Skip to comments.Air Force Association: Back to Demolition Derby?
Posted on 10/03/2006 9:54:15 AM PDT by Paul Ross
Air Force Association
By Robert S. Dudney, Editor in Chief
Critics frequently dispute USAF’s claim that it needs to modernize its aircraft fleets. For anyone who may have harbored an honest doubt, though, the question was answered by a June exercise in Alaska.
Twelve super-sophisticated F-22s, in simulated combat, posted a startling 108-to-zero record against current-generation “enemy” fighters, reported Gen. John D.W. Corley, USAF’s vice chief of staff. Against the same foes, older F-15s and F/A-18s did one-tenth as well as the Raptor.
In Corley’s view, the event not only exposed the limitations of “legacy” aircraft but also showed the US could meet its defense needs with small, high-tech forces, be they fighters or other types of Air Force aircraft.
For all that, problems remain. Air Force leaders know that, when it comes to modernization, the hard part may just be starting.
The armed forces are entering what officers believe will be the bleakest period of fiscal belt-tightening in a decade. The Office of Management and Budget, alarmed by huge federal deficits, was poised to throw the brakes on spending, with consequences for the Air Force.
The Pentagon’s 2008 budget, only recently projected to hit $464.2 billion, could be slashed, along with every other budget in the new six-year defense plan.
Deep cuts seem to be a foregone conclusion. Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England says the services may take “double-digit” cuts—that is, reductions of $10 billion or so.
The Air Force, as a result, should prepare itself for budget combat. Apparently, it is doing so. One operations officer at Air Force headquarters, Maj. Gen. Roger W. Burg, recently declared, “The Air Staff is focused on one thing, and it’s spelled c - u - t - s.”
Predictably, many are arguing that the Air Force should be forced to slow down its modernization. They cite several reasons.
One is the mounting cost of the Global War on Terrorism. The Congressional Research Service said in a recent report that, as of Sept. 30, the government will have spent nearly $437 billion on military and foreign aid funding in Afghanistan and Iraq. At the current pace, the bill will pass half a trillion dollars next year.
The claim is that the Air Force and the Navy must sacrifice to help finance this spending, which goes mostly to Army and Marine Corps accounts. Because their equipment is wearing out, billions are needed for replacements.
Moreover, there are competing modernization priorities, notably those of the Navy. In a June 24 letter to Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, 16 Senators urged a dramatic increase in shipbuilding, starting with a boost from $8.9 billion today to $14 billion next year.
The lawmakers claim today’s 280-ship fleet is too small. They note that spending on warships has declined by 17 percent in the past five years and must go back up soon.
USAF is further threatened by what Loren B. Thompson, a defense analyst with the Lexington Institute, sees as complacency about American airpower. Because of its successes in recent years, he argues, “the political system has come to take airpower for granted.”
As a result, politicians generally sense no urgent need to procure new air systems and see many reasons to spend money elsewhere.
Without question, USAF’s case for its program at least matches and perhaps exceeds that of the other services.
For one thing, the war has taken a toll on Air Force hardware. It has flown 239,000 sorties over Iraq and 144,000 over Afghanistan, not to mention 44,000 missions guarding US cities.
Every day, airmen fly more than 200 sorties across Southwest Asia. In addition, Predator and Global Hawk UAVs are in constant flight. C-130s carry out some 100 missions each day. Tankers depart on a wartime mission every two minutes, 365 days a year.
The fleet is old. Since 1973, the average age of USAF aircraft has risen from eight to 24 years. The average KC-135 tanker is 45 years old and was bought during the Eisenhower Administration. With B-52 bombers, the story is much the same.
Compounding the problem is Congress’ reluctance, for political reasons, to let the Air Force part with its ancient aircraft.
The Air Force wants to decommission more than 1,000 old, maintenance-intensive, aircraft—17 percent of the fleet—and use the savings to buy modern aircraft. However, it is prohibited by law from retiring 347 aircraft, 51 of which do not even fly, and lawmakers stand ready to protect others.
“We cannot afford to keep all of our legacy aircraft and still provide the combatant commanders with what they need to win this war,” warned Corley.
What will happen next is anybody’s guess. In the most recent budgetary demolition derby, which played out during 2004-05, Air Force leaders managed to protect the service’s aircraft plans and stay within OMB-prescribed spending limits only by means of a radical expedient: It agreed to cut 40,000 active duty, Guard, Reserve, and civilian personnel spaces over five years.
Air Force leaders are understandably loath to repeat such a painful step, leading to press speculation that USAF might instead choose to terminate a major program, if that is needed to meet budget targets. Frequently cited as candidates are several expensive space systems.
Corley points out that the existing Air Force program was determined during the recent Quadrennial Defense Review, where it was debated at length by service leaders, combatant commanders, and civilian officials.
“I think it’s important to stress that this is not an Air Force wish list,” the general notes.
Those are important words. Air Force officials should repeat them at every opportunity. They should hope that others listen. They should also prepare for a rough ride.
Didn't see this anywhere. Some valuable insight as to the budgetary pressures about to crash against the U.S. defense department... More "Peace Dividend" Nonsense looming.
The Islmo-Nazies must be laughing their stinking @$$s off.
I saw a USAF webcast that reported the F22s had a 140-0 score in the June exercises overall, but they single-handedly accounted for 108 of the kills. 32 kills were awarded to other aircraft in their missions.
Amazing either way -- 108 - 0 or 140 - 0.
They beat the best Red Flag pilots we have too. This was not a paint-the-curbstones exercise.
I want to see the rules of engagement for both of those exercises, because the Air Force is well-known for playing these wargames with a stacked deck that just happens to support their budgetary priorities.
The Air Force managed to "sink" a Navy carrier battlegroup in the 1970s. Of course, they wrote the ROEs so that they required the platform engaging air targets to have positive visual ID of the target before weapons release; surface targets were fair game. Congratulations: that 50+-mile SAM suddenly became useless because the ship couldn't VID the target before weapons release, nor could they VID an inbound antiship missile (that didn't really exist, anyway). The Air Force used that exercise to get Jimmy Carter to veto another CVN.
One side of the argument is that the cost per aircraft needs to be reduced. Ditto for ship construction. Lets figure out how to build them better, but cheaper.
There aren't too many contractors out there any more. With sole source contracts you pay what you have to.
The Air Force wants to decommission more than 1,000 old, maintenance-intensive, aircraft17 percent of the fleetand use the savings to buy modern aircraft. However, it is prohibited by law from retiring 347 aircraft, 51 of which do not even fly, and lawmakers stand ready to protect others.
51 Do not even fly? anyone have details on this?
Boggles the mind, gives a new definition to hanger queen if you ask me.
Sorry, but USAF's crying is falling on deaf ears here. They've always hade precedence with DOD budgets, and right now, Army and the Marines need the money and resources far more.
Building has never been the major expense. The expense is not building.
The F-22 program cost over 30 billion dollars before a single plane was delivered for service. With all the upfront expenses already paid, DOD then decides they are going to save money by cutting back - or better yet, cancelling - the actual production in favor of an imaginary projected successor will be "cheaper, better, and ready soon."
When all is said and done, the AF ends up with 25% of the original procurement at 95% of the original price.
The "cheaper, better, and ready soon" successor is typically none of those things - and its production is cut in the same fashion to "save even more money."
Off the ledgers and on the flightlines, the planes that defend America today are 25 years old and climbing.
It should be criminal.
Old C-130s that are grounded for safety concerns.
And what is the law that keeps them around ?
Your point is well-taken and quite logical......but shows a bit of inexperience with government (especially military) procurement procedures (and please do NOT take that as any sort of snide comment).
The mythical "$500 toilet seat" .......in concept.........isn't so "mystical". One only needs to look at the mil spec's for such purchases to understand the silliness that the taxpayers have paid for......for decades.
Agreed. We are about to reap the whirlwind of extravagantly short-sighted policy makers whose smug delusions of our eternal invincibility will soon cost us dear...as they repeatedly slash and burn production. When, if they ever recognize we need serious production...it may no longer be available....as this speech at the AFA describes:
As U.S. Manufacturing Moves Overseas, Military Loses Crisis Production Source
Space and Missile , 10/02/2006
U.S. military forces have lost much of their emergency production reserve for weapons platforms that might be required if a major conflict erupted, because a significant chunk of the commercial U.S. industrial base that might be converted to producing ships, tanks and aircraft has been moved overseas.
And U.S. defense contractors, while enjoying lush times in recent years, likely are headed for a sharp contraction that may leave the industry badly damaged. Already, there are plans for the eventual shutdown of numerous military aircraft production lines.
So says Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute, a think tank near the Pentagon focusing on defense and other issues. He spoke before the Air Force Association Air & Space Conference at a large hotel in Washington.
Thompson recalled how, in times of crisis such as World War II, armed forces could gain an abrupt exponential increase in defense platforms production capacity by transforming factories producing civilian goods into production lines for military hardware.
Alas, he said, that U.S. production capability is dwindling rapidly, "a continuous erosion of the U.S. [commercial] industrial base." Labor statistics show the United States is losing an average of 43,000 manufacturing jobs every month, as production is shifted overseas. That shift also means goods produced domestically now are made in foreign factories, creating a U.S. trade deficit of $800 billion yearly that will grow to $1 trillion annually by the end of this decade, he predicted. For comparison, $1 trillion amounts to the output of every man, woman and child in the largest economy on Earth for one month.
Industrial output of goods makes up a far smaller portion of total U.S. economic output now, compared to three decades ago, he said. (Meanwhile, service providers have increased.)
This shrinkage of the civilian manufacturing base has major implications for the military, Thompson indicated. To put it bluntly, the American manufacturing base that has been termed "the vast arsenal of democracy" is disappearing.
"You really have to wonder how the nation would mobilize for a prolonged conflict," Thompson said.
For example, a huge amount of goods and services bought by American businesses and consumers are made in Japan, Taiwan, China, South Korea and other nations in the area. What would happen, Thompson asked, if China were to cut off the United States from its commercial suppliers in the Western Pacific region?
If the Pentagon can buy sufficient hardware from defense contractors, it might not matter that much, he indicated. But the way to guarantee a vibrant U.S. defense industrial base is to increase spending on weapons procurement, and "I don't think that's going to happen" absent an insanely horrific terrorist or rogue nation attack on the United States or its interests, he said.
While some military leaders and analysts predict the global war on terrorism will continue for a very long time, Thompson said it really is unknown how long the conflict will last. Just as a threat burst seemingly from nowhere on Sept. 11, 2001, he noted, so too "threats ... recede unpredictably. We really don't know how long the threat [of terrorism] will last." Therefore, it remains unclear as to how long the U.S. government will retain the political will to fund defense programs, including procurement, adequately.
There are projections that defense spending will decline substantially in coming years, Thompson said. Since politically it is very difficult to cut some portions of the overall defense budget such as pay for service personnel or their health care costs, that could leave defense procurement to take the brunt of the losses, he said. Thus any cuts in the total defense budget are "likely to take a considerable toll on the [defense] industrial base in the next decade," he said.
Gloomy as the outlook for the defense industrial base may be currently, it could have been worse, if it weren't for Osama bin Laden, Thompson said. The 9/11 attacks and the ensuing global war on terror caused defense spending to swell in this decade, he said.
A Different View
A more upbeat view of the aerospace industry came from John W. Douglass, president and chief executive officer of the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), a group including the leading defense contractors.
The aerospace industry that has done well on Pentagon contract awards and some overseas military hardware buys, plus commercial aircraft sales, will "see growth likely to continue," Douglass predicted.
While Thompson warned that defense spending may contract in coming years, Douglass doesn't see a drastic decline in the offing. "I don't see drastic cuts coming in the military [aerospace procurement] in the next four or five years," he said.
Douglass also said he expects further progress by NASA in pursuing its move toward eventual missions to the moon, Mars and beyond, a vision set forth by President Bush.
NASA will have to spend more in pursuing that vision than it currently spends on its space programs, Douglass said.
Overall, he said the aerospace industry has reached its highest sales level, and profits are good compared with past profits in this industry.
At the same time, Douglass added, one must put that in perspective: The typical 3 percent to 8 percent profit margins in the aerospace industry pale in comparison to profit percentages in other industries.
He also took sharp issue with reports asserting that costs are soaring on aerospace industry contracts, saying that in innumerable procurement programs, "we are far from out of control" on costs.
Granted, the other services are short... but blame who ever is arbitrarily and artificially constraining total defense spending (ignoring the needs created by the destructive "defense holiday" that preceded this Administration)...even as it shrinks and shrinks as part of our GNP.
Thanks for the ping!
According to those promoting outsourcing these are only buggy whip jobs anyway and all are obsolete so let the third world have them. Twenty years ago the government would never have thought of allowing critical manufacturing parts necessary for military preparedness to be made outside the USA other than by trusted allies such as in NATO.
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