Saturday, November 19, 2011

A look at USAFs tac-air road map

Assuming we can keep F-22 pilots breathing, the program Block definition looks "OK" if in my opinion slow and delayed due to money being misdirected to other projects.

From this article, a snap-shot of the USAF fighter road map. Also a shame they could not even afford the hybrid center-line drop-tank IRST for USAF F-15Cs that the U.S. Navy is getting for their Hornets. All that money spent on the USAF; and when they can't even push out putting an originally planned item and then plan-B a SNIPER pod, well, that is penny pinching.

Also being considered are long-term upgrades for the newest fighter, the F-22. Near-term upgrades to be fielded in the next five years are already under way, but the service soon expects to define the content of the next package—Increment 3.2C. Potential elements include multi-spectral capabilities to expand the offensive and defensive frequency potential of the fighter, required upgrades such as Mode 5 integration friend or foe, or automatic ground collision and terrain avoidance. Officials are examining how best to share F-22 data, collected by an unprecedented onboard sensor suite, with legacy fighters. Eventually a data-sharing network with F-35s is planned, but delays in the latter’s development have made passing F-22 data to fourth-generation fighters a higher priority.

The first major F-22 enhancement—Increment 3.1—is now entering service, with an initial pair of upgraded stealth fighters recently delivered to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. Fleet retrofits will continue through 2016 and include the hardware and software modifications needed to drop eight Small-Diameter Bombs, take synthetic aperture radar (SAR) pictures and provide precision location and electronic attack capabilities.

Full operational test and evaluation is still being completed, but Maj. Richard Foster, Air Combat Command requirements officer, says the results are positive. SAR accuracy is 55% better than specified and geolocation accuracy is 15% better. Also, electronic attacks have proven 100% successful in testing.

The F-22 also will get a rudimentary AIM-120D firing capability next year (through the so-called Update 4), although full integration is not planned until Increment 3.2B in 2017. An initial capability to fire the Raytheon AIM-9X dogfight missile also has been accelerated to 2015 (under Update 5), with full integration also to come with Increment 3.2B.

Next on the upgrade path is Increment 3.2A, a software enhancement that includes expanded Link 16 data-link functionality, combat identification and electronic protection. It should emerge around 2014.

Besides the full integration of the latest air-to-air missiles, Increment 3.2B also expands geolocation by 88% beyond what is now being introduced.

In addition, around 2016 USAF expects to have moved to two F-22 configurations, the Block 20 aircraft to be used for training and development and Block 30/35s for the operational fleet. Foster says 36 aircraft will be in the Block 20 standard with 149 to settle on the Block 30/35 configuration.

So probably at anyone time once the F-22 fleet gets stable, 149 F-22s. Given all of the mismanagement in the area of air power "leadership" since the end of the Cold War, I guess we are "lucky".

1 comment:

geogen said...

Valid discussion points, Eric.

Wouldn't it be great if USAF could only continue under high single-digit pct budget increases indefinitely - sufficient to afford F-35 procurement as was expected as well as required refurbs and upgrades to the existing structure.

But I'm a little more pessimistic. Reality tends to bite hard and show no mercy even to the beautiful dreams.

With regards to USAF not even being able to afford a centerline Sniper pod integration for it's proposed 'Golden Eagles', I'm a little more skeptical on what the future procurement and upgrade pathway will look like.

It will likely come down to a battle between the bank accounts: the upgrade account vs the new build procurement acct.

Something will have to break, as the shrinking pie will only allow so much give and take in increasingly reduced portion sizes to both.

I'm more concerned actually with Congress having to make cold hard decisions eventually, on whether to upgrade block III F-35 to Block IV standard (the minimum standard of capability, imho), or to keep block III as is and procure nominal rates of new block IV units @ $190m per pop.