An Air Force for Crises and Lesser Conflicts
These operations have placed substantial burdens on some force elements. The Air Force has been particularly affected, as CALCs have stressed capabilities for theater airlift, airborne warning and control, reconnaissance, and suppression of air defenses (if an embargo needs to be enforced). This raises the possibility that the MRC-driven force structure is not sufficient in some respects for CALCs. In a recent Project AIR FORCE study, a team of RAND researchers sought to identify directions the Air Force might take in responding to growing CALC demands.
The researchers began with the recognition that the increasing importance of CALCs poses a dilemma for an Air Force oriented toward MRCs. Senior military officials have already expressed concern that CALC demands might be eroding their ability to respond to MRCs. Furthermore, enhancing capabilities to respond to CALCs could make demands on funds already stretched thin by budget reductions and by the need for forces large enough to meet the two-MRC requirement. Nonetheless, the RAND researchers thought it instructive to consider just what changes would be appropriate, at the limit, if the Air Force were to be organized, trained, and equipped for CALCs.
Organizing. Organizational changes offer the Air Force a low-cost, high-payoff way to increase CALC responsiveness, although institutional reaction could make such changes among the most difficult to effect. The most important change would be to create a headquarters point of advocacy for CALC capabilities. Currently, no Air Force office speaks for opportunities to improve those capabilities--and without such a voice, other measures to improve CALC responsiveness are unlikely to be implemented. A more CALC-driven Air Force might also require these actions:
- Reversing the current active/reserve allocation of responsibilities so that
more of the support forces needed for CALCs are retained in the active
- Configuring active units for deployment in smaller force elements or units
meet the needs of multiple geographically dispersed CALCs
- Configuring certain units specifically for CALCs, possibly including units
providing security from the air or delivering supplies into unsecured bases
- Forging more intimate, sustained ties with humanitarian organizations, such as the International Red Cross, that have skills valuable in CALCs.
Equipping. An Air Force equipped for CALCs would have more transport, surveillance, and warning-and-control aircraft, more gunships and defensive assets, and fewer fighters and bombers than there are in the current force structure. Beyond proportional changes, CALC operations could also benefit from some special capabilities that are within the current state of the art but which the Air Force now lacks. These include the ability to do the following from the air:
- Detect, locate, and immediately suppress heavy-weapon fire
- Suppress urban disorders, without resort to lethal means
- Drop supplies with pinpoint accuracy
- Unload and pick up a small detachment quickly in any cleared area anywhere,
anytime, in any weather
- Deliver large quantities of inexpensive, lightweight, largely self-erectable
disposable housing and medical structures
- Locate nuclear materials on the ground, at least to the extent now possible with civilian aircraft.
Practical considerations, of course, restrict what the Air Force can actually begin doing now. The most urgent need is to relieve some of the stresses falling on certain kinds of units. If people in these units leave the force, they will not be available for either MRCs or CALCs. One way to relieve CALC-derived stresses is to reallocate resources to the extent now possible between fighting and support units or between active and reserve units.
Beyond that, funding shortages will limit action. But thought is cheap, and budgetary pressures should not prevent the Air Force from thinking now about what kinds of actions would be prudent if CALCs should continue to grow in number and scope.
RAND research briefs summarize research that has been more fully documented elsewhere. This research brief describes work done for RAND's Project AIR FORCE; it is documented in Organizing, Training, and Equipping the Air Force for Crises and Lesser Conflicts, by Carl H. Builder and Theodore Karasik, MR-626-AF, 1995, 93 pp., ISBN 0-8330-2320-9. Abstracts of all RAND documents may be viewed on the World Wide Web (). Publications are distributed to the trade by National Book Network. RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve public policy through research and analysis; its publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions or policies of its research sponsors.
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