Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Couple of USAF Thoughts

Posting a link dump from stuff that has accumulated over the past week or so that I haven't blogged about yet...

First up is a Reuters piece that quotes Gen. Keys, the commander of ACC, as stating that the F-22 is ready for combat. The Raptor has another large milestone when it takes off on it's first overseas deployment later this month to Kadena AB. (Apropos of nothing, a guy I know from high school is with the 1st of the 1st ADA Patriot unit that the article mentions.)

Couple of comments about the Reuters piece. First, it makes mention that in its first operational exercise in Alaska last May, the Raptor successfully dropped "laser guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions at sonic and supersonic speeds." A) the JDAM isn't laser guided; it uses GPS guidance. B) There is no such thing as "sonic" speed. There are three (for the Raptor's purposes) flight regimes: subsonic (below Mach 0.8 or so), transonic (between Mach 0.8-1.2), and supersonic (beyond Mach 1.2). It seems trivial, but I don't think it's too much to ask that a major media organization gets these simple facts correct.

Second, the end of the article makes reference to the continuing controversy over the number of F-22s the service wants to buy. It is a theme that is repeated in some of the other pieces I'm going to link to. The USAF says that it needs 381 Raptors, but can only afford 183, less than half of the required number. This seems to go back to what the good CDR and some of the other Navy guys have talked about regarding the necessity of leaders to make hard decisions. Either the service needs 381 Raptors, or it doesn't. If it doesn't, why keep throwing the 381 number out? God knows we need the money elsewhere. More importantly, if it does really need 381, then why is the service settling for less than half of the required number?

Keeping with the budgeting theme, the USAF proposed a $110 billion budget, but is planning on chasing after getting another $20 billion from Congress. That's $20 billion extra per year until 2028, or so. According to one anonymous senior official, the service is "30 degrees nose low and in a 90 degree bank." I'd say that's about right. We're letting every ninth airman go, slashing flight-training hours by 10%, and cutting the logistics center funding from 85% of capacity to 77%. Both the KC-X and CSAR-X programs are still mired in controversy and the number of KC-Xs and F-35s bought per year has been cut. The IOC date for the imaginary long-range bomber has been pushed back by 6 months; something tells me that's not the last time we'll be seeing that date be pushed back.

This. Is. How. You. Break. A. Force.

Before you start going off on how the nation has only been at war for 6 years or so, the Air Force has been engaged for over 16 years. To really hammer home the breaking theme, compared to the Cold War, today's Air Force is doing 10 times the work with half the people. At any given time, 53% of all Airmen are committed to a combat commander, more than than any other service. "In-lieu of" (ILO) taskings are sucking airmen into the big green machine for no real purpose other than to temporarily help plug holes in the Army's force structure.

It's not like our enemies are catching up or anything.

The solution is rather simple. It doesn't require a paradigm shift or a complete change in focus. We need to get back to our roots. Air and Space Power. Quit with these ridiculous ILO taskings; tell the Army to shove it and increase their own budget. Our Airmen have more important things to be doing (things they're actually TRAINED for.) The leadership needs to stand up and make some tough decisions. If the decision necessitates going to Congress and banging a shoe on the table to get the message across that the current funding levels are unacceptable, so be it. This current vacillation of "well, we'd really like 381, but I guess 183 will cut it...I guess" is unacceptable. Figure out how many of what we need when, and then go to Congress and get it.

If none of the above convinced you how big of a hit the USAF has taken since the end of the Cold War, perhaps this will. Money 'graph:

"Air Force pilots have a favorite story they tell that captures the meltdown of American air power over the past 20 years. Brig. Gen. David Deptula was flying his F-15 over northern Iraq in 1999 when cockpit gauges went haywire and the fuel reading plummeted to zero. It turned out insulation on the plane's wiring had rotted away with age, shorting out the electrical system. The punch-line of the story was that Gen. Deptula was flying the same F-15 he had flown 20 years earlier as a young captain. But most of the people who tell the story don't know it has a new punch-line: Gen. Deptula's son, a first lieutenant, is now flying the same plane in the Pacific -- nearly 30 years after it was built. Maybe it's time the Air Force finally gets some new planes, before a real threat comes along."