David Fulghum of Aviation Week writes that the USAF is having big trouble funding its "iron triangle". That would be, the three ageing large-body intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft: AWACS, JSTARS and RIVET JOINT.
Remember, JSTARS (
One of the gambles not mentioned in the article is that USAF put great hope in having the F-35 as a survivable and networked ISR platform.
AWACS has been (at least in some public statements) minimised because some say the F-22 has become its own AWACS. The aircraft--because of its AN/ALR-94 passive emissions sensor--has even been labelled a "mini-RIVET JOINT" by some.
The F-22 and F-35 would do ISR, survive, and the the network would pick up the slack. In a funding zero-sum game, the iron triangle was pushed off into later years for any kind of decision. Remember: E-10 (a 767-body JSTARS replacement) was cancelled. "No" was the answer from dream-works. There would be 380-some F-22s to do 10 AEFs after that oh-so-terrible cut from the 750 plan, lots of F-35s (by now...where are they?) and we just wouldn't need as many of those old aircraft.
Even an ex-secretary of the USAF (some already know my contempt for empty-suit-SecUSAFs) stated the iron triangle needs to be eliminated to pay for the 5th-gen dream.
Somehow I don't picture us driving F-22s up and down the N. Korean boarder in peacetime to update various electronic orders of battle. A job the RIVET JOINT does very well.
I don't picture us doing no-fly-zones with F-22s-only.
I don't picture us supporting ground forces with F-35s versus JSTARS, which also bring their own command and control assets.
A broad team effort and persistent-over-lap (including UAVs) is the safe way to go.
Today, with the 5th-generation fighter disaster and no real air power leaders of worth, the USAF has put everything into keeping the F-22 and F-35 going on the funding treadmill. It really does look like a high-stakes Monopoly game where USAF has put a bunch of its property into hock for short-term gain hoping it will contribute to a long-term win.
But now, USAF has had a real bad run by drawing the "Go-Directly-To-Jail, do not pass 'Go'" card too many times. That and landing on Park Place and Boardwalk and now things look really bleak.
Can we agree this kind of thinking has failed?
Every single day it gets more difficult for me to have any sympathy for USAF management incompetence.
And I love the USAF.