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Translating Transformation into Capabilities

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 19, 2002 – "To my mind, the 'T' in 'Transformation" stands for time," Air Force Maj. Gen. Daniel "Fig" Leaf said during an interview.

Leaf, director of operational requirements at Air Force headquarters, said the U.S. military already can decide and act quicker than anyone else, but it must continue to maintain this edge to fight the war on terrorism.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said the U.S. military must capitalize on its asymmetrical advantages as it transforms to meet the threats of the 21st century. The abilities to assess intelligence and to pass it to the commander who needs it and can act on it are among the American military's greatest asymmetrical advantages.

Rumsfeld has said maintaining this edge may mean building new more capable equipment or combining existing systems in new ways. But what is most important in transformation, he's said, is a culture of innovation, a willingness on the part of commanders and subordinates to take risks and try new methods and ideas.

Afghanistan is a proving ground of some of these concepts. Rumsfeld has continually pointed to Army Special Forces and Air Force combat controllers calling in pinpoint air strikes while participating in a horse cavalry charge as an example of the type of flexible thinking required to transform the military.

Leaf said the world has not seen such an offensive air- ground capability since the Allied attacks through northern France in 1944. During the breakout from the Normandy beachhead in July and the dash across France, air and ground forces worked as an offensive team unmatched until the actions around Mazar-e Sharif, he said.

During World War II, the 9th Tactical Air Force spurred innovation by placing FM radios in aircraft and air controllers in planes and on the front lines. This was not a top-down driven action. Rather it was soldiers and airmen who fielded the capability. And it worked brilliantly. The force guarded Gen. George S. Patton's left flank as he swept across France. The air and ground worked together as an offensive arm.

"They leveraged the complementary capabilities of two different arms of military forces," Leaf said. "They realized they could complement each other and then maintained through forward air controllers and proper equipment the degree of synchronization needed."

Leaf said the services have done a lot of great close air support operations over the past 60 years, but since World War II they had become more a tool of the defense than the offense. He said the U.S. military was clearly on the offense during the Gulf War, but still seemed to think of the air-ground combined arms team as a defense rather than a way for forces to take the initiative and win.

U.S. forces in Afghanistan returned to the World War II model, he said. "I'm pretty excited about it," Leaf said. One key, he continued, has been the liaison between forces. "We've had Air Force people on the ground. You've seen them. They look an awful lot like soldiers except they have Air Force rank."

The air operations center also enjoys a joint service approach. "If you walk into that facility, you see a great representation of all the services and our partner nations," Leaf said.

The commander at Aviano Air Base, Italy, during Operation Allied Force, Leaf said the Army representation at the air operations center proved important even though U.S. ground forces had no part in the Kosovo campaign. "They helped give that grand combat picture of the enemy on the ground," he said.

Service members "side-by-side wearing different uniforms" and offering their expertise give commanders an awareness they would not have otherwise. Establishing an air operations center also centralized planning and helped the services work together closely.

Communications improvements have allowed an unprecedented exchange of information. Interoperable radios and computers have sped up reaction time. He said one example occurred in Afghanistan when a Northern Alliance commander turned to an Air Force air control specialist and said he wanted to attack Taliban forces on the next ridge.

"He thought we'd go through a long approval process, he'd thought it would be a day or two before the strike came in," Leaf said. Nineteen minutes after the airman's call, Taliban positions were bombarded with precision accuracy.

This flexibility and interoperability contrasts with even Desert Storm. Then, air tasking orders had to be physically delivered to land bases and carriers at sea.

Leaf said data links join air, ground and sea forces now and will be the most fertile area to explore as the services move forward. These advances, coupled with the Global Positioning System, laser range finders and others allow planners to integrate their efforts. He said the changes make bombers as flexible as fighters.

Other Defense Department personnel agree. They cite the way pilots and weapons officers can input aim points into precision-guided munitions as they fly to targets. Each bomb carried by a B-1B, B-2 or B-52 bomber can be programmed to knock out a specific target. Changes on the battlefield can mean immediate changes to the aim points.

Unmanned aerial vehicles bring another tool to the battlefield. Predator, Global Hawk and other unmanned aircraft provide real-time surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. The fiscal 2003 defense budget request includes an additional $1 billion to speed up development in this field and would also increase funding for research into an unmanned combat aerial vehicle. Leaf called this "seize the initiative stuff" for the potential capabilities they offer to the U.S. military.

Precision-guided munitions are adding to the transformation equation. "The Joint Direct Attack Munitions has gotten a lot of visibility and performed magnificently," Leaf said. "Our ability to bring JDAM to the war en masse on B-52s and B-1s and on Navy strike platforms is huge."

Leaf said one piece of strike footage that sticks in his mind showed JDAM explosions "walking" the crest of a ridgeline. "You have to understand the devastating effect that would have on an enemy who thought, 'I'm on the high ground, I'm dug in, I'm OK,'" he said. "No, he's not. He is just as vulnerable as if he were in the open."

Today, no other military in the world can do what the United States now routinely does. Joint Staff officials said the success of joint missions requires the skill of the pilots and ground observers, but also information from the National Imaging and Mapping Agency, intelligence, weather reports and a myriad of other bits of information from a number of different agencies and sources.

"It is not something anyone can do alone," Leaf said. The U.S. military must work to improve their capabilities and integrate technologies to maintain its world lead, he added.

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