Admiral Gehman Changes His Tune … or
Why Emperors Lose their Clothes

August 28, 1998

Comment: #172

Discussion Thread:   # 129


[1] Dale Eisman, "Military needs quick response to threats, official says," The Virginian-Pilot, Aug. 26, 1998

[2] Franklin Spinney, Trip Report: VFA-81, Cecil Field, 12-15 July 1994, 29 July 1994. Attached.

In Reference 1, Dale Eisman reports discusses the remarks of Admiral Gehman, Commander of Atlantic Command at a 25 August seminar sponsored by sponsored by the Atlantic Council of the United States. Although Eisman's report focuses on the need for a quick response to terrorism, it ends with important information about readiness.

Eisman, says, Admiral Gehman … "underscored warnings that U.S. military readiness has slipped and that solving the problem could take years. He [Gehman] said anecdotal evidence of manpower shortages and long repair delays have proven more accurate than the formal reports on which commanders usually rely."

This is a very different tune than Admiral Gehman was singing two months ago. [see Comment #129].

Last June 19 , Admiral Gehman said there was a "perception gap" within the military ranks. He also said it is the "most dangerous" readiness problem we face. He opined this gap is "the greatest challenge facing the U.S. military today" and left "unchecked, this perception [gap] could lead to a loss of confidence in military leadership." But look how he characterized the perception gap:

Admiral Gehman said senior leaders see ``little or no change in readiness from five years ago'' at the big picture or "macro" level. When it comes to the number and capabilities of ships, planes, tanks and other military assets, the "nearly unanimous assessment is we are in good shape" compared to potential adversaries.

On the other hand, he said a "core cadre" of lower level officers and enlisted personnel "see quite a different state of affairs." at the "Little R" level [his word], that is, readiness that is measured by such factors as "the quality of life of our sailors, the ready availability of spare parts, the numbers and quality of our people, the frequency of realistic training opportunities."

In other words, the perception gap is a product of differences in perspective: BIG "R" READINESS versus LITTLE "R" READINESS.

Now Admiral Gehman is saying that "anecdotal" evidence [presumably provided by the unwashed masses at the little "r" levels] is more accurate than the formal data commanders rely on!

Now he is saying it will take several "years" to fix the problems he did not see as recently as June!

It looks like the unwashed masses at the lower level knew more about readiness than their commanders.


Gehman's change of tune is yet more evidence of our over-reliance on centralized command and control systems, not to mention the top-down business-school management style that the US military in all services (except for the Marines) has substituted for the art of leadership.

As the American strategist Col John Boyd showed in his briefing "Organic Design for Command and Control," centralized command structures (particularly computerized command and control systems) and a top-down management mentality slow down and distort the Observation Orientation Decision Action (OODA) Loops at all levels of a military organization. By mechanizing the information content, these systems limit the number of CHANNELS as well as the VARIETY of information that flows up and down the chain of command. Boyd went on to show how these formal systems and this mentality limit a commander's ability to perform the many-sided implicit cross-referencing processes that are needed to ORIENT his mind to a rapidly changing, confused, multidimensional environment. Not surprisingly, commanders who rely on these systems often become emperors without clothes.

Throughout history, successful combat commanders have long known (usually instinctively) that formal reporting systems are often inaccurate and their intrusiveness often leads to faulty appreciations and ineffective intuitive decision-making processes on the battlefield. That is because formal reporting systems are often used as control devices to regulate and grade the performance of subordinates. This creates an atmosphere of intrusion, finger pointing, and mistrust. To make matters worse, ambitious careerists and military courtiers tune their behavior the system rather than the mission. Moreover, the people being "controlled" are not the thermostatic automatons their top-down, control-minded superiors (and the engineers and analysts designing the so-called revolution in military affairs) assume them to be. Not surprisingly, the worker bees 'rebel' and often shape the information they are pushing up the chain of command in order to do their job BETTER, accomplish the MISSION, and SURVIVE in what they perceive as a hostile environment.

Obviously the mélange of gaming shapes the content of the information flowing up any chain of command, and in all hierarchical organizations, there is always constant threat that commanders will become disconnected from reality. Consequently, the most successful commanders, like Napoleon, Patton, and Balck intuitively developed less intrusive, informal information gathering techniques to compliment the formal system. Unlike Admiral Gehman, who did not like differing perceptions last June, these commanders WANTED variety and SOUGHT OUT competing impressions of events. As Boyd so convincingly demonstrated, they needed a variety of disparate impressions to synthesize a relevant appreciation of reality (what Boyd called ORIENTATION) via a mental process of many-sided implicit cross-referencing process of projection, empathy, correlation, and rejection. That is why Napoleon used his staff officers for personal reconnaissance, why the British set up the 'phantom' recce regiment in WWII, why Patton formed his household cavalry, and was one reason why Herman Balck (Germany's most decorated general officer in WWII) took every possible opportunity to share the sacrifices and discomfort of his troops at the front.

One final point: If there is one thing the hollow military of the 1970s taught us, it was that the formal reporting systems understated or misrepresented the extent of the readiness problems.

"Anecdotal" signs of deteriorating readiness have been building up since at least 1994. Reference 2 below is but one example. It is a memo describing the readiness conditions of a Navy F-18 squadron, which I forwarded up my chain of command in July 1994. Naturally, it was completely IGNORED. Read the conclusion: Note my first recommendation to set up an informal information gathering process.

No doubt many of the same people who ignored such warnings are going to cite readiness problems as part of a phony debate over the need to raise the defense budget.

By the way, Reference 2 also contains some observations concerning the ineffectiveness of centralized information gathering systems in Bosnia. It describes how lower level people, on their own initiative, developed a creative way to do their job better (by using hand held cameras as a means to synthesize a better appreciation of ground situation than they could obtain from the satellite photography provided by the intelligence fusion center). It shows how they were forced to work around the limitations imposed on them by the centralized command and control system.

We have met the enemy and he is us.

Chuck Spinney

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, the following material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]

Reference 2

Memorandum for Distribution
Subject: Trip Report: VFA-81, Cecil Field, 12-15 July 1994.


 I visited VFA-81 on 12-15 July 1994. This unit recently returned from a deployment to the Med, and my purpose was to learn about air operations over Bosnia as well as the readiness situation in the field. Background VFA-81, equipped with 11 Lot X F-18Cs, embarked on Saratoga and departed Mayport on 12 January 1994. During its six month cruise, VFA-81 conducted flying operations in the Adriatic operating area (over Bosnia) during the following intervals: 2-24 February, 1-9 and 20-21 Mar, and 2-6 and 15-30 April. Saratoga returned to Mayport on 24 June. While this was Saratoga's last cruise before decommissioning, there are no plans to deactivate VFA-81 and its parent unit, CVW-17.

At least two factors affect an assessment of VFA-81's current readiness situation. The first is VFA-81's position in the operating cycle. Having just returned from six months at sea, it is in the first month of a new turn-around training cycle, which usually includes about 15 months of preparation for the next cruise (see figure).

Typically, when a carrier-based unit returns from six-month cruise, it moves to the end of the operational support "food chain," and for about two months, several constraints limit operations: In terms of logistics support, the unit has the lowest priority. Maintenance activity focuses on aircraft grooming, repairs, and modifications, the objectives being to repair the wear and tear of maritime operations and to upgrade with new capabilities. Combat training is virtually nonexistent during the first two months ashore, and flying operations are limited to maintenance check rides and instrument flight/airways navigation training. Pilots and maintenance personnel take extended leave and go to a variety of maintenance, technical training, professional, and administrative schools.

During the third month, operating tempo builds up to about 60% of normal as the unit begins to train for its next deployment. As a squadron moves closer to its deployment date, tempo increases, priority increases, and logistics support becomes more available as the unit moves to the front of the food chain. Viewed in the context of this cycle, some of the readiness problems described in this trip report reflect the normal famine of a sea-based tactical air unit which just returned home. The relevant readiness questions are, therefore, (1) is VFA-81's situation is worse than normal, and (2) if the situation is worse than normal, is the condition of VFA-81 unique or is it an early indicator of a fleet-wide deterioration?

A second factor relating to VFA-81's materiel readiness condition is that this unit is equipped F-18C Lot X aircraft. Lot X was the first production lot of the "C" model, and there are only 40 to 50 in the fleet. Very often, the first production lot after a major model change exhibits peculiar problems as the bugs associated with the design change are identified and worked out of the airplane and its support system. These particular aircraft were purchased with FY86 funds and were probably delivered sometime in FY88. While the Lot Xs have been very reliable, there were serious maintenance problems on the cruise. Another important question, therefore, is to what extent the materiel problems described below are peculiar to the Lot X variant of the F-18?

I was favorably impressed by the quality, professionalism, and forthrightness exhibited by the officers and enlisted men of VFA-81. My remarks and observations are organized into three parts: readiness during the cruise, VFA-81's post-deployment readiness condition, and operations over Bosnia.

Readiness During Cruise

Aircrew Readiness

According to the squadron commander, pilot training (particularly for those junior officers embarking on their first cruise) was barely adequate prior to the deployment. Optempo averaged about 80% instead of 100% during the three-month fleet exercise phase of the workup cycle. The primary reason for the training shortfall was limited aircraft availability. (The squadron lost six to eight aircraft to modification or depot rework at various times during its 15 month turn around cycle, leaving two to four airplanes available for training purposes during these intervals.) Operating funds were adequate during this period. Furthermore, over the last 12 months of the cycle (the last six months of workup plus the six months on cruise), junior officers averaged 100 instead of the normal 120 carrier "traps." In the squadron commander's opinion, the training shortfall during the workup was never made good during the deployment. He also expressed concern that the new junior officers are not accumulating experience at the same rate as their predecessors. If the trends experienced on this cruise continue, he believes future readiness could be hurt as officers with lower flight experience levels move into leadership positions.

VFA-81 did not maintain C-1 readiness during deployment, in part because of a funding shortfall and in part because of the demands imposed by the air operation over Bosnia. The squadron was funded at 25.5 flying hours per pilot per month (defined as 110% PMR), compared to a C-1 requirement for 32.8 hours. Operations over Bosnia, while potentially a combat situation, were for the most part routine and uneventful and had limited training utility from a combat proficiency standpoint. Moreover, these operations soaked up a large percentage of operating funds and left little for combat training — dropping bombs on ranges, dissimilar air combat, etc. In theory, a reservoir of combat proficiency is built up during the workup prior to deployment, so that a combat-ready crew is an asset continuously available to theater commanders while the squadron is at sea. But in reality, combat proficiency is a wasting asset — it dissipates with disuse. In case of VFA-81, where training during workup was barely adequate to achieve proficiency, the dissipation of proficiency during Bosnian operations seriously impacted its ability to recover from the pre-deployment shortfall and was, in the opinion of the unit commander, another reason why VFA-81 could not maintain a C-1 rating

Materiel Readiness

The F-18C is perhaps the most reliable, high-complexity fighter fielded to date. The remove and replace (RR) maintenance concept also makes the F-18 easy to repair, if two conditions are satisfied: spare parts must be available and the diagnostics computers at the different levels of maintenance (i.e., Built In Test Equipment or BIT on the airplane and the diagnostic computers at the intermediate depot levels of maintenance) must be sufficiently compatible to enable maintenance technicians to reliably identify which part is in fact broken. While these technologies make operational-level maintenance easier, the logistics burden becomes more ambiguous when one examines their effects on the entire support system.

In effect, by focusing on replacement at the operational level of maintenance, RR technologies shift repairs to the intermediate maintenance level and, more importantly, to distant depots. Under this system, the combat effectiveness of a squadron-level maintenance system is made more dependent on immediate spares availability as well as a responsive, tightly-coordinated logistics pipeline reaching back to the depots in CONUS. With the exception of cannibalization, which is made easier by RR technologies, a unit's capability to do "work arounds" when spares are not available is diminished, because a larger portion repairs are impossible make in the field. Moreover, the ease of cannibalization can obscure the severity of fleet-wide supply shortages and thereby encourage an inappropriate allowance for war reserve stockpiles.

Economically, remove and replace technologies greatly increase overhead costs when one accounts for the proliferating variety as well as the quantity of individually accountable items and the cost of maintaining a more closely regulated pipeline. The greater contribution of logistics overhead to operating costs makes the prediction of future costs more uncertain. In a resource constrained environment, where everyone is trying to protect his rice bowl, the economics of RR technologies make it easier to raid the support accounts, for the simple reason that the increased cost uncertainties make high funding levels harder to justify.

VFA-81 experienced major problems maintaining its aircraft in a fully mission capable state during its cruise. Shortages of spare parts were the major driver of the relatively low FMC and MC rates and the relatively high number of cannibalization actions (see figure). Cannibalizations of NMC aircraft as well as AVCAL were also needed to build packup kits to support the shore-based deployments. Moreover, maintenance officials told me that the effect of shortages was magnified, because the supply system often responded to a request with a defective part (e.g., a pump with faulty seals). Despite these problems, VFA-81 completed 96.4% of its sortie requirements by working hard to keep a spare plane available during each launching cycle.

The following subsections describe a variety of observations related to the materiel readiness situation:


The supply system did not store the correct mix of spare parts, in part, because the high reliability rate of the F-18 implies more erratic breakage patterns, thereby making demand for parts more difficult to predict.

Continual Configuration Change.

The configuration of the F-18C continuously changes as new hardware and software are added to the airplane. Compared to earlier aircraft, production lots (production runs embodying a homogeneous configuration) are relatively small and aircraft within lots are modified more frequently (in part because of software reprogramming). Several officers told me that each airplane in the squadron had been rebuilt three times. Constant change makes it difficult to coordinate the incorporation of system upgrades in the aircraft with the concomitant changes in the logistics support structure. Several maintainers stressed that maintenance crews never have time to become expert, because they are constantly having to learn the new procedures and skills required by the new configurations. Furthermore, they argued that the squadron was manned for maintenance, not modifications, and the crews were spending far too much time on modifications.

During the cruise, mismatches in the integration of new hardware and software capabilities with the unit's training program and the logistics infrastructure, particularly the Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department (AIMD), magnified the effects of parts shortages. One major software upgrade (OFP-91C) on the aircraft was incompatible with the loading procedures of the computerized test bench in the AIMD, for example. Often, when faced with this kind of incompatibility, the only maintenance "work around" is to use a spare airplane as an intermediate level test bench — a so-called "hot mockup," which increases workload as well as the risk of breaking an airplane during maintenance, but makes it possible to meet sortie commitments. Several major capability upgrades (e.g., the FLIR and the AMRAAM upgrades) were not fully integrated into the airplane until well into workups. Late integration limited training times for the maintainers, as well as combat proficiency training for the pilots. Pilots never had an opportunity to practice with the self-designation targeting capability of the FLIR prior to deployment, for example. (Significant efforts were made in theater to make up for this training shortfall, permitting the achievement of an acceptable LGB delivery capability.) Yet proficiency in self-designation was a particularly important requirement in the Bosnian mission (most flying was at medium altitude and very often FACs were unavailable or did not have laser designators — see below).


This occurs when the BIT on the aircraft indicates a component has failed but it checks out OK when tested by the technician at the operational or intermediate level of maintenance. A799s were higher than normal, particularly at the intermediate level, because of the integration problems described above. (Note: VFA-81's "I" level A799 rate, while high by its standards, was much lower than CND rates for the Air Force. I do not know if this difference is due to a difference in definitions.) A799s magnify the effects of spares shortages and increase workload on maintenance crews.

Cannibalization Actions:

The high rate of cannibalization increased workload by 30 to 40 percent, as maintenance crews shifted parts from plane to plane. Of the eight FLIRs assigned to the squadron, for example, the best availability was seven "up," with the eighth used for spare parts. The senior maintenance chief said he believed that continued cannibalizations at this rate would sap morale and lead to retention problems, because people take pride in their work, and it is difficult to do so when one works 16 hours a day to fix an airplane, only to trash it a few days later to provide spare parts to another plane with a "higher priority." He said that the personnel surplus created by the current downsizing was preventing retention problems in the near term, however.

Legacies of the 1200 Hour Inspection.

Several maintainers indicated that the F-18 exhibits phenomenal reliability during its first 1200 hours. However, once the airplane is opened up for a corrosion inspection, unexpected problems start cropping up. According to one senior chief, with extensive experience in the F-18 maintenance, once these problems start, a fix in one location tends to create additional problems in other locations, which, when fixed, create yet additional problems. Several maintainers indicated that this was a fleet-wide phenomenon. Moreover, they said "chasing problems downstream" was not only worse, but qualitatively different in the case of the F-18 than other planes they had worked on.

Post-Deployment Readiness

VFA-81 ceased flying operations in July and put 100% of its aircraft in temporary preservation; 75% will remain in preservation through August, and 50% will remain in preservation through September. (CVW-17 and one other air wing have been placed in preservation.) Normal flying operations should begin in October, when new fiscal-year money becomes available. During the interim, all of VFA-81's aircraft are scheduled to undergo modifications in a depot-level modification hangar located on Cecil Field. While these aircraft are in the mod hangar, they are vulnerable to cannibalization. Several maintenance personnel stated emphatically that the materiel condition of aircraft being modified often deteriorates while in the mod hangar, because of low quality work, poor quality control, and high rates of cannibalization. They expected that they would have to rebuild a number of their aircraft after they returned from the mod hangar.

The decision to place VFA-81 into preservation may also be a function of the plans for its next operating cycle, which indicate CVW-17 will have an unusually long turn-around time (24 months) before deployment on Enterprise. While aircraft are in preservation, it is Navy policy that they be protected absolutely from cannibalization. There is one problem, however, which could lead to a waiver in this policy: the high number of F404 bare firewalls (engine compartments without engines — 186 forecast for July) in the F-18 fleet. To date, shortages in Air Lant have been absorbed by on-station airplanes in the mod hangers, but this strategy appears to be reaching its limit. Moreover, F404 supply and repair patterns are highly unstable (they change monthly) because of additional life limit reductions, high changeout rates, and increasing F-18 usage (as additional units convert to F-18s). A further increase in the number of bare firewalls will probably require cannibalization of flyable aircraft. Obviously, in this case, it would be less disruptive to training operations if the maintainers cannibalized those aircraft in temporary preservation. Given these stresses, Air Lant has already authorized waivers to its preservation policy, permitting a swap of 20 of CVW-17's low-time F404 engines for high-time engines to support aircraft in units with higher priorities (training units and those near the end of their workup cycle).

Operations in Bosnia

Viewed from the orientation of a unit at the tactical level, the command and control system at the operational (or grand tactical) level of decision making seemed encumbered by excessively rigid, non-adaptive procedures. What follows is my understanding of the tactical point of view; it is based on a lengthy discussions with the squadron commander and many of the line pilots.

Command & Control System

The C3 system at the operational level is centered on NATO's Fifth Allied Tactical Air Force's Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) located in Vincenza, Italy. Its principle control device is the Air Tasking Message (ATM) which integrates intelligence, targeting, and flight scheduling at the top of the command structure. Like its predecessor in the Iraq War (the Air Tasking Order or ATO), the ATM operates on a long cycle (48 hours), and its detailed fragging pattern leaves little room for adaptation at the tactical level by the pilots flying the missions. The following bullets describe some features and limitations of this heavily centralized C3 system: w CAOC built its C3 structure build around ATM, with real-time adjustments made through AWACS or FACs. The confusion exhibited during the Galeb shootdown as well as the close air support response to the Serbian attacks on Gorazde showed that this system was unable to stay abreast of rapidly changing air and ground battlefield in Bosnia. In effect, these C3 arrangements forced the naturally faster observation-orientation-decision-action rhythm of the tactical unit to operate at the naturally slower rhythm of the grand tactical level. This impeded tactical adaptations to changing conditions. w On the other hand, USN CVW/JTG exhibited the ability to adapt more quickly to changing conditions, when given the freedom to do so — for example, during its SAR (search and rescue) action in response to the shootdown of the British Harrier.

Target Acquisition

Central to mission success was the ability to acquire mobile, artillery-sized targets from medium altitude in a heavily cluttered, alpine urban environment, often obscured by broken cloud layers. While there were frequent periods where visibility and cloud clearances were acceptable, these conditions occurred at unpredictable intervals. All the pilots I talked to said that the imagery provided by the intelligence system of the CAOC was seriously deficient for finding routes of approach or acquiring targets, because resolution was inadequate and photos were out of date (or of unknown timeliness). The F-14 TARPS, while capable of providing high resolution imagery, were fully tasked supporting CAOC requirements. The pilots believed acquiring small mobile targets requires human decision making with the flexibility to adapt to changing conditions while airborne and in visual contact with the target. Their experience over Gorazde demonstrated that this is one most difficult, important requirements of tacair. One pilot described a situation where they were tasked to suppress a tank which was firing on a hospital, but the intelligence system could not even identify the hospital for the pilots, let alone provide the information needed to attack the tank. VFA-81's commander said he believed that an A-10 operating at low altitude was the ideal platform for this mission. From his perspective, the squadron experienced the following targeting problems:

  • While the targeting requirements frequently changed, depending on where the Serbians chose to attack, the C3 decision cycle could not keep pace with the rapidly changing, mobile, close air support battlefield.

  • The CAOC often tasked pilots to hit artillery sites without FACs in areas the pilots had not seen before. In these cases, their targeting difficulties were compounded by inadequate situation awareness and poor terrain orientation.

  • The squadron did not have access to a current photo library of the battlefields of interest. Several pilots said the overhead photos provided by the intelligence community were useless for tactical targeting purposes. They said timely photos were absolutely necessary to cue the FLIR, because the FLIR's limited field of view made it impossible to search for targets unless their location was known beforehand. Given these limitations, the only target acquisition option was to orbit high over target area, out of threat range, and struggle to find the target with the eyeball and FLIR. The squadron commander indicated this was a relatively ineffective tactic, and, in this context, several pilots said they believed the F-18's FLIR needed a higher magnification to identify cued targets.

  • There were not enough FACs deployed on the ground in Bosnia, and many of those who were deployed did not have laser designators. Often, in fast changing situations, like those around Gorazde, there was a requirement to drop ordnance on a target, but a FAC was not in position to authorize the drop. Consequently, less than 30% of the squadron's pilots received laser-designated targets from ground FACs. Moreover, the squadron commander believed it was unlikely that FAC could designate a tactical target in the confusion of a firefight. The squadron attempted to fill this void with autonomous decision making, but had no airborne FAC ground training prior to deployment, and the medium altitude flight regime made visual/FLIR target search difficult, if not impossible.

  • The squadron commander did not have objective measures for determining the differing battlefield familiarities of the individual aviators. This made it difficult to determine which pilot would be most effective in a given target area.

The squadron received its laser designators late in workup (November 93) and did not have the opportunity to practice self-lasing with actual bomb drops prior to its deployment on 12 January. Since pilots did not have any capability 6 months prior to deployment, and they buddy-lased with an A-6 during the Fallon exercise, they trained by lecture, self study, and simulator. VFA-81's commander believed the squadron should have a minimum of 4 (preferably 6 or 8) laser designators at least six months before deployment and prior to Fallon. He said the learning curve is steep, proficiency increases with each drop, but training must be frequent to maintain a viable capability (like training for Walleye). Rapid Target Acquisition Process Based on his analysis of the squadron's C3/targeting problems (enumerated above), VFA-81's commander devised an imaginative and effective work around. His aim was to build a continuous improvement process that would train the pilots to quickly adapt to changes in weather and battlefield while reducing cycle times and increasing knowledge and familiarity of the battlefield.

The following bullets outline my understanding of his procedure:

  • He started by obtaining 1:100,000 maps of the areas of interest.

  • He assigned officers to monitor the recce tasking messages sent out by the CAOC. Officers also monitored CNN. This activity permitted him to infer what areas were of the highest interest.

  • He assigned teams of pilots with an intelligence officer to specific areas or groups of targets. Their aim was to build up a reservoir of battlefield familiarity.

  • The pilots then used handheld 35mm cameras to take pictures of the assigned areas while airborne. The film was developed within an hour of landing on the Saratoga. The area teams then used the photos to build a collage library that could be directly oriented to the maps (by taping the photos together). This effort produced high quality, timely photos that were a more useful orientation for finding initial points and avenues of approach than the overhead photos provided by intelligence.

  • In addition to its obvious benefits, there were other benefits. First, implicit in this process is continuous self-education and target familiarization. This made it easier for the pilots to adapt quickly when looking through broken cloud layers.

  • Second, the process was flexible and capable of rapid readjustment, because production time was short and reliable and totally under the squadron commander's control. He used these photos to keep abreast of changing conditions, while updating higher authority. Over time, they built a data base that was continuously available at the squadron and wing levels.

  • Third, the process enabled the commander to monitor his unit's effectiveness and assess its ability to respond rapidly to specific requests: The activity of photographing potential target areas revealed a pilot's ability to see and point at target. Moreover, by coupling this system to FLIR video, the commander could make an "objective" assessment of each pilot's ability to acquire targets in his area of interest. He could then advise higher levels which targets the squadron could hit on short notice with high confidence.

  • Fourth, according to VFA-81's commander, the automatic feedback feature provided a measure of program's effectiveness which enabled the members of the squadron to continuously improve their contributions. This increased flexibility by shortening response times, created a pro-active (as opposed to passive) focus at the tactical level, fostered innovation and enthusiasm, and integrated intelligence with operators at the lowest possible level. He believed the squadron got ahead of CAOC's decision process in constructive way, while improving its chances of success and flexibility

Conclusions and Recommendations

It is tempting to ascribe many of VFA-81's maintenance problems to routine griping by overworked maintenance sailors and officers, and it is likely that some of these problems can be fixed by improved management (better liaison between the squadron and the AIMD, for example) at the working level. Nevertheless, I believe these problems also reflect a larger resource allocation issue.

Navy outlays in FY 1994 amount to $86 billion. As the table at the right shows, this spending level is supporting a substantially reduced force structure than was supported by a smaller budget in 1980. Moreover, the current spending level is supporting about the same operating tempo, the only substantial difference being a reduced tempo for deployed ships. Given these circumstances, the fact that a fourth-quarter funding shortfall forced the Navy to place two air wings in "preservation status" raises troubling questions about the decision-making priorities in Washington. At the very least, this extraordinary action seems incompatible with Mr. Perry's policy to maintain readiness as the Defense Department's top priority.

The condition of VFA-81 and her sister squadrons is a flashing warning sign that should be carefully monitored at the highest levels. Reports in the media, as well anecdotal information filtering in from the field, suggest to me that the problems described herein may be harbingers of a larger pattern affecting all the services. If senior decision makers want to relate readiness in the field to the macroscopic setting of budgets and policies in Washington, they must first understand the local pressures affecting the operators' decisions and the nature of their adaptations and "work arounds." These pressures can only be understood by visiting the operational units and interviewing the operators and maintainers in a candid, non-threatening setting.

My first recommendation, therefore, is that the USD (P&R) form a semi-permanent interdisciplinary task force, composed of mid-level military officers and civilians, to determine what is happening in the field. Under this concept, which is inspired by Napoleon's use of staff officers for personal reconnaissance and Patton's household cavalry, teams of two to three people (Majors, Lt. Colonels, GS 14s, and 15s) would visit a variety of combat and support units on a continuous basis. Their goal is not to inspect or evaluate but simply to probe the operating environment and describe what they see. Initially, they would prepare unstructured reports on whatever they believed important to the local unit's combat readiness. In Washington, they (and their counterparts) would assemble this information, analyze it, and compare different units. As common features emerged, it would become possible to sharpen the focus and make additional inquiries. Over time, the accumulating information would permit a synthesis of an overall orientation grounded on an accurate insight into local conditions. This kind of orientation would permit policy makers to harmonize their macroscopic resource-allocation decisions to the changing microscopic conditions in the real world.

Moreover, the operations of the task force might provide a basis for designing a management information system to deal with the biggest management void in the Pentagon — namely the absence of an information system that provides the insight needed to relate resources to readiness. To those who argue that my plan is too ambitious, I would remind them that maintaining readiness is our top priority, and that this effort would consume far fewer resources than those now consumed by the OSD staff supporting acquisition decisions.

My second recommendation relates to VFA-81's problems and her innovative adaptation to the constraints of the C3 system. The Navy should determine immediately whether or not VFA-81's rapid target acquisition process is a suitable procedure for all attack squadrons.

The fact that a combat unit found it necessary to use standard issue, hand-held 35mm cameras to build a photo library supporting operations in a combat zone raises several troubling issues that go well beyond the Navy's operations. The Defense Department is spending tens of billions of dollars on centralized C3 systems, and one would think that these systems could at least provide up to date photography that is useful for strike planning in a relatively small, benign threat environment. When a tactical unit produces more useful information with hand-held 35mm cameras, it is clear that this reconnaissance problem is not caused by technical limitations. Moreover, a control system that impedes adaptation at the tactical level suggests the existence of a weakness in our joint doctrine and organization — one that could create a crisis in a shooting war with an able adversary. The problem of excessive rigidity and incompatible decision cycles among the different levels of command and control has long been recognized in actual operations as well as exercises (during the evacuation of Saigon, Nifty Nugget, Proud Spirit, or with the ATO in the Iraq War, to name a few).

While it is tempting to dismiss these frustrations as fog of war, they are consistent with the long-standing conflict between what works on a real battlefield and the theoretical performance of centralized C3 systems and doctrine. In the late 1970s, for example, I attended a series of interviews with Colonel Hans Rudel, a German Stuka pilot with over 2400 close air support missions on the Eastern Front during WWII (where he ran up a personal score of over 500 tank kills). One of our primary goals was to gain insight into the real-world performance of C3 systems in close air support situations. Many of his problems, such as finding and identifying tactical targets, responding quickly to changing conditions, and harmonizing the inherently slower decision cycles at the grand tactical level with the naturally faster rhythms of tactical decision making were no different than those encountered by the pilots of VFA-81. We questioned Rudel closely on these issues. Rudel's description of the limitations of his centralized system was virtually the same as those described above. He insisted that battlefield familiarity and on-the-scene decision making by the pilot were absolutely essential for timely, effective close air support. He also insisted that pilots must think like infantry men and have an intuitive feel for the ever-changing battlefield. (Germans have a fascinating term for the implicit sensing of the battlefield: the "fingertip touch" or "fingerspitzengefühl.") Rudel was able to achieve stunning success at the tactical level, because his high stature permitted him to bypass the centralized C3 system and provide effective support by working directly with the army troops on the ground.

Independently, on the Western Front in 1944, General Pete Quesada, reached similar conclusions and designed similar solutions. Moreover, he demonstrated that a decentralized system was more effective than a centralized system at the grand tactical as well as the tactical level. On his own initiative, and to the consternation of many senior Army Air Force officers, he replaced the sluggish, non-responsive centralized system with a decentralized system that delegated decision-making autonomy to the pilots and ground commanders on the scene. Although the overwhelming majority of historians agree that Quesada's system performed superbly in the support of the 1st and 3rd Armies as they advanced across France, it was, nevertheless, replaced after the war with a version of the centralized system Quesada found so deficient. The descendants of this latter system are with us today. These centralized systems were notoriously ineffective in Korea and Vietnam, where average response times were three times longer and precision deteriorated from that achieved by Quesada in WWII. More recently, my interviews with A-10 pilots after the Iraq War indicate that the centralized C3 system caused the same kinds of frustrations as those described above.

Notwithstanding the repeatedly poor performance of centralized C3 systems, American air power theorists continue to cling to the assumption that the mobility of the airplane enables it to effectively attack targets across a broad front of operations (even when the pilot is not familiar with the details of the battlefield), but only if this mobility is centrally controlled at the grand tactical level by a theater air commander.

Moreover, our technologists' habitual response to these C3 problems — more sensors, data links, computers, and fusion centers — has not solved them. Indeed, some people, myself included, believe this habitual reaction has actually made matters worse. (See the referenced essay by Col Wyly, USMC(Ret), for a general description of the conflict between what works on a real battlefield and the theoretical performance of centralized C3 systems and doctrine.) The ongoing operation in Bosnia provides a rare opportunity to learn how well centralized C3 systems work in a low intensity operation and to understand the reasons behind the rigid, non-adaptive character of our C3 systems. Again, this is a problem that can only be understood by direct examination.

My third recommendation, therefore, is to form a "lessons-learned" team of mid-level personnel and dispatch them to a variety of operating locations in the Bosnian theater. Their mission would be to determine how well the differing observation-orientation-decision-action cycles of C3 systems at the grand tactical and tactical levels mesh together. In particular, they would aim to understand how quickly, accurately, and harmoniously these cycles respond to changing conditions, and what reasons lie behind any deficiencies and incompatibilities.

Franklin C. Spinney

Reference: Col Michael Wyly, USMC(Ret), "Reestablishing What?" Marine Corps Gazette, August 1994, pp. 27-29.

Boyd and Military Strategy