Air Force “Going Out of Business”

21.09.07

Categorie: Air |

Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne made an appearance at a D.C. think-tank on Wednesday to do some A.F.-style scaremongering. Noting that the the average age of the service’s airplanes is at 24 years and climbing (the highest ever), Wynne said that every attempt to free up cash for more new planes had failed, according to Air Force magazine:

It was Wynne’s idea, he said, to “voluntarily downsize and restructure the force, just like an industrialist would do, in order to gain the resources to recapitalize his asset base.” The reductions targeted 40,000 full-time equivalent uniformed slots.

However, “it isn’t working,” Wynne admitted.

“What does that mean to an industrialist?” he asked and answered: “It means you are going out of business. It is simply a matter of time.” All that has been accomplished, he said, is to slow down the pace at which Air Force aircraft race toward their retirement dates.

Thing is, this is all the Air Force’s own damned fault. While bombers, tankers, airlifters and choppers — all of which are actually useful — rust away, the Air Force sinks all its money into land-based light fighters that have been rendered mostly irrelevant by the demise of the Soviet Union and its MiG armadas. Instead of adapting to counter-insurgencies and Pacific detente, the Air Force is investing more than $200 billion in 1,800 F-35 Lightning IIs (formerly “Joint Strike Fighter”) to replace all F-16s plus other aircraft, apparently hoping to fight another Cold War. The Center for Defense Information objects:

It may be that for some, perhaps all, missions, the JSF is a significant performance step backwards, but one that comes at great cost. As a result, the JSF program may be more a threat to the U.S. military’s efforts to modernize its tactical aviation capabilities than a solution. Whatever value the JSF program might have is that of a technology demonstrator, for which production of more than a very small number of test samples is unnecessary.

So what’s a withering Air Force to do? There are options for transitioning to a smaller, but more relevant fighter force, which should be equipped with long-range aircraft:

* New F-15Es with electronically scanned radars
* More F-22s (but add two-way datalinks this time, for crying out loud!)
* Better yet, buy lotsa killer drones
* And of course, cancel the F-35

But even if the Air Force does “go out of business,” never fret, America. In our wisdom, we bought extra air forces. There’s the Coast Guard for sea patrol, search and rescue and even limited counter-terrorism operations. There’s the Customs and Border Patrol for many domestic jobs. The Marines do close air support like nobody’s business (although they’re guilty of JSF-addiction, too). And the Army’s got a lock on choppers for every conceivable task.

And don’t forget the Navy. With a fleet of more than 20 mobile airfields (aka “aircraft carriers”) boasting choppers, radar planes, the nation’s only fast tactical jammer jets plus the affordable, flexible F/A-18E/F Super Hornet with a brand-new super-smart electronically scanned radar, these days the Navy is a better air force than the Air Force. The only thing it doesn’t do that the A.F. does, is heavy airlift and heavy aerial tanking. So when the Air Force disbands out of despair, hopefully sometime next year, I would propose transfering those missions to the Navy … and giving the Air Force’s Predator drones to the Army, which would probably make better use of them anyway.

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11 Responses to “Air Force “Going Out of Business””

  1. Stephen Trimble says:

    I agree with much of what you say here, especially about the navy’s superior relevance to the air force. But I think you ought to re-consider your anti-JSF/pro-F-22 stance. I think the opposite is more logical.

  2. David Axe says:

    Thanks for the note, Stephen.

    Interesting point re: the F-35. Why do you think so? I favor the F-22 for its range, twin engines and high speed.

  3. Gildas says:

    Hello,

    The “swiss Army Knife of the air” aka F35 seems a very risky idea. The type of plane you need for absolute air superiority, fighter bomber, bombing, Marines opps, heavy ground pounding, Electronic Warfare, intelligence, counterinsurgency etc… Cannot be thrust down the throat of two types of aircraft, however capable the F22 and F35 may be…

    It seems that the F22 is needed…
    A longer loiter, without tanker, B52.
    A cutback F35 – dedicated to fighter bomber role.
    A even better but still rustic A10.
    A dedicated electronic warfare aircraft…
    A cheap, armoured, and dedicated counter insurgency Super Tucano… Loads of this one…
    And loadsa drones(with transponders maybee so other aircraft know where they are?) managed by the grunts.

    The Marines need to be able to pick and choose in the above aircrafts – but they get “marine” treatement. A “hardened” version where everything is made so the unit can operate for at least three months on just gas and amo – no maintenance appart from a buzz cut on the pilot.

    And let the Navy have its own aircrafts.

    And the crazy thing is, this might be cheaper! An oversight panel should be formed, but, this should only be of military personnel who have had people under their command in the field. No fat cat bureaucrats please… Just people who might be concerned if things are late and take cash out of other important projects.

    But hell, i just a industrial designer so what do I know about being efficient…

    G.

  4. Stephen Trimble says:

    A small number of F-22s make sense to me, like the B-2.

    But JSF gives you more options for a much broader range of missions. As the analyst Robbin Laird says, JSF is more of a first-generation airborne combat system than a fifth-generation fighter. You could easily argue if the JSF’s specs are ideally suited for that role, or whether the X-32 would have been the more appropriate selection, but if you think airpower of the future will have any relevance at all, you pretty much need a fighter with something like JSF’s unique combination of connectivity, sensors, survivability and weapons. Whatever its aerodynamic qualities, F-22′s software architecture will never make it that aircraft.

    That’s not to excuse Lockheed’s many programmatic sins already on the JSF program, but it simply has to be considered in any debate about the future of airpower.

  5. Pete says:

    This is also true in my contry Aust-ral-ai which is an early investor in the JSF.

    We are suspecting that the JSF (as you Gringos call it) SUCKS – and badly at that. For that reason Australia is hedging its bets trusting the USN acumen for picking winners (a la Phantom) and buying some Super Hornets.

    This will give our country breathing space to see if the JSF “Turkey” flies or dies. We can wait years until Congress allows us beggars to buy the vastly superir, tried and true F-22.

    Pete

  6. Dave says:

    Sounds like we need two types of platforms:
    1)Combat aircraft with capabilities and numbers based on a credible risk assessment, and

    2)Comodity vehicles for delivery of smart mutitions. It doesn’t make sense to me to use up flight hours on combat aircraft to drop smart bombs. As the recent news proved, a Huey and a GPS is capable of JDAM accuracy.

  7. Aaron says:

    I would support the f35 if it was appreciably cheaper to opperate then say, an F18E/F but it isnt. It doesnt do anything better then the existing USAF fighter do except first day of war-initial establish air supremacy which the f22 does better.

  8. [...] The tech-heavy, increasingly irrelevant Air Force is finally making a half-hearted effort to actually contribute to low-tech counter-insurgency fights. But it could do a lot more, according to Major Robert Seifert in a recent piece for Joint Forces Quarterly. First up, the service needs to reconceptualize the enemy, Seifert writes: Strategists yearn for a center of gravity to attack in order to crush the insurgency, and many claim there is none. They fail to see that the center of gravity is the individual insurgent and the location of his attack. For it is at that location alone, and only for a brief time, that the insurgent we struggle to define is an irrefutable enemy and a definable target. Strategists and tacticians both must look at each insurgent attack in the same light as our grandfathers looked at Germany’s war industry.  [...]

  9. Chris says:

    Unfortunately the Air Force (and the armed forces as a whole) does not have the luxury (or the flexibility for that matter) of being able to rapidly transform it’s self from one week to another in order to fight whatever particular type of conflict is the prevailing flavor of the week. Currently it is tasked with fighting bands of heavily armed islamo-fascist criminals around the world, but it will be faced with a far greater challenge when the inevitable conflict between the U.S. and China finally breaks out (I give it 20-25 years tops).

  10. [...] Related: Why the A.F. sucks Prototypes, please Army to A.F.: hands off   Release the gunships, part one Part two A.F. eyes small gunship F-35 over-budget A.F. lacks COIN planes A.F. “going out of business” No Comments so far Leave a comment RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI Leave a comment Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong> [...]

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