Noah Shachtman and the gang at the Danger Room are having a bit of fun, at the Air Force's expense. They obtained a copy of a recent talking points paper, outlining the service's contributions to the GWOT, and highlighting the need for additional funding in the future. Danger Room views the memo--somewhat correctly--as another weapon in the Pentagon budget wars, aimed at helping the Air Force preserve its share of the funding pie.
As a former blue-suiter, I read the talking points with a great deal of interest. Actually, the memo's major fault (IMO) is that it tries to cram too much information into a two-page document. Covering everything from deployment levels in Iraq to the number of ICBMS on alert, the talking points are, essentially, a snapshot of today's of Air Force, with particular emphasis of its role in the War on Terror, and a description of key programs the service needs for the future.
But the reasoning behind the talking points is sound. Senior leadership is apparently concerned that the Air Force hasn't done an effective job in reminding both the public--and Congress--that the service is fully engaged in the GWOT, and makes significant contributions to allied operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations. The Talking Points outlined below highlight the Air Force's daily contributions; missions executed in the CENTCOM region are listed in bold type.
What We’re Doing Today:
We fly approximately 400 daily sorties for Enduring Freedom / Iraqi Freedom
16 ISR sorties in AOR; 11.5 UAV (Global Hawk & Predator) CAPs in CENTCOM AOR alone.
Track satellites from 55 countries – 560 satellites over-flights daily.
100+ operational US satellites, 450+ satellite ops events.
2 AWACS on alert for Homeland Defense.
1 AMC departure every 90 seconds…24/7/365.
250 airlift sorties, 2500 PAX, 1000 s-tons, 58 offloads.
30 tanker missions in AOR.
13 Air Evac missions with 50 patients.
8,000 people per month off the roads in Iraqi convoy duty because of intra-theater airlift.
8 tankers on alert for Homeland Defense.
49 consecutive successful national security space launches.
80 strike / Electronic Warfare / Non-Traditional ISR sorties in AOR.
7 Special Ops / Search and Rescue sorties in AOR.
40 fighters on alert for Homeland Defense.
480 ICBMs on alert for the nation every day.
Had I been given the assignment for writing these talking points, I would have divided the assignment into three different papers, covering "the Air Force at War," "Homeland Defense," and "Ensuring Air and Space Power for the Future." In its present format, I don't think the writers can do justice to the USAF's support for Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. While only 25,000 Air Force members are deployed to the Middle East on a given day, they make contributions that far outweigh their numbers.
--For example, how many Americans know that many of the explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) teams that respond to IEDs in Iraq are comprised of Air Force. And that seven blue-suit EOD technicians have been killed in operations over the past year?
--Or, that the Air Force operates--and staffs--the two largest combat hosptials in Iraq and Afghanistan, facilities that have saved the lives of thousands of coalition soldiers?
--Then, there's coverage by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). The Air Force controls most of the UAVs flown in Iraq and Afghanistan, and owns the resources used to operate these aircraft and exploit information from on-board sensors. Air Force UAV missions around a single, high-value facility (Balad AB) led to the arrest of 25 terrorists in less than three months, and disrupted potential attacks against the installation and its security patrols. "Armed" Air Force Predators have also come to the aid of coalition ground units, eliminating enemy positions and minimizing the risks faced by soldiers or Marines.
--On the ground, airmen have been running convoys along Iraq's most dangerous roads for more than two years, while airlift crews fly more sorties to reduce the number of personnel who must perform convoy duty.
--To protect those convoys--and the airfields--Air Force security forces are increasingly engaged in active patrols "beyond the wire," reducing the operational load for Army and Marine units that were once exclusively responsible for those missions
--Air Force engineers also developed a new turret for protecting HUMVEE gunners from sniper fire--and fielded the first prototype only 80 days after an airman was killed by a sniper while on patrol.
--And, it's the Air Force which operates many of the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft and battle management platforms that help pinpoint enemy activity, and direct the employment of our own forces. One of the ISR platforms--RC-135 Rivet Joint signals intelligence aircraft--have been continuously deployed in the Middle East for more than 6,000 days, and will remain in place long after our ground forces have gone home. Meanwhile, information from the E-8 JSTARS helps Army and Marine units pinpoint enemy activity, weapons caches and smuggling routes.
--Finally, the Air Force has also done its fair share in eliminating the bad guys. Lest we forget, it was an Air Guard F-16 that brought Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's career to an end last year (with a lot of help from our SOF operators).
In a conflict dominated by small-unit battles on the ground, it's sometimes easy to ignore the work of Air Force platforms and personnel. But the service is playing an important role in Iraq and Afghanistan, and leadership needs to highlight those contributions. Better yet, the service should invite some military bloggers to embed with Air Force units in the Middle East, to increase the public's awareness of what blue-suiters are bringing to the fight.