- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 7, 2001

The Navy is running low on special kits used to turn "dumb" bombs into precision munitions for attacks in Afghanistan, but as of yesterday the Air Force had not agreed to transfer the equipment, said Pentagon officials.
"The Navy has asked the Air Force to share," said one official. "The Air Force is resisting, but I don't think they'll refuse."
The Navy is doing the bulk of tactical air strikes while Air Force fighters sit on the sidelines due to a lack of bases in countries near Afghanistan. Precision munitions are in high demand to hit military and terrorists targets, but leave nearby civilians unharmed.
Meanwhile, two officials told The Washington Times that Gen. Tommy Franks, the war's U.S. commander, has requested the Navy further increase its role by sending a fourth carrier to the region.
The Navy is examining how to meet the request without upsetting deployment schedules. The Navy's carrier battle groups cover specific regions of the world, such as the Pacific and Persian Gulf, while other carriers receive repairs or conduct training for the next six-month deployment.
"The Navy is figuring out what sacrifices to make to get it there," said a senior official. "They're living with 12 carriers in a war where we need 15."
Officials said the request for a fourth carrier is a sign the Bush administration plans to step up bombing in anticipation of commando strikes against the ruling Taliban and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network.
There are now three carriers off the coast of Pakistan: the USS Carl Vinson, the USS Theodore Roosevelt and the USS Kitty Hawk.
The Kitty Hawk is primarily being used as a platform to launch special-operations troops and helicopters.
The bombing began Oct. 7 with the carrier USS Enterprise in the region, but the Navy last week ended its extended deployment.
The officials say the Navy-Air Force negotiations are part of a much larger debate going on among Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's staff on the future of tactical aircraft and long-range bombers.
In Afghanistan, the Navy is flying virtually all tactical strike missions. The imbalance is due to the fact the Air Force has no basing rights in Central Asia.
It has sent a few F-15E strike fighters from Kuwait, but the 14-hour round trip makes the sortie questionable for the limited amount of ordnance the jet carries.
Defense officials say basing rights, or "denied access," as policy-makers call the issue, has prompted Pentagon officials to rethink the allocation of future bombers and fighters. The sources say some are discussing whether meeting 21st- century threats means the Navy should be buying more strike aircraft. And some are suggesting the Air Force should acquire fewer fighters in favor of a new long-range bomber whose larger bomb payload justifies lengthy flight times.
The Afghanistan campaign, these officials say, has bolstered the Navy's argument that the country still needs large-deck carriers and their 80 warplanes to project power overseas, even when elusive terrorists are the enemy.
Some Rumsfeld aides have looked at the idea of developing smaller, faster carriers instead of the large flattops much to the Navy's chagrin.
With the Air Force virtually locked out of the tactical air war, the Bush administration is trying to win basing rights in Tajikistan, which borders Afghanistan on the north. A U.S. military team is now in Tajikistan surveying three former Soviet air bases for their suitability to launch warplanes.
Such an arrangement would get the Air Force into the tactical air war and perhaps douse Pentagon talk of cutting their buy of new fighters. The Air Force has plans to buy 339 F-22 stealth fighters for about $62 billion. The Air Force, the Navy and Marine Corps want to procure thousands of a multirole warplane, the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).
Pentagon budgeteers are examining both programs this fall as the administration prepares it first five-year defense plan.
The needed "kits" are guidance systems and fins that turn a 2,000-pound bomb into a laser-guided munition or a satellite-linked Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAMs). The Navy and Air Force have dropped thousands of munitions during 31-days of bombing, and a larger portion are either laser bombs or JDAMs.
In Afghanistan, the Air Force's bombing role is limited to heavy bombers: B-2 stealth aircraft from Whitman Air Force Base, Mo., and B-2 and B-52 bombers based on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
"Experts believed the Air Force would always provide the lion's share of fighters," said one Pentagon official, who, like other sources for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity. "Hence, the Air Force has more fighter munitions than the Navy. But in this war, Air Force fighters can't get to the fight. So we need to use the munitions the Air Force was supposed to be dropping right now. That's the issue in a nutshell."
In other recent conflicts, the Air Force enjoyed generous basing rights near their targets. Its jets launched from NATO bases in Italy for the relatively short trip to Kosovo in 1998. For attacks on Iraq in 1991, Air Force jets took off from the neighboring states of Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and other countries in the Gulf.
"The Navy is doing all the work and the Air Force is scared," said a defense official. "This 'denied access' is a huge issue that everyone knew would come to haunt the Air Force."


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