The Pentagon’s bolstering of its ground forces in Baghdad by borrowing money and people from its sister services is further straining an already tightly stretched Air Force, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley said Tuesday.
The result, Moseley said, is people being assigned to jobs they weren’t trained for. He cited Air Force airmen being used to guard prisoners and serve as drivers and cited one instance in which a female Air Force surgeon was assigned typing chores.
“We got her back,” Moseley said at a breakfast with a group of reporters.
With President Bush and Congress locked in battle over Iraq spending, the Pentagon is shifting money among services and accounts, including drawing down funds earmarked for other later purposes, including meeting payrolls.
“Somebody’s going to have to pay us back,” Moseley said.
Bush has bristled at a Democratic agreement to set a timetable on the Iraq war and has said he will veto such legislation once it reaches his desk.
Moseley said that over 20,000 airmen have been assigned into roles outside their specialties.
Among these, having to guard detainees is a prime example, Moseley said.
“Not only do we not have a prison, but very rarely do we have anybody in prison,” he joked.
“So, to take our people and train them to be a detainee-guarding entity requires ‘x’ amount of time away from their normal job,” said Moseley.
Moseley said he was trying to be realistic. “We live in a joint world. We live in a military that’s at war. And we live in a situation where, if we can contribute, then sign me up for it.”
Still, the Air Force general added, “I’m less supportive of things outside our competency.”
Air fleet is aging, general says
The general said that there is little money available to buy new aircraft and that the Air Force is overseeing an aging fleet, some of its planes going back to the 1950s and 1960s. “Operational and maintenance costs have gone up 180 percent over the past 10 years, operating these old aircraft,” he said.
On another subject, Moseley said that China was rapidly expanding its long-range air force capabilities and was becoming “very capable.”
“They’re getting the ability to go beyond just a ‘Taiwan scenario,”’ he said.
He expressed alarm at China’s anti-missile test in January, in which it used a missile to destroy one of its own old weather satellites.
China’s motives remain unclear, but demonstrating that it can shoot down one of its own satellites also suggests it could knock another nation’s satellites out of the sky if it chose, which Moseley said would be widely seen as “an act of war.”
He said the U.S. is now taking a close inventory of all satellites and debris orbiting earth and studying potential vulnerabilities.