Monday, April 16, 2012

Future of the USAF--do less with less

America needs a new air force

For the investment in tax dollars, today's United States Air Force (USAF) is not effective.

That does not mean all of it is not effective. There are some incredibly good people and organisations in the service. However, today's senior USAF leadership is next to worthless.

Today's air force needs to transform to where it can:

1. Provide expeditionary, anti-access destruction, interdiction and close-air-support.
2. Provide strategic and tactical airlift and air-refueling support.
3. Defend home air-space.
4. Provide a healthy ICBM force
5. Provide air-breathing ISR.
6. Provide management of military space assets.
7. Take maximum advantage of the efficiency of the Air National Guard to perform a variety of missions.
8. Do this for under $100B per year.
9. Do less with less.

Notice that the list above does not show everything done by today's USAF.

The USAF does not need to:

1. Provide dedicated special operations support.
2. Provide ground security in war-zones better done by the U.S. Army.
3. Provide a long-range nuclear bomber mission.
4. Provided a gold-plated long-range bomber at $500M each.

As we already know, the USAF tac-air problem is a huge mess. Various generals since the end of the Cold War refused to refresh existing squadrons of new aircraft.

Also, they believed the "fifth-generation fighter" marketing nonsense which, after over $100B invested, has left us with around 120 combat coded F-22s and an F-35 program in the ditch.

Fighter aircraft need to be organized under a "blended" unit force structure. That is, that they include Guard, USAF Reserve and USAF Active duty in one unit.

What is the proper organic flying organisation? The Group. The Wing is gone except as an expeditionary organisation.

To illustrate, A Fighter Group will be lead by a full colonel. Generals in the new USAF will be very few. The Fighter Group will have two squadrons. One squadron will provide home air defense and training. The other will be used for expeditionary taskings.

For example: An F-16 Fighter squadron will have 12 aircraft. Maintenance, ops and other support will be merged into the unit. Closer to what a Navy squadron does and what the USAF does when such ideas are good for the PowerPoint warriors.

Since there are around 20 home air defense locations that are realistic needs and not just made up, this gives us 480 combat-coded aircraft to do home defense and expeditionary warfare.

In expeditionary warfare, the second squadron of the group will deploy and be composited in-theater into whatever Group or Wing Structure is needed.

The F-22 will go to desert locations to prolong its service life and only deploy for anti-access exercises or deterrence. It will not be part of the home air-defense mission. F-15Es will replace home air defense needs in places like Alaska.

The end-strength goals for tac-air will be to phase out all F-16s and replace them with F-15Es. These will be more expensive per flying hour, however when needed, will provide the combat punch options needed for the Pacific Rim when mated with the F-22.

A small number of A-10s will exist.

USAF, while having a dramatically smaller tac-air fleet, will invest in having a dedicated R&D group which will launch a variety of X-plane projects and just as important, help develop prototypes to a much higher production-ready level.

Airlift and tanker resources will be downsized to where one day, C-130H will be gone, C-17s at their current number along with the C-5M roadmap. A C-777-200LR will be bought in small numbers to equip one airlift group.

A new ICBM with a new warhead will be constructed. Some of this technology will indirectly help the U.S. Navy refresh their nuclear enterprise.

The nuclear long-range bomber mission will end. Also, there will be no new long-range bomber. We cannot afford it. Back in the late 1970's the first B-1 bomber was cancelled. The reason was that it was judged that cruise-missiles for long range nuclear strike would be more efficient. We have a similar problem now. No long-range bomber can penetrate a modern integrated air defense (which includes modern fighter aircraft) and expect to survive.

For now, any long-range bomber project has to be based on the idea that it will be survivable in COIN war, need some kind of escort in legacy air defense scenarios and be the shooter of long-range stand-off weapons in an anti-access scenario. More study has to be put in this direction.

Air-breathing Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) will in-part be refreshed by a wide variety of 737 airframes. Current AWACS, JSTARS and RIVET-JOINT-like missions will end up in this airframe type.

The USAF will joint with the Navy in the J-UCAS project. Whatever the U.S. Navy picks for its carrier mission is what the USAF will use for select deployed locations.

As part of the ICBM refresh, USAF will get some technology assist to the space-system enterprise with a new booster rocket for, if not all needs, many future needs for the coming years.

Dedicated special operations support will go away as part of a do less-with-less mantra. USAF will have its own rescue helicopter refresh someday, just that it won't be gold-plated and it won't be special.

The USAF will be under dramatic budget constraints in the coming years. Dramatic cuts will be the norm. The USAF will have to live within its means.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

An Air Force of one.

Recruiters need not apply.

Brought to you by the deciders.

Above all, CYA.

Distiller said...

U.S. tactical aviation needs to unify. Only way to keep combat effectiveness anywhere near current levels. I say for years now: Prepare for a total inventory of 1.000 combat coded manned fastmovers, get carrier capable aircraft to the Air Force.

I don't agree with what you say here. If there is a mission for an independant "U.S. Air Force" it's the old SAC mission.

And I also dream of a way flatter organisation. The traditional service branches only a pool, with the then unified Theatre UCC calling the "theatre/operational/tactical" shots under a Unified General Staff with direct command of the "strategic" elements. Strategic mobility doesn't belong into the Air Force, it belongs into a Strategic Mobility Command directly under the GenStaff. Same with nuclear deterrence (not only ICBM), same with orbital ISR and relay.
And the A-10 should go to an expanded Army Aviation.

LOL. The "Group" was what the Germans really used during the war. The wing was a theoretical thing somewhere in the back, but out there was the group. Only that it wasn't headed by a Colonel, but a Major.

But do we need a group between the squadron (as single-type shooter unit), and the (composite) wing as theatre/operations specific modular multi-type "task group"? Tend to think no.

Scoot7 said...

Not bad, Eric.
If the USAF is to be taken seriously on its pivot-towards-the-Pacific bluster, then it needs to address the vastnesses. Vast ranges required of strike aircraft. Vast ranges of advanced SAMs against everything non-LO. Vast numbers of sophisticated enemy fighters. Vast communication needs that are extremely vulnerable. Etc.
So far, I'm not taking them seriously.