite sons (aka USASOC and JSOC) these last 10 years. Plus, 'Mom' is the one who actually promotes people to full-colonel and general, which is way, WAY more important than trivial things like aviation FID or Irregular Warfare (whatever that is).

Whether or not you are talking about regular USAF air advisors or AFSOC Combat Aviation Advisors (CAAs) trying to make it work downrange, it's a losing battle. 'Big Blue' is biding its time, waiting for Iraq and Afghanistan to go away so they can get back to fighters, stealthy UAVs and cyberwarfare and leave all that nasty 'Army' stuff behind. The USAF never understood aviation FID when Heinie Aderholt and the old Air Commandos were doing it in SE Asia and they don't understand it now.

Same as it ever was, as the old 80s song put it....

Royce Eves (not verified)

Wed, 06/08/2011 - 5:48pm

Doc, Please stop by A3O-Q (same offices) and we'll be glad to provide you with our most current initiatives.

The author's argument to make AFSOC (specifically the 6th SOS) the lead for USAF's SFA proponency makes sense from my backseat, but the overall argument that IW = SFA or SFA = IW is deeply flawed. SFA needs to be fixed, no doubt about that, but it is not the silver bullet for addressing IW.

I agree with Gian's and Dave's comments to a large extent. The core mission is not, nor should not be, SFA. As Dave as stated (many times) FID is probably the best approach to addressing IW threats with partner nations. It is a full spectrum approach, not simply building capacity. In fact, simply building capacity has failed us numerous times starting in Vietnam. First and foremost is strategy development, and responding with large SFA efforts is generally just throwing money at the problem in hopes overwhelming force will defeat the irregular threat. It rarely (if ever) has.

6th SOS does great work, and they are often the unsung heroes working quietly on numerous FID operations. I am not sure what role the larger Air Force should play other than supporting 6th SOS for SFA related to IW? The larger Air Force can help nations like India (if they choose to) modernize their conventional air force, but that has little to do with IW. In IW the nations we are working with need "affordable" air lift (logistics), some fire support, and some ISR. All of this should be sustainable by the host nation, which often means our Air Force solutions due to the technology capability gap are the wrong answer. I think a combination of 6th SOS and contractors (funded by DOD or DOS) are probably the best answer, because they can focus on less expensive aircraft that are more than adequate for the mission, without substantial retraining. Diverting a fighter or C-17 pilot to this mission seems wasteful in my view.

The key to successful SFA (FID) against IW threats to first understand the nature of the threat in the nation we are attempting to support, ensure they agree with us (don't go forward until we see eye to eye), and then help that nation develop an appropriate (sustainable) strategy to respond to that threat (holistic in nature that addresses all the elements of DIMEFIL or MIDLIFE), and then provide the "appropriate" level of support.

A relatively minor FID effort in the world's largest Muslim nation Indonesia has resulted in numerous successes that can be sustained by the government, and they don't have occupier stink on them. We can be effective with small footprints and small investments (in many cases larger than we're making now, but definitely not on the scale of Iraq or Afghanistan) if we engage our brains before we empty our wallets.

"Or maybe senior AF leaders realize that "security force assistance" is much ado about nothing"

I'm curious to understand why you feel this force assistance / foreign internal defense seem to me to be the most rational options to filling the void in a strategically important region while also being the best answer to drawing down troop numbers, saving money and lives.


Tue, 06/07/2011 - 1:58pm

A provacative article although perhaps an understandable situation, given the AF culture. However, I was consistently distracted by the grammar that looked like a product of a Babelfish translation.

gian p gentile (not verified)

Tue, 06/07/2011 - 9:52am

Or maybe senior AF leaders realize that "security force assistance" is much ado about nothing; and that America's vital interests (to which the American air force is duty bound to look after) do not rest in the troubled spots of the world taming guerillas through building "host nation capacity."

Maybe that mission will come about again in the future; but in a resource limited environment they must prioritize, and perhaps the simple fact is that SAF just isn't at the top of the heap for the Air Force, and rightly so.


I would offer a counter proposal: "FID: We did it, why don't we do it again?" (rather than reinveneting the wheel)