To pay for rising costs for F-22s, F-35s, KC-45 tankers and other new planes, the Air Force will cut around 300 fighters from its 2,000-strong force. But that won’t do anything to fix the programs themselves: costs will continue to rise and numbers of new planes will continue to shrink amid an overall force structure on a steady decline to irrelevance.
What’s going on here? Bad strategy. Overly-complex designs. Inadequate cost controls. Sloppy, corrupt management. It’s the same old sad tale. In a new book, America’s Defense Meltdown, Robert Dilger and F-16 designer Pierre Sprey propose a radical new procurement strategy to not only stop the force decline, but reverse it, buying some 9,000 new planes in just 20 years within existing budgets. Buy the book, when it’s out. In the meantime, here’s a teaser.
The authors propose to rebuild the Air Force focused on just two combat missions, close air support and air superiority, thus abandoning strategic bombing, which many believe is a flawed concept. This new Air Force needs two new combat planes in large numbers, Dilger and Sprey contend:
The Close Support Fighter: This is a significantly smaller, more maneuverable and even more survivable improvement on the A-10. It is based on two, off-the-shelf, 9,000-pound class commercial/military turbofan engines. The aircraft would mount a much more compact, lighter and quicker-accelerating cannon system that fires the same highly lethal, combat-proven 30 mm round at the same muzzle velocity as the A-10. The weight savings of just using the smaller gun should be around 7,500 pounds. With a much smaller aircraft size also permitted by the more compact gun, and with other weight savings, the Close Support Fighter is projected to have an empty weight of less than 14,000 pounds compared to the A-10′s 25,000 pounds. With 10,000 pounds internal fuel this aircraft will have range and loiter well beyond the A-10. Combat takeoff weight will be less than 25,000 pounds. At the mid-point of its combat mission, it would have a near 1:1 thrust to weight ratio. The sustained G, acceleration, quick re-attack time, and rate-of-climb will be world class for a close-support aircraft. Survivability will be even better than the A-10, due to higher maneuverability, smaller size and new improvements in control-system hardness and fire suppression. The unit cost of $15 million is based on the actual production price of the A-10, inflated to today’s dollars plus 30 percent. In other words, we are using as a model the price of an airplane that is 50 percent larger than the Close Support Fighter and have added another 30 percent to the cost just for conservatism.
Air-to-Air Fighter: This fighter is 30 percent smaller than the F-16 with vastly better acceleration and turning performance. It will be, by a large margin, the hottest performing and most maneuverable fighter in the world — both subsonically and supersonically. Size is 18,500 pounds gross weight with a current in-production engine of 32,500 pounds thrust, or more. It will be able to accelerate to supersonic speeds going straight up without using afterburner. Electronics will be cutting edge, all-passive with 360-degree infrared and radar warning gear. Weapons will be the most advanced and effective (as demonstrated by realistic, live-fire testing) current IR air-to-air missile, a passive radar-homing air-to-air missile for attacking any stealth/non-stealth fighter radar in the world; and a new, more lethal, higher velocity 20-mm cannon based on an in-production round. The small size and the 100-percent passive electronics and weapons approach will maximize surprise relative to the always-larger stealth fighters or any radar-using fighter in the world. (Surprise is the number one factor in achieving aerial victories.) Unit cost is estimated at $40 million, about 20 percent below the cost of the currently overloaded, radar and avionics-laden F-16 now in very low-rate production. We assess the cost estimate as conservative because this new fighter is 30 percent smaller than the current model of the F-16, the avionics suite is three times smaller and half the complexity of the radar-/radar missile-based F-16, and the annual production rate would be a multiple of the current F-16 rate.
(Photo: BW Jones)