Noah summarizes the disputes between Gates and the Air Force to this point..
Last fall, the Pentagon’s civilian chiefs shot down an Air Force move to take over almost all of the military’s big unmanned aircraft. “There has to be a better way to do this,” complained Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Michael “Buzz” Moseley. Things only got more tense when Gates said that the future of conflict is in small, “asymmetric” wars — wars in which the Air Force takes a back seat to ground forces. Then Gates noted that the Air Force’s most treasured piece of gear, the F-22 stealth fighter, basically has no role in the war on terror. And when a top Air Force general said the service was planning on buying twice as many of the jets — despite orders from Gates and the rest of the civilian leadership — he was rebuked for “borderline insubordination.”
…then links to a new one, via Peter Siegel:
Pressure from the Defense secretary in recent months has nearly doubled the number of Predators available to help hunt insurgents and find roadside bombs in Iraq. But it has forced air commanders into a scramble for crews that officers said could hurt morale and harm the long-term viability of the Predator program.
Some officers said pressure from Gates resulted in one plan that could have taken the Air Force down a path similar to the German Luftwaffe, which cut back training in World War II to get more pilots in the air.
“That was the end of their air force,” said Col. Chris Chambliss, commander of the Air Force’s Predator wing. The Air Force plan, presented to the military leadership in January, eventually was scaled back…
Right… the other thing that destroyed the Luftwaffe were the combined air fleets of the United States, Soviet Union, and United Kingdom, which in modernspeak would be referred to as “peer competitors”. There are certainly genuine concerns to be expressed about how an increase in operational tempo can detract from training; in many senses operating is training, but the two projects can differ in non-trivial ways. I do wonder if the logic of operational exhaustion applies as much to Predator operators as to pilots of actual aircraft, since as Noah notes piloting a Predator has always been seen as a fairly cushy gig. There are also some genuine concerns about the effect that high tempo operations will have on maintenance and equipment lifetime.
Nevertheless, I’m forced to wonder whether some of the discomfort the Air Force is having about this has to do with culture and long term mission expectations. The USAF has adapted to the UAV pretty well, but of course there remains a pilot culture that doesn’t find the unmanned thing all that appealing. Moreover, the Air Force as an organization is clearly positioning itslef (in procurement terms) around the possibility of a high intensity war with China. Increasing the salience of the counter-insurgency and UAV missions doesn’t get the Air Force what it wants in terms of material, and could detract from the USAF’s ability to build the kind of force that it wants.