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Gates Smacks Down Air Force, Again

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SecDef Gates at the Air Force Air University:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Monday the Air Force is not doing enough to help in the Iraq and Afghanistan war effort, complaining that some military leaders are “stuck in old ways of doing business.”

Gates said in a speech at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., that getting the Air Force to send more surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft to Iraq and Afghanistan has been “like pulling teeth.”

Addressing officer students at the Air Force’s Air University, the Pentagon chief praised the Air Force for its overall contributions but made a point of urging it to do more and to undertake new and creative ways of thinking about helping the war effort instead of focusing mainly on future threats.

“In my view we can do and we should do more to meet the needs of men and women fighting in the current conflicts while their outcome may still be in doubt,” he said. “My concern is that our services are still not moving aggressively in wartime to provide resources needed now on the battlefield.”

In part this is a call for more UAV activity over Iraq and Afghanistan, but it’s also clearly an attack on the USAF’s focus on the F-22 and other advanced combat systems. These systems are typically being justified by the potential of war with China, and likely wouldn’t contribute significantly to the wars we’re already in.
Christian at Defense Tech thinks that this is an unfair line of attack, and suggests that the Air Force has, in fact, been pretty agile. I agree with Christian up to a point; in spite of the various tomfoolery of Charles Dunlap and all of the complaints about insufficient numbers of F-22s, the Air Force has done almost all of what has been asked of it. To the extent that the use of airpower has been insufficient to the task, the flaw isn’t predominantly within the USAF itself, but rather with the larger strategic plan and institutional structure. But then I suspect that what SecDef Gates is really calling for here is that the Air Force act more like the Navy. The Navy want expensive, high tech weapons that will be useless in Iraq, but it has been much quieter than the Air Force in its pursuit of these weapons. The Navy has also worked hard to develop for itself a peacetime mission that doesn’t concentrate on preparing for or fighting a high intensity war with China.

So, what I think Gates is really suggesting is that the Air Force should manage its outbursts, rather than that it has done a particularly poor job at the task at hand.

See also Matt.

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