Hey, some of my best friends are ground pounders!
Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Mark Welsh has heard one too many times that his service doesn't care about close-air support missions.
"Really? I'm kind of tired of hearing that," he said Sept. 15 at the Air Force Association conference.
The Air Force has averaged about 20,000 CAS sorties per year for the last seven years. "At what point do we get a little bit of acknowledgement for that?" Noting that airmen who require protection serve on the ground, as well as his own son who is a Marine Corps infantry officer, Welsh characterized the notion that the Air Force puts a low priority on close-air support as "silly."
The Air Force did a great job providing close air support during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am very impressed and happy about that. Our ground troops lost the fear that calling in air support was a crap shoot for whether there would be a friendly fire incident or bombs on target.
I did acknowledge that record:
The Army has always been envious of the Marines who had their own air force dedicated to supporting the troops on the ground. The Air Force always had more important jobs to do. But now the Air Force is providing ground support so successfully that even Army artillery is looking like an inferior option to Army forces when it comes to timely and accurate fire support. I applaud the Air Force for this change in emphasis.
But supporting ground troops was the only game in town after the first few weeks of the Iraq War. There were no enemy planes to shoot down. No enemy second (and third) echelons to target. No enemy air bases and air defenses to take down. And no enemy infrastructure to ravage.
But if you want to see what the Air Force values when they have a choice, check out their view of their future operating concept. This article about that vision goes on about drone bombers and cyber war, about micro-satellites, unmanned refueling, suppressing air defenses, 3-D printing, cargo drones and airships.
The vision, it is clear, is one where pilots "will think of air, space, and cyberspace as one big playground. ...Commanders of the future will have extensive experience in air warfare, space control, and cyber operations."
The only "ground" in that vision, apparently, is the place planes must land.
Oh, wait! In the eleventh paragraph of a 12-paragraph article, we finally get a hint of the vision of supporting ground troops:
Smartly, the Air Force also envisions the eventual winner of the T-X trainer competition building an attack variant capable of leading packs of uninhabited “missile trucks” to replace the A-10 and F-35 in the close-air support mission.
So after the Air Force kills the A-10 to save money to build the massively expensive priority projects--F-35 fighters, a future long range bomber, and the desperately needed new tanker (plus other smaller projects)--the Air Force will build a new trainer that they hope they will be able to modify to be a close air support plane to demonstrate their absolute commitment to providing ground support to ground troops.
Oh, and this is what the Air Force really dreams about if they had the money:
“I dream about [restarting F-22 Raptor production] every night in the hopes it will happen, but I can’t tell you what the cost would be,” says Gen Herbert "Hawk" Carlisle. “With the fiscal environment we’re operating under, I don’t know if we’d be able to get that through Congress or OSD (the Office of the Secretary of Defense).”
Let me know when an Air Force general dreams about modifying the T-X to be a ground support aircraft.
Yeah, the Air Force is going to get right on that close air support mission. What a silly worry I have.
Jointness talks, but money walks.
UPDATE: Oops. If you noticed this suddenly appeared before a morning post, it is because I scheduled the post to publish on a future date in the morning, but Blogger, as it sometimes does, reverted to today before I hit "publish." Sometimes I catch that quickly and correct it before it is read. Today I did not so I re-posted for today.