Changing the Tooth-to-Tail Ratio Using Robotics and Automation to Beat Sequestration

By Nussbaum, Rachael L. | Air & Space Power Journal, September 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Changing the Tooth-to-Tail Ratio Using Robotics and Automation to Beat Sequestration


Nussbaum, Rachael L., Air & Space Power Journal


It is a fact that the "tooth-to-tail'' ratio in any modern military is heavily weighted towards the "tail." The "tooth"-the personnel and equipment in direct contact with enemy forces-is a small fraction of the remainder (the tail) although identifying exactly where the line between the two falls remains a matter of great debate. The US Air Force is the world's leader in war-fighting automation and robotics. In fact, in accordance with the directive of Gen Lany Spencer, the vice-chief of staff, we are about to push the technological envelope even further by investigating quantum systems, cyber vulnerabilities, and the survivability of remotely piloted systems.1 Consider our use of drones to multiply the effects of large numbers of attack and reconnaissance pilots-and to remove those personnel from the battlefield. Right now we are developing technology that will enable a single pilot to control a "wolf pack" of drones, further multiplying a single aircrew's mission effectiveness.2 However, we have not made much progress in using robots to enhance the effectiveness of the larger part of Air Force business. The amount of maintenance required by modern aerial war-fighting capabilities-keeping the planes, people, and airbases in fighting condition-produces a long support tail. If we use our established leadership and knowledge in the field of robotics and automation to address the tail side of the force, we can create a new, better paradigm.

The Current Numbers

To illustrate the need for a new paradigm, we can examine the current fiscal challenges faced by the Air Force as part of the US government-and therefore as a beneficiary of the US tax base. A key point here is that our current fiscal issues are not likely to go away. The taxes that generate the Air Force budget are based on an aging population, currently 15 percent of which is over 65, old enough to receive Social Securhy (by 2025 it will be 19 percent and rising).3 Consequently, the portion of the population that pays into not only Social Security but also the general fund, which supports the Air Force, is declining. The cost of Social Security has increased, but federal tax receipts have not. Comparing Social Security Administration data from 1999 to 2012 and Internal Revenue Service data over the same period in 2014 dollars reveals that the cost for a single person receiving Social Security has increased by 44 percent and that total Social Security Administration costs have increased by 88 percent.4 During that same time period, income tax (the main source of government income) varied wildly (see the table below), not tracking the increasing benefits costs at all. These data points are not comprehensive but simply demonstrative. Budget constraints will not go away.

As governmental costs are going up without a corresponding increase in governmental receipts, manning numbers are being forced down to compensate. Today's technology is sufficient to act as a force multiplier and may help with some of the ensuing pain. This article uses broad generalizations to establish a divide between tooth and tail. Such generalizations are not meant to offer surgically accurate definitions but to illustrate the concept and permit a simple level of analysis. The tooth in the Air Force consists of Airmen whose Air Force specialty code (AFSC) is 11X, 12X, 13D, 13S, 18X, 1A7, 1C2, 1C4, and 1T2 (generally, pilots, gunners, pararescue personnel, and combat controllers). Several individuals with such AFSCs will arguably find themselves in a tail position (e.g., headquarters or training), and many without such AFSCs will engage the enemy as the tooth. Determining exactly who falls into these two categories is unnecessary for the purposes of this article.

According to this AFSC-based generalization, the Air Force has on active duty approximately 287,000 military personnel who perform support activities for 20,300 war fighters; 66,000 reservists who support 2,700 Reserve war fighters; and 100,000 guardsmen who support 5,300 Guard war fighters. …

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