OSS commander emphasizes importance of nuclear inspections

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Brian Copello
  • 509th Operations Support Squadron commander

The 509th Bomb Wing has proven itself over and over. Since the arrival of our first B-2, bringing the weapons system from infancy to successful employment in three conflicts, we have past muster. From this commander's perspective, the past 18 months or so have been no different. Let's see ... since taking command in June of 2006, I've had the honor and privilege of watching team Whiteman: 

 Complete two incredibly successful Pacific Air Expeditionary Force rotations. One of which, according to the Vice Commander of Pacific Air Forces was "the most strategically influential Pacific Command AEF" continuous bomber presence deployment since its inception, including participation in the largest carrier exercise since the Vietnam War.
 Receive the highest score, with the best rating of any base in 10 years during the 2006 joint nuclear surety inspection.
 Execute the largest flying hour program in the history of the B-2.
 Host and brief a plethora of distinguished visitors, including the Vice President of the United States and the Secretary of Defense, just to name a few.
 Act as the lead unit expertly organizing, planning, and executing the Combat Air Force's first Red Flag Exercise to integrate the B-2 and F-22, prosecuting 28 sorties and 1,094 targets on time.
 Fly over twenty 24-hour plus global power sorties, successfully projecting power around the globe.
 Earn an outstanding rating during the wing's first ever conventional operational readiness inspection, only the second outstanding earned in ACC's last 27 inspections.
 Achieve the highest possible rating during the first no-notice limited nuclear surety inspection in over 30-years.
 Deploy Airmen in support of combat operations around the world on a recurring and regular basis (over 1,200 since Jan. 1, 2007).
We should be proud of all we have accomplished.

Yet since June 2006, despite this phenomenal pace and corresponding exceptional performance, not a single bomb from the 509th Bomb Wing killed a single enemy of America.

How can this be? After all, we dropped the first bombs in Operations Allied Force, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Why not now? Isn't our whole purpose to hunt down and kill America's enemies? Isn't our country at war? And why are we concentrating our effort on nuclear inspections? Are we not wasting our nation's precious treasure maintaining such a capability if not contributing directly to the current fight?

Overcoming the short sightedness of such an argument is an Airman's plight, if not only to defend airpower's legacy from those with a limited understanding of the effects we supply to our nation's policy makers, but also to eliminate the negative effect such an attitude can have on the morale of those men and women making the sacrifices necessary to maintain such an important capability backed by an incredible track record.

Since its inception, long-range aviation has always battled a perception that questions its utility, because the value and success of deterrence is only measurable when it fails. Everyone understands the value of what the B-2 supplies to the fight when we kick down the door on the first nights of our nation's wars. Our performance in three conflicts confirms our ability to destroy the most heavily defended targets anywhere worldwide and reaffirms to those that fail to believe in long range aviation, as well at to those working feverishly to supply these effects, the true measure of our value.

However, making the next great leap in the intellectual process escapes many who don't understand the additional value of long range aviation. A value backed by over 40 years of cold war history.

Long-range aviation can supply two very distinct, yet intricately woven effects. The proven capability to reach out from a distance and in short order put a tremendous hurt on our enemies, backed by our willingness and demonstrated use of such a capability, is a coercive tool that can compel our enemy to do our will. The effectiveness of such a tool is measured by its ability to obtain objectives after its use.

Very closely related, but distinct in its value, is the threat to use force to influence the decisions of our enemies, without actually having to use it. The success of which is immeasurable, because it only fails if used. Bomb wings capable of carrying out both nuclear and conventional missions understand this relationship well and are the key to supplying these two extremely important tools to our policy makers. Thomas Schelling put it best in his book, Arms and Influence:

"...brute force succeeds when it is used, whereas the power to hurt is most successful when held in reserve. It is the threat of damage, or of more damage to come, that can make someone yield or comply."

For a unit capable of carrying out both conventional and nuclear missions, the difference between these two effects can become lost in their similarity. It is very easy to motivate ourselves to prove our ability to supply brute force. The cause and effect relationship is an easy one to trace. We take pride in our ability to practice and subsequently prove our ability to deliver the brute force effects when called upon in combat. Our success is then measured by how well we execute once called upon.

However, the cause and effect relationship proving a unit's ability to deliver the deterrent effect, especially when associated with our nuclear mission, is not as easily understood. The proving ground for successful deterrence lies not on the battlefield. Our deterrent effect is solely based on our performance outside the combat arena. If we never actually go to war in this mission set, we have succeeded. The converse means we have failed.
Which brings me to the point of this long diatribe: proving ourselves in our nuclear mission is based on our performance during exercises and inspections. Although we know our capability to successfully execute our mission lies intact no matter the results of our inspections, we must never allow our enemy the perception that there is any room to make us prove it in combat, otherwise, we have failed.

You know as well as I, that no enemy can defend against our prowess on the conventional battlefield. And if they doubt our ability, we'll prove it to them with little threat of failure. But to allow our enemy any room to doubt our ability in the nuclear arena threatens failure of our deterrent mission with no recourse to correct the situation with action. So, as we move closer to our next inspection, the Nuclear Surety Inspection, make no mistake about the importance of passing it with flying colors. We can prove our capability to coerce and compel with brute force by strapping onto the backs of our pilots the greatest weapons system known to mankind and dropping bombs on our enemy, however we have no such luxury in our mission to deter.

Inspections and exercises become the proving grounds upon which our enemy will base his decisions. Let's send a resoundingly clear message to those who might misinterpret our Air Force's recent shortfalls in the nuclear arena - beware, the 509th is on the job, and we never fail.

The importance of our nuclear deterrent mission must not be underestimated during a time our nation finds itself engaged in two conventional wars. Again I'll rely on Thomas Schelling to put into words that which I struggle to explain; "Military victory is often the prelude to violence, not the end of it, and the fact that successful violence is usually held in reserve should not deceive us about the role it plays."