Air Force: Still Going Out of Business

31.10.07

Categorie: Air, COIN, Reality Check |

“The fiscal 2009 budget will not include any funds for the U.S. Air Force to buy F-22 Raptors or C-17 cargo lifters, according to a source with knowledge of internal Pentagon budget discussions,” Defense News reports:

Top service officials have long said the Air Force needs more than the 183 fifth-generation fighters that made up the “program of record” for the Lockheed Martin-built F-22. Generals have long pushed for a 381 target, using Pentagon-commissioned studies that say the service needs at least 260 as backup. But the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) appears to be standing firm at 183.

At a time when Air Force officials say they are about $100 billion short for their procurement needs over the next five years, hard choices are to be expected. At the annual Air Force Association conference in Washington in September, both the F-22 and more C-17s were on the wish list of Lt. Gen. Raymond Johns, director of the service’s Strategic Plans and Programs directorate. But so was the ability to build tankers faster than current finances will allow, he said, and it could become a matter of a trade-off. Not the case here, [analyst Loren] Thompson said. No more Raptors does not mean more of something else in 2009. “This is not some sort of trade-off,” Thompson said. “They’re just not getting them.”

This should come as no surprise. Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne himself said the service was “going out of business” owing to declining budgets and the rising cost of aircraft. But as I have pointed out many times, the air service’s troubles are mostly of its own making. It continues to advance ideas and equipment for Cold War-style conflicts, when everyone with half a brain senses the winds blowing in a different direction. War is dead, British general Rupert Smith argued in his recent tome The Utility of Force. But operations — long, dirty slogs against politically-charged, low-tech insurgencies — are here to stay. As long as the Air Force stakes its future on the $300-billion F-35 light fighter, it is doomed to a slow decline as government budgeteers recognize the poor investment the service represents. If the Air Force is to survive, it needs to do some serious soul-searching. In other words, cancel that F-35 turkey and re-invest the savings in airplanes it truly needs and can afford.

There is precedent for such a reversal. In 2004 the Army realized that the $40-billion RAH-66 Comanche attack chopper program was sucking the life out of its aviation force. Canceling the Comanche freed up the funds for thousands of new and modernized choppers. As a result, today Army aviation is healthier than it’s been in decades, and doing good work in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Navy, similarly, decided in the 1990s that preserving its air force meant eschewing expensive new fighter designs. That attitude gave rise to the relatively inexpensive Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. While the Navy pays lip service to buying carrier-optimized F-35s, it doesn’t actually need to: the Super Hornet fitted with the new APG-79 electronically-scanned radar has proved to be well-suited for modern operations, especially in its two-seat version, which gets a second pair of eyes over today’s “empty battlefields.” 

With reprogrammed F-35 funds, the Air Force could buy the latest F-15 and F-16 models (in two-seat models with electronically scanned radars) to sustain a smaller fighter force, while investing in the largers fleets of airlifters, tankers, choppers and drones — plus dedicated counter-insurgency aircraft — that it needs to remain relevant.

Killing off the F-35 wouldn’t be easy. Lockheed Martin would lose billions in profits, and the Marines would be forced to abandon their jump-jet force in favor of more helicopters and land-based fighters. The Royal Navy, too, would have to find an alternative to the vertical-takeoff F-35B, most likely adapting their new carrier design to a conventional-takeoff fighter, a la the French Navy. Small price to pay to save our Air Force from gradual extinction.

The only other alternative, as I said before, is to cut our losses now and disband the Air Force entirely, handing over its missions and money to the Army and Navy.        

Related:
Disband the Air Force!
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”

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

  1. Foreign.Boy says:

    David,
    I like your opinions on the USAF. While it’s interesting to see what will happen in the future, I think air superiority is a huge trump card the US holds in spades. However, the continued wars (and more future wars a reality) air power seems to be an expensive contingency only doing.. at best.. stirring the bee hive.

    I think it is interesting you mention the older helicopter designs? How much longer can the Cobra stay flying?!

  2. David Axe says:

    Do you mean the Army’s Cobras or the Marines’? The Army retired its Cobras years ago. The Marines are trying to rebuild theirs.

  3. Foreign.Boy says:

    Thanks david,
    It seems the marines are the only ones who think their purchases out.

  4. Grandjester says:

    If the Israelis can take out that Syrian whatever the hell it was WITHOUT F-35, F-22, B-2 or other billion dollar stealthy boondoggle, we certainly should be able to at least do the same.

  5. ArtMan says:

    Intresting. I think F-35 is needed. Just dont buy more F-22:s, use more cheaper drones and i think USAF gonna be OK. F-35 is just to important to kill. It came in many versions and can replace many older planes and ofcorse it has VTOL. In the long terms F-35 looks like a winner. Small, one-engine planes that are not so fuelhungry and dont cost a fortune like F-22. F-22 is nice but it supose to be a high-tech elite superfighter at the top of other planes and not a MBP (main battle plain) :). The workhore position is reserved for the F-35 ;)

  6. ELP says:

    The F-35 is going to die a horrible death. Real messy like. And lots of cash sunk into it. Davids read on the F-35 is in my opinon: Correct. David is right on getting new build F-15s and F-16s with AESA. Good enough. The specialized F-22 is needed to a point. Saying conventional war is never going to happen is a reach. But some good comments on this post. However getting rid of the USAF entirely is a loser play. You want to see a bunch of complicated fixed wing aircraft and space programs get destroyed in place through lack of proper program management and sustainment? Turn them over to the Army. Their organization doesn’t treat Army Aviation that well, they only tollerate it. The traditional branches in the Army are still king. Navy has a ship building mafia to feed every year. And that mafia expects their annual fief. I suppose we should get rid of the Navy for getting cold warisms like Virginias and Ford class carriers? No we should not. Bad idea throwing a bunch of exUSAF aerospace duties on Army or Navy. The USAF has a lot of skilled people that do a lot of specialized things that are good for defense. USAF just needs a change in direction. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water….etc etc…

  7. Dave Narby says:

    David, you have the best analysis I know of in these matters. The AF is truly stuck in the 20th century.

    We already have air dominance! How much more “dominant” can we be? Sheesh!

    I think though that the earlier posters comment on drones is quite prescient. As systems improve, it’s going to become rapidly apparent that a swarm of (relatively) inexpensive SAKADs (Semi-Autonomous Killer Air-Drones), providing ground support to SAKGRODs (Ground Drones) is the wave of the future. Plus, I like the opportunity it gives me to coin ominous-sounding acronyms.

  8. [...] The Navy has … moved to the forefront of tactical aircraft development. While the Air Force pursues an ill-advised strategy of massive investment in stealthy manned airframes whose long-term effectiveness is debatable, in the 1990s the Navy decided to stick to basic, rugged airframes while emphasizing advanced sensors and, where possible, two-man crews for improved flexibility. The result was the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, which boasts one of the world’s most advanced electronically scanned radars, a second crewman in the F model and an electronic-warfare optimized G model – all at a unit cost of just $60 million. The Air Force’s gold-plated F-22 Raptor, by contrast, costs more than $300 million and doesn’t even include a two-way data-link like found on all Super Hornets. The result? The Navy can afford more than 500 Super Hornets, while the Air Force is approved for just 180 Raptors. [...]

  9. [...] It’s all part of the Air Force’s increasingly desperate sales pitch for new fighters, bombers, tankers and cargo planes. In the case of the F-22, the air service didn’t hesitate to use the recent (mostly temporary) grounding of old F-15s to advance its cause, arguing that the grounding was proof that the government was buying enough F-22s, or fast enough. 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> [...]

  10. [...] That means extra F-22s will probably have to duke it out with F-35s, new tankers, rescue choppers and pricey satellites for dwindling Air Force dollars. Looks like 187 might be the new cap. 1 Comment so far Leave a comment [...]

  11. [...] Lately I’ve spilled a lot of electrons bashing the U.S. Air Force for being strategically blind, bureaucratically inept and addicted to tech for tech’s sake. But could I put together an air service any better? [...]

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