Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Note from the President: Operation Unified Protector

AFA members, this week I was interviewed on NPR about Operation Unified Protector (OUP) [Libya]. 
Here were my main points :
  • Airpower played a significant role in any success the rebels may have had 
  • Was I surprised?  Ans. No.  In modern warfare, no Army has ever won without control of the skies
  • The rebels would never have been able to advance into Tripoli without Airpower
  • The war is not over … despite what the press is reporting.
  • NATO deserves credit for the operation (and remember, the US is part of NATO … )
  • Things that went well:  political resolve, sustained operation, small loss of life
  • Things that could have been done better:  sortie rate (150 per day) was too low to have a more devastating effect; costly effort by using TLAMs in the opening days
  • I emphasized that it was a war … despite the Administration saying it was not; it would have been better if the Administration had gone to Congress to seek the people’s support; that the US was indeed flying strike sorties; that all indications are that our ISR assets were critical to strike successes
  • When asked what would have been the result if the US were in the lead – a much more intense air battle and a very shortened war with many more sorties per day. 
  • How much shorter?  I don’t know.  I would need to get briefed on the details … [See comment below]
  • Were there (allied/US) people on the ground?  Yes, British, French, and probably Dutch … and perhaps a 3 letter US agency
  • What do you think about the allies running short of munitions?  It should have been a wake-up call for them.  They need to spend more on defense.
Things I wish I had mentioned:
  • The potential for WMD use  … or WMD/MANPADs (Man-portable air defenses of the stinger-type) proliferation to Al Qaeda.  Libya has significant quantities of Sarin nerve agent
  • The $900M cost for the operation was about the same as 3 days in Afghanistan.  This shows that projecting vulnerability is costly.
  • Airpower has the potential to keep us out of long and bloody occupations.
  • The real challenge begins now.
  • Khadaffy, a Bedouin, may be able to last for months.
  • Rebuilding Libya, with our and Europe’s present economic conditions, will be challenging.
The question of the length of a US-led operation caused me to pause … and then to do some analysis. The only comparable air operation in recent times was Operation Allied Force during (OAF) the Kosovo War.  A comparison of the two operations: 
  • # of Aircraft in the operation:  OUP – 250; OAF – 1200
  • # of sorties per day:  OUP – 150; OAF – 80
  • Length of the operation:  OUP – almost 6 months and continuing; OAF – 78 days
This makes a very important point:  Mass and numbers matter in an Air Campaign.  The more aircraft in an operation, the more likely it is to finish quickly … and the less loss of life.  Most air campaigns conduct attacks against 15,000+ aim points.  In OAF, 23,000 bombs and missiles were launched.
So, as the Pentagon looks to cut its budget, it should remember our experience with the past.  A former boss of mine liked to quote George Santayana:  “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
For your consideration.


Michael M. Dunn
Air Force Association

1 comment:

Michael W. Stevenson said...

Good comments and I agree with your reasoning.

One quick point for possible AFA consideration. "Lady Be Good" was salvaged from the Libyan desert many years ago and as far as I know was last in storage, in pieces, at an urban location in Libya. Might this be the time to request it be returned to the U.S.?

I do not know if there was a contribution by Middle Eastern countries to the NATO effort. There may have been (in the form of supplying POL used in the effort, for example) but the government(s) involved may want that role kept quiet. At any rate, these nations have a direct stake in stability in the region and it would be nice to have them help out a little so the West doesn't have to foot the entire bill. What matters now are two things - What kind of government will this revolutionary movement present to the world, given the presence of groups and individuals with terrorist ties leading or working in the movement; and what is going to happen to the massive conventional and WMD stockpile Libya is positively known to have accumulated? Very sensitive accountability questions needing immediate attention on the part of the Department of State