“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.
Disband the Air Force!
Why the A.F. sucks
Army to A.F.: hands off
Release the gunships, part one
A.F. eyes small gunship
A.F. lacks COIN planes
A.F. “going out of business”