The U.S. Air Force is trying to change a culture that, currently,
gives pride of place to intrepid fighter pilots. But over the last three
decades, better electronics have changed everything, and the air force wants to
change to keep up. To that end, the air force is going to emphasize
intelligence more, to the extent that hotshot intel officers will be groomed
for the highest jobs.
the second major shift in leadership direction since World War II. After 1945,
the bomber pilots took over the air force. This was because the "bomber union"
performed spectacularly (if not particularly effectively) during World War II.
At the end of World War II, if was air force bomber pilots that commanded
aircraft carrying nuclear weapons. Then came Vietnam, when it was
fighter-bomber pilots who got most of the combat time, and recognition. Shortly
thereafter, the air force found itself dominated by two generations of fighter
pilots. But now the smart bomb has changed the landscape once more. This began
during the 1991 Gulf War, when a small percentage of smart bombs inflicted a
majority of the actual damage on the enemy. By 2001, the much more effective
GPS smart bomb was available, and it was obvious that American jet fighters
were so lethal that most potential opponents feared even coming up to face
them. Electronics have made U.S. fighter aircraft even more lethal than before.
American pilot training is still way ahead of everyone else. Thus the
combination of superior missiles, AWACS, pilot training, and a lot of other new
technologies you rarely hear about (mission planners, improved maintenance
systems, and so on) makes U.S. fighters the most deadly on the planet. Not
unbeatable, but not the kind of people you'd really want to have hostile
be blunt, the air force is not as sexy as it used to be. While the smart bombs
are exceptionally effective, all the air force is required to do is circle the
battlefield, until the ground troops send them the GPS coordinates. The bomber
crew programs the bomb with the coordinates, drops the bomb, and awaits the
next request. But the air force also noted than another of its innovations, the
targeting pod, was providing fighter pilots with new, and rather exciting work.
The latest pods enabled a fighter pilot, 20,000 feet up, and fifty kilometers
away, to make out enemy troops on the ground, and what kind of weapons they
were carrying. Pilots could now find their own targets, without flying on the
deck (and scaring the targets away, plus exposing the aircraft to all manner of
hostile fire). The ground troops appreciate what the pod-assisted pilots can
do, and the pilots look forward to their new role as well.
there are the UAVs. The Predator and Global Hawk are very successful, and the
air force can't build them fast enough (even if the new F-22 and F-35 are
getting most of the procurement money). The UAVs are mostly about
reconnaissance. However, everyone has them. The army has thousands of tiny
(under ten pound) ones that give company and platoon commanders their own
private air force. This changes the army's long-standing reliance on the air
force for air reconnaissance. Although army helicopters have poached some of
this work from the air force over the last four decades, the UAVs are shutting
the air force out. The air force wants back in.
the air force wants to go with an area where they believe they can excel, and
one in which they have not been exceptionally good at in the past. Their
intelligence work will not just be lots more snooping around by air force UAVs
and warplanes, but more work by air force analysts to be the first to sort it
all out. In this area, the air force has to climb out of a hole. For the last
sixty years, the air force has screwed it up in the BDA (Bomb Damage
Assessment) department constantly. There have been some embarrassing flubs in
the "targeting" (finding things to bomb) department. But any air force
improvements in this area would be appreciated by the ground troops.
demonstrate how serious they are, the air force is renaming one of their
largest bureaucracies. The AIA (Air Intelligence Agency) will become the AFISR
(Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) Command. Now sit back
and hope for the best.