Pentagon Plans Respite for Air Crews
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 22, 1999 U.S. Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Army air crews deserve a break, particularly those who fly and operate low-density, high demand aircraft, according to the Pentagon's top leaders.
NATO's Operation Allied Force put considerable stress on U.S. military aviators and support elements, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said here June 21. For the air component, the high-tempo joint and combined force operation was equivalent to a major theater war, he said.
"The air crews who flew the bombers, fighters and support aircraft carried out the most precise air campaign in history," Cohen said at a Pentagon news briefing. "All Americans can be justifiably proud of the skill and professionalism of our air crews," he said. They have "helped to make air power history."
The United States contributed 731 aircraft and crews to the allied air campaign, Pentagon officials said. From March 24, when NATO launched the operation, until it ended June 20, a total of about 1,000 NATO planes flew more than 36,000 sorties
Now that the air strikes have ended and U.S. soldiers and Marines are deploying into Kosovo as a peacekeeping force, Cohen said, he expects the demand on the military's air component will decrease. "We believe that the air crews, the pilots, are in need of some respite from that operational tempo and they should receive it," Cohen said
Cohen and Army Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that despite the demands of the campaign, morale among the military pilots has been extremely high, especially in the last few weeks. "They see the success of their mission," Cohen said. "They are proud of what they have done." The aviators feel vindicated in light of critics' earlier predictions that air power alone could not bring about victory, the secretary added.
Shelton said a recovery program is planned for those who man low-density platforms like Navy and Marine Corps EA-6B electronic warfare Prowlers, Air Force and Army Joint Surveillance Targeting Attack Radar System aircraft and Air Force AWACS aircraft and U-2 reconnaissance aircraft. "We will make sure that we give them adequate time to recover, to spend time with their families [and] to take leave," the chairman said.
The pilots will also get time for more schooling if they need it, Shelton said, and to do maintenance on their airframes. "We have to move these types of assets back into a recovery period and make sure we bring them back up in the proper manner."
How long a break air crews get will depend upon the world situation, Cohen warned. Although the 24-hour a day NATO air campaign has ended, U.S. air assets will support ground troops taking part in Operation Joint Guardian in Kosovo as well as continuing operations in Bosnia and other missions around the world.
Active duty and reserve component air crews will continue to support Operation Northern and Southern Watch, for example, Cohen said. In the past two days, U.S. fighters have fired upon Iraqi radar sites in the northern no-fly zone. Since Operation Desert Fox ended in mid-December, Iraqi forces have violated the no-fly zones more than 140 times, Cohen noted.
"Much will depend upon the situation throughout the world and what they're required to respond to," the secretary said. "If the circumstances abate as far as the tensions in the region -- which we expect will be the case -- then they'll be able to have a period of recovery. But much will depend upon the circumstances that exist throughout the various theaters."