A few years ago, at roughly the time Scott O'Grady's F-16 was shot down in 1995 over Bosnia, I had a long correspondence with a now likely ex-USAF Wild Weasel pilot.
The original e-mails have been lost in a hard disk crash, but I pulled the following from my floppy files, edited it for clarity, and removed a number of professional references to my correspondent. I originally sent this to a mailing list that included Austin Bay, James Dunnigan, Steven Cole and several others from my old Genie Military Round Table community.
While this is dated, I think it useful for two reasons. First, it nails down some of the institutional problems of the USAF’s Fighter Pilot leadership is causing. Second, it lays a stick in the ground against which to judge what has happened in the USAF since then.
I have my own postscript after the interview.
TRENT: I am particularly taken with the charges in the book THE ICARUS SYNDROME, by Carl Builder of the RAND corp. His evaluation of the "Fighter Pilot Mafia" seem spot on. That is, you ask an ex-Air Force officer what he was and he says he "was a F-16C pilot" while an ex-Army officer says "I was an Army officer." In other words, the USAF officer corps takes more pride in which piece of heavy equipment they operated than in the institution as a whole.
SOURCE: I believe you and Carl Builder have interpreted the organizational loyalty climate in the Air Force correctly -- we don't seem to have any broad-service identity like the Marines do. We are very isolated and tribal. Especially fighter, bomber, controller, intell, and maintenance types -- the fighter guys divide into air-to-air and air-to- mud mentalities. The same family atmosphere and loyalty a bunch of sharks have.
TRENT: I am very tempted to say that "Air Superiority is to important to be left to Fighter Pilots."
SOURCE: Air Superiority is becoming less and less an air combat (fighter to fighter) type activity. More and more of our potential enemies are investing heavily in surface-to-air defenses -- primarily Third World countries who don't have the technological culture to invest heavily and train intensely in independent fighter maneuvering flying. SAMs are there 24 hours a day, and in the case of radar SAMs, in any weather. Much easier to train a primitive in operating a SAM radar system than flying a supersonic jet fighter. New SAMs like the SA-15 are essentially like the Patriot -- they do all the work for you and you simply consent to fire. More systems are refining their radars and missile kinematics to target cruise missiles (low radar cross section).
TRENT: The Fighter Pilot Mafia also seemed to have curious delusions of "Beyond Visual Range Godhood." They think Sparrow and AMRAAM radar guided missiles are far longer ranged than those of the Russians, when the opposite was true, and absolutely ignored the possibility of air-to-air ARMs when the Russians have large numbers of them both for anti-fighter and anti-AWACS work.
SOURCE: BVR radar air-to-air missiles will be like our M1A1 tanks and Apache helicopters were in Iraq -- we had the thermal sensors and the weapons to kill enemy tanks, who didn't even know we were there. The AA-10 has some long-range motor models that shoot quite a long way, and some variants have an ARM seeker (good to use on US fighters who ALWAYS use their radars). We'll get a nasty surprise some day like Israel did in 1973.
TRENT: The contractor electronic warfare community, in its periodicals, seemed much happier with the "SAC Generals" than the "TAC/ACC Generals."
The SAC Generals are shown to always appreciate ECM while the TAC Generals seemed to think all you needed to be was a "Sh*t Hot" pilot in a high performance plane to dodge the SAM's. The "TAC boys" seem to change their minds on ECM when the shooting started and forget as soon as it is over. The recent downing of an F-16 over Bosnia seems a good case in point.
SOURCE: SAC knew the threat its bombers were facing during the Cold War, but relied on nuclear exchange for suppressing much of the radar threats -- it had a great track record for equitably caring for its navigators (especially radar navigators/bombardiers and EWOs). When TAC and SAC merged into ACC, TAC had to grudgingly accept many "promotable" navigators and EWOs into ranks of Colonel and even higher -- this was unheard of in TAC. TAC fighter pilots were notoriously ignorant of threats and countermeasures/countertactics. They seldom knew much threat knowledge. There have been two "privileged classes" of fighter pilots -- those hand-picked and groomed "Golden Boys": McPeak's F-15A air-to-air "Manly Men" fighter pilots exclusively selected in the late 70s who have all gone on to become TAC/ACC's generals, and the pilots selected to fly the F-117 in the 80s while it was still a black program (most are passing through Colonel now to stardom). McPeak was notorious for making any plan or mission highlight the F-117 since that was key to our buy of the F-22 and B-2. Many generations of navigators, EWOs, intell officers, and maintenance officers were sacrificed to promote these characters below-the-zone and to create for them an atmosphere not unlike Napoleon's Grenadiers a Cheval of the Imperial Guard Cavalry enjoyed. Much of the McPeak rottenness seems to have abated but I'm (Deleted References)
In any case it did its damage over the past 5 years since the end of the War. We rewrote history to show that the F-4G and EF-111 really didn't do much in Desert Storm -- the war was won by the F-117. The Wild Weasel blitz of the Iraqi IADS the first week of the war is essentially covered up -- Gen Profitt who was recently killed in an airplane crash, was a big proponent of the EF-111 and discounted the contribution of the F-4G. There are very few Weasels still left in uniform to defend it.
TRENT: Who is the other "privileged class?" Are they any good as flyers?
It sounds like you need a Israeli style pilot training system -- a "Commissioned Warrant Officer Pilot" track and a separate command track.
This system of "Highlands Clan cronyism" will destroy itself. I can see signs of it now in the hits the USAF is taking in the budget wars with the Army and Navy.
SOURCE: The two privileged classes of pilots were: F-15A (late 70s) drivers and F-117 (early 80s) drivers. Since the dates I mentioned, both jets have been opened up to a wider array of pilots but the early days of both mentioned were an incestuous interest-filled activity. Hand-picked favorites and golden boys (some general's pet boy).
The Israeli AF, like many others like the RAF, has two tracks -- one for a simple jock who just wants to fly with essentially no other responsibility (can be a warrant or more likely stay a company grader forever), and the other for a professional career military officer who has the capability and desire for more responsibility and demonstrates command potential. You are right -- we are f*****g ourselves in the air force and I'm not sure even Fogleman can turn it around soon enough -- he's making a valiant effort though. (Deleted references)
Often, the handpicked Golden Boys of privilege and interest aren't very good in the jet. They are usually specialists in f*****io and s*d*my for some senior officer. (Deleted References)
The USAF institution is rotten to the core with its promotion and personnel system. They recently "reexamined" it but they never considered changing or ridding itself of the Below-The-Zone promotion concept which is the primal source of its rottenness. You wind up with someone getting a command billet who has never gotten his hands dirty working in the trade -- inexperienced and immature, and also someone who is such a careerist they don't have the guts to stand up for their people or make a decision (they might be WRONG!). The Highland Clans may have had a cronyistic system but at least they all could FIGHT when necessary. Look at the candy asses of the 1st Fighter Wing in Desert Storm compared to the regular bubbas in the 33rd FW. The 33rd got 16 MiG kills and the 1st "Golden Boys" got 0 (but don't think they weren't trying, and CENTCOM was stacking the deck on CAP/Escort missions to put them in position to get some).
TRENT: It is my belief that the draw down in USAF Electronic Combat capability started when the Tacit Rainbow ARM UAV came out of the "Black World," and the ASPJ, both went "tango uniform" [JK Note: milspeak for T.U., or "Tits Up," i.e. dead] in the late 1980's - early 1990's. It accelerated after the Gulf War with the cancellation of the MAWS, the cancellation of the EF-111 SIP upgrade, and the vetoing of a F-15E based Wild Weasel armed with a laser blinder by McPeak.
SOURCE: The real draw down of USAF EC capability began in around 1982 when the F-117 was fielded at Nellis -- single-seat "fighter" capability that didn't need no dang confounded gadgetry and pencil-neck geek four-eyed EWOs (Chuck Yeager accent added for authenticity). Flaccid Rambo [Note2 from Trent: a slightly pornographic reference to the cancelled Tacit Rainbow anti-radar cruise missile] and ASPJ (a Navy program so it can't be good for us) were stillborn by the late 1980s -- nonstarters. Corder had a pet black project that was probably also killed when he was fired but I don't know its status. [Note3 from Trent: Gen. Corder was the USAF's foremost expert on electronic warfare and developed the USAF's 1980's anti-SAM doctrine.] Col Jock Patterson at TAWC/EC and _GENERAL RALSTON_ at TAC/DR basically stopped advocating any new EC systems because the senior leadership had essentially bought off on stealth, hook line and sinker.
Our F-111s are gone and our A-10s are essentially gone -- those and the F4s were the three jets (Gen.) Russ had on his "hit list" when Desert Shield kicked off. Schwarzkopf's replacement at CENTCOM had to call McPeak and ly order him to turn around some F-4Gs that were on their way to the boneyard after the end of the war -- they were still needed to enforce the peace over Iraq. (Gen.) Corder was fired for advocating that we keep squadrons of F-4Gs in the active AF when McPeak was trying to find a way to keep all the F-15C squadrons at a time when the AF was shrinking by at least 1/3.
We stopped buying new ECM pods, missile approach warning systems, new RWRs, improved flares, etc.
We've almost stopped testing threat weapon systems.
Our entire countermeasures industrial base and experienced engineers in the program offices dried up, probably never to rebuild until we lose half an air force in the next war and go back to the days of the late 60s again (Quick Reaction programs because we were too myopic to anticipate the threat). All the things we learned from Vietnam and used so well in the Gulf are now gone.
The electronic warfare community has essentially been "purged" -- most EWOs were passed over for promotion and SERBed while they and the EC pilots (who didn't get F-15/F-16 assignments) have gotten good jobs as contractors and consultants. EC/EW has now evolved into "Information Warfare", which generally doesn't include SEAD or ECM and seems to rely on deception. Our offensive and defensive domination of the electromagnetic spectrum has all but disappeared and the generals have totally bought off on stealth as the panacea to every threat. If the Bosnian Serbs had deployed a few SA-10 systems we would have been up a creek -- they would have been able to dominate the skies and keep us away.
--- Trent’s Postscript ---
The USA has yet to face a SA-10 or SA-15 surface to air missile system in combat.The Bosnian Serbs couldn't afford either system and it seems few other state can. So the real test of US post-Gulf War SEAD capablity has yet to happen.
The heart of the USAF's institutional culture was Strategic Air Command (SAC). It was where the pilots that learned how to do teamwork, logistics and (nuclear) strategy. That was where officers were groomed for senior flag rank command slots.
When SAC was stood down, Tactical Air Command (TAC) took over in the form of the renamed Air Combat Command (ACC). We are talking fighter jocks, the prima donna's, the cowboys. The anti-intellectuals who are scared to death of people smarter than they are. Look what happened after the Gulf War when ACC was in charge.
Col. John A. Warden, the architect of the Gulf War air campaign was black balled by Gen. Horner. He retired a thrice passed over Col. at the Air Command and Staff School.
Gen. Corder -- the man who put together the 1980's USAF SEAD doctrine used so well in the Gulf War -- was effectively sacked by the USAF chief of Staff (CoS) for disobeying a "strong suggestion" to lie to Congress about the need to retain the F-4G Wild Weasels. (The then CoS was trying to retain more F-15C's in the force structure.) His efforts to deploy a missile warning system** to protect USAF planes was cancelled partially in retaliation.
When Corder's allies in Congress started making noise in 1993 about the draw down of F-4G Wild Weasel and EF-111's, the USAF put the recently retired Corder on a special six month SEAD study to satisfy them.
Then the Air Staff sat on the results for close to three years. Corder, under the legal restrictions of the Reagan era secrecy laws, was thus effectively silenced while the deed was done. The downing of Capt. O' Grady in Bosnia was a direct result of the purging of F-4G Wild Weasel and EF-111 Spark 'Vark's from the USAF force structure and senior ACC staff's willing EW incompetence.
USAF CoS Fogleman, for all his faults, recognized the lack of institutional professionalism. His support of the Air Command and Staff College, Maxwell AFB, Alb. and attempts to create a USAF doctrine codifying entity like the U.S. Army's Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) were what was needed.
Unfortunately, Fogleman could not delegate and his reforms died with his military career. The inability to delegate is a defining fault of USAF fighter pilot culture. Fogleman's successors haven't tried to address these core institutional issues since then. The F-22 budget wars and the real wars since 1997 have left the USAF CoS no time for anything else, assuming they were interested.
bq.. ** = I think I have identified the secret missile warning and defense electronic warfare program of USAF General Corder's that CoS McPeak cancelled. The predecessor of the current ALE-50 towed decoy/radar jammer was started as a black program by Sanders, according to a Sept. 1996 AvWeek article titled "Aircraft Defense Shifts To Towed Decoy, Ir Beams," pgs. 46-47.
It was flight tested in the late 1980's, roughly the same time Gen. Corder and other senior Brass opted the USAF out of the ALQ-165 Advanced Self-Protection Jammer (ASPJ) for the F-16. It would have been ready for production & deployment just after the Gulf War when McPeak killed the MAWS program and Corder retired in disgust.
p. JK UPDATE: We'd be totally remiss if we didn't point you to Mike's "Cold Fury" blog. Not only does he have the single coolest slogan in blogdom ("Harshing your mellow since 9/01"), he also has a description of the "Wild Weasel" pilot's role that's beyond my ability to do it justice. You can read it all right here.
See also Cedar Bristol's comments on this post.