The Lose-Lose Dilemma: Why Task Force Hawk is a
Paradigm for Fiascos Waiting to Happen

June 22, 1999

Comment: #289

Discussion Thread:  #s 280, 284, 288

I had the temerity to attempt a translation of some of the acronyms in General Cody's report of lessons learned from the Task Force Hawk deployment of Apache helicopters to Albania (see Comment #288, Reference #3). One of the addressees on this list, a former Army helicopter pilot with combat time in Vietnam brought several errors to my attention, the most egregious being "CPG" being erroneously identified as primary flying position instead of co-pilot/gunner and FAC 2 being erroneously identified as forward air controller instead of Flying Activity Code 2 (which apparently means 60 hours per year flying time and is a designation for flyers on the staff as opposed to line).

After correcting these errors, I sent him the following note: "You may find it interesting that I enlisted the help of an army grunt to work through the acronyms (I am an ex-AF officer) and he commented while trying to decipher this that one reason why the Army has trouble working together is that air and ground can not understand each other."

My correspondent responded with the following insightful message. It ties the Task Force Hawk affair to vagaries of budget politics and explains why Task Force Hawk is a paradigm for fiascos waiting to happen.

------[begin email]-----

Date: Mon, 21 Jun 1999 23:06:36 -0500
To: Chuck Spinney <cspinney@erols.com>
Subject: Re: This corrects the acronyms

Chuck,

No doubt someone will challenge your veracity as a result of it [i.e., mistaken translation of acronyms]. Actually the FAC being deciphered as a Forward Area Controller was a great giggle.

Most of the acronyms don't have a correlation in a tank or an infantry unit. What is humorous is that the whole flight hour system came into effect as a result of the Army trying to copy the AF system of Aircrew Tasks in order to justify flight hour budgets. So cannon cockers and tankers just don't have to deal with a lot of that stuff. I was a grunt-aviator and some recent infantry type programs I have supported have sent me to the acronym glossary lots of times. I would wager you find the same thing in every service.

Cody's remarks are whipping around [the internet] pretty fast, but the bottom line is NOTHING WILL CHANGE [emphasis added]. It will be interesting to see if he has cooked his career "goose". Too many politicians in green suits are worried about the big picture (Comanche, Longbow, CH-47F, UH-60X) to worry about fixing fielded systems. [comment: he means the modernization program and the politics of the military - industrial - congressional - media complex]

Guys like Snider (PEO Avn) are pretty bright, but even they are not smart enough to solve the Gordion Knot of sustainability vs. modernization.

Reality is the Appropriations guys don't see the value to their constituents in buying parts versus authorizations for new airframes or SLEPS (Service Life Extension Programs e.g. AHIP-Kiowa Warrior, AH-64A -> AH-64D, CH-47D -> CH-47F). [Comment: Recall Comment # 284's discussion of the Bond-Ashcroft Amendment which shoved 4 F-15Es down the Air Force's throat by robbing the spare parts accounts which provide the sustainability.]

Much of the faults that Cody points out when you trace down their root causes end up roosting on the Hill and the Green Suit guys have just been trying to do more with less and less. As Cody points out, you reach a break point where less kills people.

Despite the fact that the existing systems are going to be flying for at least the next 10+ years you wonder where the priorities are when Army Aviation is willing to sacrifice fixing what is flying now to not appear "too expensive" and protect the needed modernization programs.

It's a lose-lose dilemma. Do you get more guys killed flying barely sustainable airframes or fully supported obsolete airframes and forego modernization?

The answer depends on how long before Army Aviation gets into a full up slugfest akin to LAMSON 719 [big Vietnam operation].

The fuel tank Cody writes about is a good example of "now" vs. "future" priorities. Since folks are flying it, it clearly has a AWR (Air Worthiness Release) and it is just not considered a part of the aircraft system. I would wager that if units wanted to spend their sparse OMA (operating dollars) on them, they could get them. But, they are not likely to get the PM's [program manager's] push to add it to the aircraft system since the PM doesn't have budget to buy them for the fleet.

Only body bags will change that type priority scheme.

And the flight hour issue is one that short of combat you don't fix very fast. When you consider FAC 2 aviators get 60 hours a year and FAC 1 90 hrs you can see it takes a heck of a long time without an operational deployment to get over 1000 hours of flight time.

In way of explanation FAC 2 is a designation for staff types while FAC 1 are folks who are assigned against cockpit slots. The days we saw in RVN were we averaged 80-120 hours a month let all of us come home after a year, with what now takes over a decade to get. When you consider that in a peace time Army getting a fuel load (2-2.5 hours) is about as much a guy will get in a day and it takes the crew 2-3 hours each side of that flight (pre mission planning, preflight, post flight, debrief) and the fact that they have to share that cockpit with other folks needing that flight time all sum to make it pretty tough for a RLO (real live officer vice Warrant Officer) to get cockpit time and also be considered "qualified" for a command slot. I used to envy the C-141 drivers who would take off, punch in their destination, put on the autopilot, and 12 hours of flight time later, would have to land. Bottom line is that in reality a flight hour of helicopter time is like getting 3-4 or more in the Air Force.

The experience things that he [Gen Cody] writes about were happening when he was a Bn Cdr too. They came home to roost in Albania. Cody took some hits in Hack's [David Hackworth's] column recently and I suspect that he was unfairly tainted with the porch story. This is a guy who used to pitch his own pup tent and was probably embarrassed by the divergence in his quarters vs. the troops.

I never worked with the guy, but those who did as subordinates speak highly of him. Some say he is exactly the type of warrior that Hackworth bemoans is so rare.

It took some courage on his part to point out the emperors clothes were tattered.

Many of the old "dual branchers" feared Army Aviation would come to this, where it lost it's roots with the ground gaining elements and we created an underclass of company grade officers who were neither qualified to work in the cockpit, or as a commander. As you observed, aircraft are now far too complex to realistically support having a basic combat arm branch qualification and be an aviator too, like we all did until Avn became a branch in the early 1980's.

All this I guess simply is trying to say is that all the problems Cody speaks to are not new problems. They took a long time to take root, and will take a lot of time and money I don't see on the horizon to fix.

Keep rockin & sockin em' Chuck.

----------[end email]----------------

Problems like that described above are precisely the kind that are supposed to be surfaced and resolved in the Defense Secretary's Annual Program Review of the service's long range budget plans and the policy wonks in the Office of the Secretary of Defense in the Pentagon are about to embark on the Fiscal Year 2001 program review. They will raise issues with the budget priorities of each military service and recommend changes, at least in theory. But our emailer says, "nothing will change."

One source of this paralysis is the wonks' issue papers, which have degenerated once again into banal tit-for-tat budget briefings, where color schemes and dexterity with PowerPoint graphics have taken precedence over substantive information. There will be NO BACKUP WRITTEN ANALYSES to document the logic or lack of logic underpinning the analysis of each issue or to provide an audit trail to reconstruct the reasoning or lack of reasoning behind subsequent conclusions and decisions.

On the other hand, there will be lots of meeting, pre-briefs, briefings, outbriefs, recommendations for more studies, and more predictions that "Acquisition Reform" and the "Revolution in Business Affairs" will free up enough money in the distant future to eliminate today's problems, notwithstanding the obvious fact that past "reforms" have failed utterly to generate the predicted savings and were used to justify the distorted budget priorities that created today's problems.

So, one reason why problems like those experienced by Task Force Hawk PERSIST year after year is that Secretary of Defense does not have and his minions do not want him to have information systems that will ensure he sees reports like General Cody's courageous exposition of real problems or even thoughtful information like that contained in the email above which has been provided to you free of charge by an unnamed ex-Army aviator who is clearly troubled by the declining health of his service.

Chuck Spinney

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