Monday, August 23, 2010

Top Guns vs. Mouse Jockeys

The military is in a period of serious transition and transformation. It would be a significant phenomenon even if we were enjoying a period of relative peace. The GWOT has forced decisions to be made in an uncertain prism of war that has created a tug of war between current needs and and future needs. This has had an impact on military organization, training and education, but the most visible impact is the increasing role of technology.

UAVs have almost become a symbol of the reliance on technology in the GWOT to provide force multipliers in an era of flat or shrinking troop levels. This is particularly evident in the Air Force as this service has been at the cutting edge of technology for decades. Many observers believe the F-22 and F-35 fighters will be the last manned fighters built by the U.S. This is doubtful, but we already see the first indications of a split between what I call Top Guns versus Mouse Jockeys. To the chagrin of actual pilots, a subculture of "virtual pilots" are being trained to "pilot" the growing fleet of UAVs. Originally the idea was to retrain pilots for the UAV jobs but the growth in the fleet has made the Air Force rethink the training process and has created a new occupational specialty to accommodate the operators.

The trouble is UAVs are very much a tactical asset similar to artillery support or a gun ship. The Army has cannons and helicopters, but the Reapers and Predators are the property of the Air Force and CIA. The Air Force mouse jockeys sit in a room on a base in the U.S. and "fly" the UAVs. Perhaps these assets could be better utilized if the operators were in theater soldiers instead of airmen who have probably never set foot in Afghanistan or Iraq. Under my plan the UAV fleet as well as Air Force and Marine Corps planes would be reorganized into an Army Air Corps. This could go along way toward erasing costly and inefficient service rivalries and help the air forces come to terms with the idea that tactical air support and logistical support are and will probably continue to be their core missions.

A war of UAVs and A-10 attack planes is a very different war than the one with spectacular dogfights and massive bombing raids the Air Force has been planning and equipping for since World War Two. But this is the war we have drawn and we have to do what is necessary to fight it most effectively without regard for pet weapons and outdated organizations.

1 comment:

  1. I think it would be helpful if you told what the acronyms stand for when you first use them... such as UAV & GWOT. Someone like me who is not military savy needs this.