Skip to comments.The Turning Point
Posted on 08/05/2009 6:12:23 PM PDT by Excuse_My_Bellicosity
A year ago, USAF had a fully funded modernization program. That program has unraveled.
The Air Force is in the throes of what could prove to be one of the greatest upheavals in its turbulent 62-year history.
The words danger and difficulty have become only too appropriate in describing the situation of USAFs critical combat formations. Today is a time when aged fighters fall out of the sky and no replacement bomber is in sight. The nation bets its basic security on a force that is olderby farthan at any time since World War II.
Some see the current turmoil as comparable to earlier struggles over strategic bombers, ICBMs, and space. Those dustups created years of uncertainty.
The unofficial term combat air forces refers to fighter, attack, bomber, and some intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance (ISR) assets. Within that grouping, the fighter and attack force comprises the bulk of manned and unmanned striking power.
The CAF is US airpowers center of gravity, and it has already undergone irrevocable change and damage. USAF fighter and attack aircraft are aging faster than they can be replaced.
A year ago, the Air Force possessed a fully funded modernization program covering fighters, bombers, unmanned aerial systems, data links, and more. That program has unraveled. In its place comes a new Pentagon directive: Hold off on modernization and freely accept moderate to high risk in force plans.
Were not going to build the Air Force we thought we were going to build, said Michael B. Donley, the service Secretary.
The crisis has been brought to a head by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates decision to halt all production of the F-22 air superiority fighter and cut the maximum production rate of the F-35 multirole fighter. As a result, the service is trying to figure out how to do what it has never done: Accept into its aircraft mix a large number of less capable legacy forces.
The Air Force now being crafted will not be the advanced, sophisticated force conceived after Desert Storm in 1991. Plans laid in the mid-1990s called for the Air Force to push out all of its 1970s-era F-15s, F-16s, F-117s, and A-10s and replace them with new fifth generation F-22s and F-35s.
That plan would have, in due course, replaced all F-15Cs, F-16s, and A-10s with 381 F-22s and 1,763 F-35s.
The new plan calls for something lessfar less. The new combat structure has been described as a fifth generation-enabled force, using small buys of advanced fighters to bootstrap more capability out of modernized legacy fighters.
In this regard, the Pentagon under Gates has made some big moves. The biggest were those to stop F-22 production at 187 aircraftabout half of the Air Forces full replacement requirement of 381and to limit maximum production of the F-35.
Gates actions were nothing if not controversial. Retired USAF Lt. Gen. Thomas G. McInerney spoke for many with his claim, This is the most dangerous defense budget since the post-World War II period. Others dispute this, but there is no disputing the severity of the change.
Gates has made plain that his oft-declared effort to rebalance American military forces is no mere budget drill. Indeed, the Fiscal 2010 budget plan that he unveiled on April 6 was, in his words, a budget crafted to reshape the priorities of Americas defense establishment.
A Surfeit of Power
Those plans have been shaken to their foundations. US defense policy has been decoupled from a decades-long commitment to ensure no other power dominates any key region of the world. Two reasons have been adduced by defense officials.
One is a perceived need to focus more intently on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and, in so doing, bring programming for irregular warfare into the service mainstream. The second is Gates view that the US military already possesses a surfeit of a certain kind of powerconventional power.
Indeed, Gates comments and decisions show hes making a deliberate shift away from what are now pejoratively called forces for major theater wars. Areas of US military dominance are now referred to as excessive overmatch.
In their joint USAF posture statement, Donley and Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, the Chief of Staff, state: The Department of Defense provided guidance for the military to eliminate excessive overmatch in our tactical fighter force and consider alternatives in our capabilities.
Oddly, the Gates shift does not stem from a full-blown strategy review by the Obama Administration; no national security review has yet taken place on the new Presidents watch. Instead, Gates has used as his rationale the 2008 National Defense Strategy, shaped largely by himself and vigorously opposed by all the service Chiefs because of its acceptance of risk in the field of major conventional war.
At the center of this new risk strategy is the Air Forces combined fighter, bomber, and attack fleetthe CAF.
For one thing, budget decisions contained in the 2010 plan guarantee that airmen will be compelled to continue flying aged F-15s and F-16stwo airplanes designed in the 1970s and bought, for the most part, in the 1970s and 1980sfor another three decades. The bomber force is, in many ways, worse off.
Old aircraft is only one side of the equation. The other side features a major modernization slump, based on Gates fighter and bomber decisions.
Taken together, these moves will inevitably drive the Air Force to higher risk levels. There are many reasons for this, but one big one is this: In the past decade, there grew within the Pentagon an overall sense that the CAF was too big.
The problem may have started in early 1991. In January and February of that year, the dominant airpower of a US-led military coalition decimated Iraqi air and ground forces in the six-week Desert Storm campaign. This led, postwar, to substantial cuts in fighter forcesfrom 38 to 20 active and reserve wings.
At first, this seemed reasonable. Substantial aircraft procurement in the Reagan 1980s meant the remaining USAF fighter force structure in the 1990s was, for the most part, young and strong. Moreover, equippage with precision weapons post-Desert Storm further increased the power of the fleet, allowing USAF to retire older aircraft. In all, the fighter inventory declined by some 1,000 aircraft.
Whats more, the experiences of Desert Storm led the Air Force to stop buying F-15s and F-16s in favor of developing lethal stealth and precision fighter-bombers for the future, the F-22 and F-35. Research and development money went to F-22 and F-35 programs. Meanwhile, USAF took the opportunity to invest in C-17s and complete the small B-2 bomber buy.
For all that, some in the Pentagon continued to harbor a belief that USAF had more combat airpower than it needed. Cuts came in the 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review, and challenges to USAF force modernization cropped up repeatedly in the late 1990s.
It was not until 2002the second year of the George W. Bush presidencythat the real challenges began to take shape.
In 2002, the F-22the leading platform in the Air Force modernization planwas subjected to a very tough, high-profile review by the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The USAF requirement for 381 F-22s survived the blitz, but barely.
Things rocked along for another two years. However, the enormous cost of the Iraq War finally became a factor working against the F-22. In December 2004, the Pentagon issued an internal directive known as Program Budget Decision 753, signed by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz.
The directive lopped billions in funding from long-term fighter procurement. It swept away all money for F-22 production after 2011. The end result of this budget drill was a truncated program of record of only 179 F-22s. (Efficiencies later allowed the Air Force to purchase another four, for a total of 183 fighters.)
The directive also created a fighter gap. The nations war plans stuck the Air Force with a requirement for 2,400 fighters. Funding, though, would provide only 1,600. The gap came to a whopping 800 combat fighters.
The Air Force worried about that gap. However, USAFs leaders believed they could live with a smaller fleet, given the capabilities of the F-22 and F-35. A severe funding crunch upended that plan. The Air Force could not buy new fighters fast enough to replace ones that reached their service life limits.
Senior Air Force leaders continued to budget for F-22 and F-35 production at better rates. At least with respect to the F-22, those efforts were met with constant opposition from OSD officials. The key figure in the anti-Raptor cabal was Gordon England, the deputy secretary of defense who had been appointed by Donald H. Rumsfeld but retained by Gates.
England was an interesting case. He had worked for two fighter housesGeneral Dynamics and, briefly, Lockheed Martin. When, in 2005, he was made deputy secretary of defense, England made no secret of his dislike for the F-22 and Lockheeds Marietta, Ga.-based fighter mafia. He expressed a strong preference for the F-35, and became a great proponent of the notion that USAF was in possession of excessive overmatch in combat air forces.
Gates made that capability a major target for cuts when he began to settle on details of a new national defense strategy in the first half of 2008. The Pentagon chief focused military energies on irregular warfare. He laid the groundwork for dismantling much of the planning guidance for major theater wars. The strategy also provided the justification for getting rid of many theater war capabilities across the armed services.
One clear goal of the strategy: The downgrading of the relative importance of US conventional military forces namely, those flexible, service-specific core competencies focused on dealing with major theater adversaries in various regions.
The need to prepare to fight and win major theater wars always had provided a framework for US defense plans. Moreover, defense strategy in the 1990s had moved away from planning for specific scenarios. Into its place moved so-called capabilities-based planning. As set out by William J. Perry, Secretary of Defense in the period 1994-97, the essence of the strategy was to prepare forces to combat capabilities presented by regional aggressors, and adapt strategies and operational plans to contingencies as they arose.
Capabilities-based planning put heavy emphasis on evaluating adversary military equipment and potential force developments, ranging from diesel submarines to surface-to-air missiles.
Gates, however, came into office with a view that effectively put an end to capabilities-based planning. When his new strategy was released in July 2008, he declared, I firmly believe that in the years ahead, our military is much more likely to engage in asymmetric conflict than conventional conflict against a rising state power.
Gates made irregular warfare his own personal cause. He claimed that big conventional programs had strong constituencies, but IW did not. He planned to give it one.
Publicly there was little discussion of the Gates strategy. The Presidential election was in full swing and most saw the Gates document as a strategy destined to be overtaken by events, in the words of Michele Flournoy, then president of the Center for a New American Security (and now Gates undersecretary of defense for policy).
Nor did Gates try to play his hand to a conclusion. Decisions on the F-22, a new aerial tanker, and other programs were deferred to the next Administration.
Part of the reason may have been that the Joint Chiefs collectively non-concurred with the strategy. After discussions between the Chiefs and Gates, Gates in summer 2008 elected to go ahead with the document over their objections. By then, Gates had already forced out Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne and Gen. T. Michael Moseley, the Chief of Staff. In effect, the Air Force and other services lost their battle to try to get Gates to pay attention to future threats from their perspective. He saw their view as merely so much next-war-itis.
Things were to change, though. Gates saw his hand strengthened considerably after President-elect Barack Obama asked him to stay on in the defense post.
Soon, his strategy preferences began to emerge in programmatic form. Gates made a strange post-election move. The Bush White House, at the behest of the Joint Chiefs, had approved a large budget increase for Fiscal 2010, but Gates turned back $50 billion of it. With Bush gone and Obama in, Gates stepped up to the task of redirecting spending for the 2010 budget year into a series of bold changes. Few had foreseen how dramatic the changes would be.
Full details have yet to emerge. However, the overall direction is clear. Funding taken out over several years will make it impossible for the Air Force to buy a truly modernized force.
Buried in the details of the 2010 budget was a major negative decision: DOD would not, as asked, ramp up USAFs F-35 purchases to 110 per year. Gates approved funding for a maximum rate of only 80 F-35s per year for USAF.
The decision to fund F-35 production at that rate locks in major shifts for the Air Force. First, it guarantees the long-term USAF fighter inventory will be smaller than planned by at least several hundred aircraft.
Will that number be enough to support overseas and homeland security requirements? The answer depends on details of the force planning construct. The F-35 budget was set prior to any decision on new defense planning scenarios and will be affected by decisions in the Pentagons massive 2009 defense review.
The Net Result
Theater war planning itself is out of favor. Not only that, but, for many, the goal of preparing forces to fight in two regions more or less at the same time seems much less compelling than it once was. The ability to take on two adversaries almost simultaneously has been a core tenet of US national security policy since the Truman years. However, with Gates opting for more risk in conventional conflicts, the two-war notion looked like an outmoded construct.
The net result of all these and other factors is a trend toward forces for just one theater war. Schwartz testified within recent weeks that there was no question that 187 F-22s would be adequate for one major combat operation. However, sizing combat forces for one operation at a time could seriously limit future policy options.
A final element of change in the rebalancing strategy is a rebuff of technologya move particularly hard on the USAF combat air forces. Gates made it clear he is not a fan of exotic and highly capable weapons.
I concluded we needed to shift away from the 99 percent exquisite service-centric platforms that are so costly and so complex that they take forever to build and only then in very limited quantities, Gates told an audience at Air University in Montgomery, Ala., on April 15, 2009. With the pace of technological and geopolitical change, and the range of possible contingencies, we must look more to the 80 percent multiservice solution that can be produced on time, on budget, and in significant numbers.
Unfortunately, the combination of Gates F-22, F-35, and bomber decisions ensures that USAF will not make a full transition to fifth generation aircraft. Instead, USAF will most likely keep significant numbers of F-15Es, F-15Cs, and advanced block F-16s for some time to come. The fleet will hit a low point over the next five years as fighters age and F-22 production ends.
This transition phase will last a decade as USAFs planned F-35 inventory slowly builds. Its a fact of life in this joint, allied program that the Marine Corps and several allies will receive deliveries of F-35s before Air Force bulk buys begin.
The result is that, five years from now, USAFs combat air forces will actually look older than it does now.
Under the Gates plan (subject to the strong possibility of revision by Congress), the Air Force in 2014 will field a mere 186 F-22s and some 100 F-35s. This boutique fifth generation force will account for just 19 percent of the active duty inventory. The other 81 percent are to be old fighters.
By 2020, the situation should have improved. USAF, by that year, should take delivery of about 580 F-35s. That assumes OSD imposes no further program cuts or schedule delays.
The F-22s and F-35s, joined with remaining F-15Es and even a few F-16s, will form a fleet of around 1,300 active duty fighters. The CAF of 2020 will be an improvement, but it will never be able to give the nation full return on the taxpayer investments. Nor will it be the low-risk, superior force that was planned prior to 2009.
Now clear for all to see is the fundamental result of a decade of Pentagon decision-making: For the first time since the years before World War II, the Air Force has failed to re-equip itself.
Have I said how much I HATE the leadership in DC these days...what a bunch of lilly livered men and women who have not only FORGOTTEN what their Oath of Office says but have turned their back on our security.
God forgive me, and I will pray about it, but I hate what they are doing to our country. I do. It is so very, very wrong.
“but ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh my, there is MONEY for CLUNKERS!”
And... there’s money to pay for “power chairs” for lardasses.
Just wanted that line to sink in to the naysayers out there that said it wouldn't happen.
As a prior member of Air Combat Command, I can say that the Air Force fighter-pilot leadership is largely to blame for the AF’s plight. They allowed the entire AF infrastructure to go to waste while they continued to push for their F-22 program. Meanwhile their ground radar systems, maintenance teams, logistical support, cyber warfare capability, nuclear fleet, and space systems have all been allowed to rot all for the precious new plane. So now they have an F-22 that has not been deployable to the war zone. Gates has no confidence in the current Air Force leadership, otherwise you would not have seen a few top level Air Force firings, the return of TAC (as Global Strike), cyber command being removed from ACC as well as combat comm, and the navy being looked at as the choice service for ballistic missile defense and possibly for the future of our GPS-type systems.
The fighter pilots had the keys to the Air Force kingdom and they have blown it. I loved the military, but the truth is that the Air Force is just another beauracratic government agency that thinks little of the taxpayer money and run by powerful men disconnected from what does and does not work at a tactical level.
Hasn't the Air Force ever heard of cost benefit?
Why send a Ferrari to do a Pickup's job?
I HATE this administration, with all of my heart. God forgive, but I do.
Perhaps aerial warfare is moving toward unmanned aircraft and guided bombs. Perhaps the 70’s and 80’s vintage airframes are still close to state-of-the art for airframes and it is a smart move to just outfit them with new electronics and weapons. Our airframes might be old but the airframes+electronics are the best on the planet (I think).
What are fighter aircraft used for? Destroying targets on the ground and destroying other aircraft. How badly do we need fighters with more speed or more range or more ammo capacity? I don’t know.
Let’s suppose we could take ten billion dollars and develop a new plane and build ten of them, or take that same ten billion dollars and build 100 of an existing aircraft with the latest weaponry. Which is best?
Then there’s the matter of spare parts and trained personnel. That infrastructure is in place for the existing aircraft. Recall that a major cost saver and simplifier of life for Southwest Airlines is that they use only one aircraft.
And think about non-aircraft things that the money to develop a new fighter could be used for. Perhaps a laser aircraft and missile defense system. Perhaps something for our ground forces for use in guerrilla warfare.
He trained in Wyo at what is now an USAF base.
HE trained with a ‘rifle’ made from a broomstick and a piece of 2x4.
When he was shipping out to the combat zone (PTO) he asked about his weapon. He was told that he would get on in-theater, from a casualty - and they had a LOT of casualties.
He told me he swore an oath to the Lord that if he lived thru the war, he would fight (and pay) to ensure his sons would never have to go to war so damnably prepared. I did pretty good while in service. What Dad didn't understand was that he should have added his Grandchildren to his oath......
Don’t need weapons, just apology tours and group hugs.
The first question that must be asked is, “What are the goals?” Then the next question that needs to be asked is, “ What are the strategies required to reach those goals?” Then you determine the cost effectiveness of each strategy to see which strategy you choose. Then you develop the tactics to make those strategies succeed. What we appear to be doing nationally is insuring that an adversary will attempt to defeat us in a major conflict. The adversary isn't necessarily one country alone, but a group of countries. When they think they can beat us, they will try. We have a lot of riches here. May God have mercy on us, if things aren't changed.
The left will destroy our military.
Hey, stop making sense. The USAF has always hated the close air support mission, preferring instead to build super high tech super expensive toys.
Meanwhile, our infantry still carries a 50 year old rifle, wears forty-pound body armor, and carries twenty pound radios. The USAF can cry me a river-THEY aren’t paying in blood.
I was in the Navy during Vietnam and afterward, and I remember what happened to the military under Jimmy Carter. The military was hit hard by cuts in spending and personnel. Many excellent officers and enlisted were forced to leave. Obama needs the military for domestic purposes. He and congress know that without the threat of military force against the people of the United States, the people would revolt against him and congress. The Federal government could not function without the military; however, you don’t need the latest and best military equipment to enforce martial law. Civilians don’t usually own jets and tanks. If the government is successful in seizing personal weapons, such as firearms, the populus will be totally defenseless. I’m not saying that the majority of Americans are planning to overthrow the government, but my point is that without force of arms there is no way to enforce the rules and regulations pumped out by Congress. Liberals and Socialists fear their electorate more than they fear foreign enemies. Obama and Congress are going to try and reduce the deficit spending on the backs of the military, but they will always need an army.
What is the size and capability of the forces that are possible opponents?
There is nobody with numbers close to US numbers (or quality) anytime in the next 15 years.
but ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh my, there is MONEY for CLUNKERS!
Yea!thats about what the Administration is forcing the Air Force to fly.Clunkers.
Easy there buddy... Actually the USAF is paying in blood; I went to the memorial for the F-16 guy who died while strafing to save Army guys in Iraq a ways back. His wife and kids seemed to think he paid a high price, his wife looked like she was about to fall over while walking out of the memorial. Believe it or not we’re on the same team, although unfortunately the Infantry is paying the high price now. Trust me, I know that from first hand experience, and it is profoundly sad.
I wouldn’t even consider telling the Army Infantry guys how to run their programs. I would hope you would respect our 40 plus years of keeping US Forces free from air attack, while also doing a pretty good job of beating down forces before the ground guys get there. The Gulf War was a pretty good example of that. The point of the story above is we’re gutting our tactical air forces, we don’t have a plan in place to replace our equipment, and we may not be able to guarantee freedom from air attack in the future. I am not a big fan of the F-22, but I am less of fan of having not enough fighters to take on China or Iran if needed. Take a look at Jane’s Defence if you want to see how good they are getting and what type of equipment they are producing. It is good stuff and they have lots of it. And its all for sale too.
And by the way, the A-10A has been funded (for the most part) for the A-10C upgrade, and should be around for a looong time. Pray there are no SA-6/11s around if they do fly in future conflicts.
We have an amazing new F22 (have 180 but uhbama will not allow anymore to be built) and have the prototype of the F35 (a few are flying but it is a plane for ALL services - with variations [ie the ones that would land on aircraft carriers] that ubama had said NO to building the real deal.)
uhbama is a total immature jerk who could care less about our ability to help others and especially our ability to protect ourselves....my, goodness...if we were attacked somewhere in this nation, ol uhbama and Rahm would USE the horror or crisis to inflict MORE RESTRAINTS on our freedom.
About the A-10, take a look at how many bullets the F-35 carries versus the A-10’s. We will miss the A-10.
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