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Published: 1 March 2010
Air & Space Power Journal - Spring 2010


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I read the article “A Perfect Storm over Nuclear Weapons” (Fall 2009), and Vice Adm Robert Monroe is quite correct. I also believe that America’s concept of deterrence must change significantly to meet the variety of threats that will emerge in the twenty-first century. The old deterrent strategy of the Cold War is not adaptive enough and requires an overhaul. When we redefine and redevelop deterrence and what it means, the nation can then apply it to emerging nations such as Iran and North Korea. Furthermore, there must be an endeavor to combine nonproliferation efforts into this strategy to provide a more robust means of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons; moreover, if countries do obtain them, they will know what to expect from the United States if they wish to employ them. As such, America’s ICBM force will need “calibrating” to ensure that our deterrent is not a paper tiger and can effectively deter potential aggressor nations that range from nonstate actors to reemerging superpowers. The United States first needs to develop the right strategy and then build the right force to make the strategy work. When we get the strategy of “layered deterrence” right, we can make our ICBM force fit the strategy. Ultimately, the right strategy that implements the right force will win the day. Why? Our nation desperately requires a “recalibration” of our nuclear deterrent strategy.
Lt Col Scott Edwards, USAF
Air Force Fellow, Oak Ridge National Laboratory


Although Maj Travis A. Burdine’s article “The Army’s ‘Organic’ Unmanned Aircraft Systems: An Unhealthy Choice for the Joint Operational Environment” (ASPJ-English, Summer 2009; ASPJ-Chinese, Fall 2009) is interesting, I feel that the author largely bases his argument on service sectarianism. I must, therefore, disagree with his reasoning.

To determine whether or not ownership of an asset correctly belongs to a specific branch of service, one must examine the first and foremost criterion—necessity. Current field operations indicate that the US Army is in dire need of organic remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) that perform a variety of tactical-level missions such as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; communication relaying; targeting; searching; or even ad hoc, direct air-land attacks. In light of this fact, one cannot conclude that “the Army’s decision to develop and field organic theater-capable [RPAs] is not in the best interest of the US military” simply because the latter has only a “limited supply of these high-demand assets” (pp. 89–90). Indeed, I find such reasoning faulty.

This situation brings to mind the enactment of the US National Security Act of 1947. At the time, the newly established Air Force viewed the Army’s organic aviation forces in a similar manner. However, we should not forget that the Army artillery’s urgent need for organic aviation assets gave birth to Army aviation. If we follow the reasoning of the author, we might reach the conclusion that US Army aviation should merge with the Air Force, based on the logic of limited supply and high demand.

The Army and Air Force should not be rivals over the ownership of limited RPA assets. Rather, the solution for meeting the Army’s high demand for RPA assets from the Air Force lies in redetermining the scope of the two services’ operation and function, identifying and maximizing their strong capabilities, filling the necessity gap between them, and creating an integrated joint operational environment.

Although Major Burdine proposes a solution, it is unrealistic and lacks operational substance. Aware of the fact that “the Army will not abandon the Sky Warrior Program” (p. 97), the author does make a good point by dividing RPA capabilities based on “task complexity” and “ease of automation” (see fig. 4 of the article, p. 98). I would go one step further and divide the functionality of the services. That is, the Army assumes the preponderance of responsibilities relating to management of RPAs / remotely piloted vehicle systems at the tactical level; the Air Force focuses on the strategic level; and both services share responsibility for the operational level.

Creation of a truly integrated operational environment requires that the services purge sectarianism from their mind-set and consider asset allocation and management primarily in terms of operational necessity.
Li Yanxu
Beijing, China


Air-to-air refueling is at the heart of our Air Force doctrine. Without it, the Air Force would not be able to wage war. Nuclear deterrence, rapid global reach/power, and close air support are examples that barely scratch the surface of the missions and capabilities that benefit from air-to-air refueling. The aircraft that implement this priceless capability are growing old, and maintenance costs are continuing to rise. Either Boeing (Boeing 767) or Northrop Grumman (Airbus A330) will replace the KC-135 Stratotanker as soon as the Air Force successfully negotiates a contract. Some individuals support a “split tanker buy” as a solution to avoid lengthy protests from the losing bidder. This option has my support because, in addition to replacing the KC-135, it is also time to replace our fleet of inefficient wide-body KC-10 Extender tankers. The logical solution is to pursue the procurement of two modern air-to-air refueling aircraft already in use and employed by our international partners.

Although the KC-10 is an exemplary tanker platform, its design has many inefficient limitations—for example, the number-two engine on the tail represents a maintenance challenge when it is time to repair or replace an engine three stories high. The additional labor, time, and equipment required to work on this engine are excessive compared to the investments necessary for working on a wing-mounted engine. Much like the vast majority of aircraft used in the commercial realm, both the Boeing and Northrop Grumman tankers have easily maintainable wing-mounted engines.

Additionally, the KC-10 design utilizes a flight engineer who represents the systems expert in terms of operating the aircraft. Much in the same way modern avionics replaced the navigator, modern aircraft are replacing the flight engineer. Automation allows for the elimination of an additional crew position while increasing payload capability. FedEx, the second-largest owner of DC-10 aircraft, is currently upgrading its DC-10-30 fleet. This modification automates the flight engineer position, allowing the company to reduce manpower while increasing overall payload capability. Both the Boeing and Northrop Grumman tankers have eliminated this position with automation.

The Boeing 767 and the Airbus A330, the two more efficient aircraft competing to become the next Air Force tanker, are in wide use all across the world, not only in the civilian sector but also in the military sector. Boeing has contracts to provide Italy and Japan with four KC-767 tanker aircraft each. According to the Airbus military Web site, “A330 . . . has won all international tanker competitions with contracts signed by the governments of Australia, Saudi Arabia and the [United Arab Emirates].” The ability to involve coalition partners increases dramatically when countries use the same equipment. Purchasing both aircraft would foster international partnerships, ease current Air Force tanker shortfalls by employing allied tanker support in future conflicts, and allow individuals of the US Air Force to promote partnership in exchange programs.

It is time to overhaul and replace the Air Force tanker fleet. The KC-10 is an inefficient aircraft in terms of maintenance and additional aircrews. Cargo companies like FedEx still use the civilian version, but even they are modifying their aircraft to reduce manpower and increase cargo capabilities. Retiring the KC-10 along with the KC-135 and purchasing two new modern tanker aircraft will modernize our 1950s and early 1980s fleet, align our capabilities with those of our allies, and bring the backbone of our Air Force into the twenty-first century.
Maj Ryan Aerni, USAF
Travis AFB, California


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University

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