BY DANNY DE GRACIA II – In the months following the attacks of September 11, 2001, the general consensus among both policymakers and the public alike were that American airspace sovereignty were of paramount importance.
The bipartisan 9/11 Commission determined in its official report that North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) – the bi-national U.S./Canadian military entity responsible for airspace security and maritime domain awareness – was “barely able to retain any alert bases at all” and went further to say “there were only seven alert sites left in the United States, each with two fighter aircraft on alert.
This led some NORAD commanders to worry that NORAD was not postured adequately to protect the United States.” The belief that hostile aircraft could be detected at long range before breaching U.S. air defense identification zones led to a policy understanding that there would be sufficient time to activate supplemental alert aircraft if needed. That policy’s limitations and weaknesses were made appallingly clear by the September 11 attack.
America’s Air Sovereignty Is Weak
Ten years later, America finds itself in a situation which is even more precarious than the days before 9/11. There are three pressures which put our national security and territorial sovereignty at grave risk. The first pressure as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen warned, is the national debt of which interest payments alone may soon exceed $600 billion next year. The second is the immediate need to airbrake government spending, as Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke warned Congress that America needs “a more sustainable fiscal trajectory” as a number of contributing factors have depressed both the economy and the government’s ability to collect tax revenues.
The third and most immediate pressure is as former NORAD commander and retired USAF Gen. Victor Renuart warned the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2009 that existing “Legacy fighters [i.e., F-15s, F-16s et al] are aging and will be stressed to maintain reliability as we move into the 2015-2030 timeframe. Recapitalizing the fighter, tanker, and airborne early warning aircraft will remain a challenge, given the DOD’s post-9/11 long-term mission requirements. NORAD’s mission readiness will be affected if Air Sovereignty Alert aircraft are not recapitalized”.
Prior to Gen. Renuart’s testimony, in January 2009 the General Accounting Office (GAO) issued report GAO-09-184 “Actions Needed to Improve Management of Air Sovereignty Alert Operations to Protect U.S. Airspace” and found that there were serious implications for the long-term sustainability of America’s air sovereignty and air sovereignty alert (ASA) mandate. The report warned:
“The Air Force has not implemented ASA operations in accordance with DOD, NORAD and Air Force directives and guidance, which instruct the Air Force to establish ASA as a steady-state (ongoing and indefinite) mission. The Air Force has not implemented the 140 actions it identified to establish ASA as a steady-state mission, which included integrating ASA operations into the Air Force’s planning, programming, and funding cycle. The Air Force instead has been focused on other priorities, such as overseas military operations.”
The report further notes:
“… if aircraft are not replaced by 2020, 11 of the 18 current air sovereignty alert sites could be without aircraft. The Air Force has not developed plans to mitigate these challenges because it has been focused on other priorities.”
The GAO’s assessment of the Air Force exposes the severe problem that America’s present expeditionary/interventionist policy regime presents: America is overextended abroad and our interventionist policy abroad is causing our domestic security to be at severe risk.
Recent unrest in the Middle East and Northern Africa have stirred many local Hawaii voices to call for President Obama to deploy U.S. aircraft to Libya in support of a No-Fly Zone to assist anti-Qadaffi rebels but the domestic fiscal and military challenges we face at home far outweigh the problems abroad. It makes little sense to advocate sending America’s most advanced and capable defense platforms abroad while at home our continental air sovereignty is woefully weak. As it is, the United States cannot even stop the low-tech threat of illegal immigrants pouring through its southern borders.
Retired United States Air Force Colonel James Juehrmund Jr and Christopher Bowie of the Northrop Grumman Analysis center recently wrote a white paper for the Mitchell Institute entitled “Arsenal of Airpower: USAF Aircraft Inventory, 1950-2009” and warned that:
“The overall number of aircraft procured is low. And, the average ages of USAF aircraft are reaching unprecedented levels, which will force more retirements. Spending on personnel and operations is growing as a percent of the budget. so in all likelyhood, USAF is about to “step off” the current staircase riser, shrinking even further […] USAF today has reached the point where it has eliminated all tangential missions. Thus, increasingly, cuts must reduce force structure in core mission areas. In the future, USAF planners will be “cutting into the bone,” reducing fundamental capabilities.”
So long as airspace is the monopoly domain of taxpayer funded government, we need America’s airspace protected. Congress’ first and primary commitment is to the people of America, not to Libyans. U.S. military expenditures should go towards defending Alaska, Hawaii and continental United States first and rather than expending trillions on overseas nation-building or dictator-assisting, those funds should go towards tax cuts, paying down the debt and recapitalization of our air defenses.
Flawed Reactionary Advice, Not Sound Policy
Kay King, Vice President of Washington Initiatives wrote in the recent Council on Foreign Relations policy report “Congress and National Security” that “at the very time the complex global arena demands their attention, many lawmakers are increasingly ill-informed about the foreign policy, defense, and intelligence issues on which they vote.” King goes on to warn:
“the nation’s political landscape has been realigning since the 1970s, ushering in deep partisanship, severe polarization, a combative 24/7 media, and diminished civility. Over time, this environment has given lawmakers greater incentive to advance personal and partisan agendas by any means, including the manipulation of congressional rules and procedures. It has politicized the national security arena that, while never immune to partisanship, more often than not used to bring out the “country first” instincts in lawmakers. It has also driven foreign policy and defense matters, short of crises, off the national agenda, marginalizing important issues like trade. Combine this increasingly toxic political climate with an institutional stalemate in the face of mounting global challenges and it is not surprising that Congress has struggled for years to play a consistent and constructive role as a partner to as well as a check and balance on the executive branch on international issues.”
Congress needs to resist reactionary advice which calls for expanding America’s overseas military presence and spending billions or even trillions more in support of foreign causes over the Constitutional requirement to protect America first.
The issue is not about whether President Obama has ice cream while Egypt revolts or plays golf while Libyans are involved in a civil strife, the issue is whether the American people are protected first and secure in their own homes.
We need new planes and rested pilots guarding American airspace, not imposing our presence over Northern Africa. There is no vital national security benefit to guarding Libya’s revolution while America’s own revolution for private property, personal choice and freedom languishes in support of a flawed, overbearing foreign policy.