If a shoot­ing war comes, the Air Force is not ready.

If a shoot­ing war comes, the Air Force is not ready

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - By Jed Bab­bin Jed Bab­bin served as a deputy un­der­sec­re­tary of defense in the Ge­orge H.W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion. He is a se­nior fel­low of the Lon­don Center for Pol­icy Re­search and the au­thor of five books in­clud­ing “In the Words of Our En­e­mies.”

Amer­i­can armed forces con­sis­tently per­form so well that their ef­fec­tive­ness is taken for granted. Com­plaints about mil­i­tary spend­ing cuts dur­ing the Obama years are such a cliche that they have been yawned at by our po­lit­i­cal lead­ers and com­pletely ig­nored by the me­dia. But those years have taken us from cliche to cri­sis. Three fac­tors have com­bined to cre­ate an emer­gency in air­power. First is the wear and tear im­posed by nearly 16 years of com­bat. Sec­ond are with the mas­sive, reck­less cuts in defense spend­ing im­posed by Pres­i­dent Obama which, un­der the Bud­get Con­trol Act of 2011, are sched­uled to con­tinue for at least four years. Third is the near-crim­i­nal ne­glect of our forces by Mr. Obama’s gen­er­als and ad­mi­rals. As a re­sult, so many of our com­bat air­craft are in­ca­pable of fly­ing com­bat mis­sions that the pres­i­dent is de­prived of op­tions that may be crit­i­cal to any war, large or small.

Air power — the abil­ity to clear the skies of en­emy air­craft and de­stroy the en­emy’s ground forces — has been a crit­i­cal el­e­ment of war­fare for nearly a cen­tury. Of­fen­sively and de­fen­sively, air power is the sine qua non of mil­i­tary ac­tion.

Con­stant pi­lot training and Amer­i­can tech­no­log­i­cal ad­van­tages have meant that ev­ery gen­er­a­tion of Amer­i­can fighter pi­lots since World War II has in­her­ited air supremacy — dom­i­na­tion of the skies — as a birthright. That is no longer the case.

In Fe­bru­ary, the Navy con­firmed that 74 per­cent of the Marines’ F/A-18s — 208 of 280 air­craft — are in­ca­pable of fly­ing com­bat mis­sions.

Navy air­craft aren’t in much bet­ter shape. Sixty-two per­cent of the Navy’s F/A-18s are un­fit for com­bat. About six of the Navy’s 37 at­tack squadrons have in­suf­fi­cient air­craft ready for com­bat.

On April 2, the Air Force Times re­ported that the Air Force has about 30 per­cent of its air­craft that are un­ready for com­bat. Ac­cord­ing to that re­port, the Air Force has only about 5,430 air­craft, which means more than 1,600 are not com­bat-ready.

Lt. Gen. David Dep­tula, re­tired from the U.S. Air Force, is a real war­rior. I asked him what the readi­ness con­di­tion means. He said, “It means the USAF would be hard pressed to bring the air forces to bear nec­es­sary to win in any ma­jor re­gional war. The more rel­e­vant statis­tic is that to­day the USAF has al­most 60 per­cent fewer com­bat-coded fighter squadrons than we did when we fought Desert Storm — 134 in 1991, 55 to­day.”

Gen. Dep­tula pointed me to the Air Force’s May 2016 “Air Su­pe­ri­or­ity Flight Plan.” He said it boils down to the fact that “The Air Force’s pro­jected force struc­ture in 2030 is not ca­pa­ble of fight­ing and win­ning against the ar­ray of po­ten­tial ad­ver­sary ca­pa­bil­i­ties.”

This all adds up to a big deficit in com­bat readi­ness shared by the Air Force, the Navy and the Marines.

Last week the Wash­ing­ton Ex­am­iner re­ported that 100 Navy in­struc­tor pi­lots were re­fus­ing to fly be­cause Navy lead­ers have failed to re­pair the un­safe oxy­gen sys­tems in trainer air­craft. A sub­se­quent re­port said that the T-45 trainer air­craft had been grounded in­def­i­nitely un­til the pi­lot oxy­gen sys­tem can be fixed. When was the last time that mil­i­tary pi­lots had to ef­fec­tively go on strike to get a prob­lem fixed? The lack of fund­ing that caused the air­power crunch ev­i­dences it­self daily. For lack of funds, air­craft aren’t be­ing re­paired quickly enough. For the same rea­son pi­lots — al­ready too few in num­ber — can’t get enough fly­ing hours to re­main pro­fi­cient. The ef­fects of our air forces’ lack of com­bat readi­ness aren’t read­ily mea­sur­able be­cause, thank heaven, we’re not in a big fight. If we were, we couldn’t sus­tain a long re­gional war and we’d be hard-pressed to de­fend our­selves in any multi-front con­flict.

On April 5, in a House Com­mit­tee on Armed Ser­vices hear­ing, all four ser­vice chiefs of staff tes­ti­fied in un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally harsh terms that put Congress on no­tice — yet again — that an im­me­di­ate in­crease in defense spend­ing, sooner than Pres­i­dent Trump’s re­quest for an ad­di­tional $54 bil­lion in 2018, is nec­es­sary to re­pair the readi­ness gap.

In that hear­ing, Adm. John Richard­son, the chief of naval op­er­a­tions, said of the con­tin­ued spend­ing cuts: “You are forc­ing us to run a mile-race, and then giv­ing the com­pe­ti­tion a one-lap head start. … That is what you are buy­ing into as Congress, if you ac­cept this as the ‘new nor­mal.’ ”

The pres­i­dent should view this as an “all hands on deck” emer­gency. Mr. Trump should call in the mil­i­tary lead­ers — the Obama-era gen­er­als who have let our forces de­cay to their cur­rent per­ilous state — and read them the riot act. Those who sup­ported the de­cay in readi­ness by ac­tion or in­ac­tion should be fired.

The pres­i­dent should send to Congress a re­quest for an im­me­di­ate sup­ple­men­tal ap­pro­pri­a­tion to re­turn our forces to readi­ness. It will take at least two years — the time it takes for man­u­fac­tur­ers to sup­ply re­pair parts and build new air­craft — to fix the prob­lem. It will take even longer to make up for the short­age of pi­lots in both the Air Force and the Navy.

There is no ex­cuse for the mil­i­tary or Congress to let our Air Force and Navy air­power to con­tinue to fail the readi­ness test. Our forces need the abil­ity to fight any­where, any­time. Right now, they can’t.

The pres­i­dent should view this as an “all hands on deck” emer­gency. Mr. Trump should call in the mil­i­tary lead­ers and read them the riot act.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY GREG GROESCH

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