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Geriatric Air Power

Posted by Jolly on February 27, 2012

FUA10FlareJimHaseltine.jpgI had this article forwarded to me from Kevin.  It was an article in the Washington Times addressing the concerns of some fighter pilots about the state of Tactical Air Power for America.  We are producing more UAV operators then fighter pilots now, and are continuing to go down the Techno-Geek road of Air Power modernization.  With the announcement to remove almost 200 A-10s from the mix, it is a concern of many of us that our ability to guarantee “Air Dominance” for our Nation is in serious trouble.

I think we all agree that Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPVs) are a great force multiplier.  I guess Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) is no longer a politically correct term since we’ve had those for decades.   I’m all for us having that capability, but to put all our eggs in one basket for the future of Tactical Air Power seems foolish.  Additionally, it makes it far too easy for our political managers to wage War when there is no risk of losing American lives.  I’m all for saving lives, but going to War needs to have consequences since our political managers continue to prosecute War without a Constitutional declaration of War.  Going to War should be a method of last resort.  Most of the clowns sending us off to War have never been, never served, and don't have any of their loved ones at risk.  I’m not a big fan of the Washington Times, but this is a good read and worth your time.  Duck sent me another article on the MQX RPV.  Just more evidence that not only have they killed the fighter pilot culture, but now the Techno-Geeks want to put an end to the fighter pilot as we know it.

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Got this in from Coyote via e-mail after posting this article.  

Now that's funny, I don't care who you are!

thunderbirds.jpg

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Washington Times
 February 6, 2012
, Pg. 1

'A Geriatric Air Force'

Fleets fade away with budget

By Rowan Scarborough, The Washington Times

America's aging tactical Air Force - the jets that protect ground troops and strike hard-to-reach targets - is shrinking just as the Pentagon is cutting even more planes to achieve nearly a half-trillion dollars in spending cuts.

The trend has set off alarms among retired fighter pilots, some of whom wrote to Congress last month warning that U.S. "TacAir" is in trouble.

They fear the political pressure to drive down the deficit will mean there will never be enough money to replace 1970s jets with advanced aircraft to operate against rising militaries such as China's, which last year unveiled its own stealth fighter, the J-20.

"With the exception of our airlift fleet, we have a geriatric Air Force," said retired Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, a former F-15 Eagle pilot and Operation Desert Storm war planner. "We're flying fighters that are 30 years old. What people seem to miss is, a fighter is not like an airliner, where you take off from Point A and go to Point B. Our pilots put six to nine [gravitational forces] on these things every day."

Gen. Deptula, who now heads the Mav6 LLC aerospace company, pointed to a 2007 event that has come to symbolize the collection of elderly fighter jets: An Air National Guard F-15C, the premier air superiority jet, broke apart in the sky during combat training. The pilot ejected safely.

The Air Force grounded the entire F-15 fleet and later attributed the breakup to a manufacturing flaw in some aircraft dating back to the 1970s.

The total number of Air Force fighters, which include the F-16 Falcons, F-15 Eagles, A-10 Thunderbolts and F-22 Raptors, has fallen by nearly 25 percent, from 2,477 in 2001 to 2,004 today, according to service figures provided to The Washington Times. In 2001, the Air Force flew an even larger fighter force in 2001, counting 52 F-117 stealth fighters that were retired in 2006.

Today, it has 372 fewer F-16s and 263 fewer F-15s than in 2001, but 179 more F-22s, which have yet to see combat.

Budget cuts will drive the total lower.

Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley recently announced another retirement of tactical aircraft - 102 A-10s and 21 F-16s - to help meet demands of $487 billion in spending cuts over 10 years, as announced last month by Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta.

Mr. Panetta said the Air Force would lose six, or 10 percent, of its 60 tactical air squadrons, coming on the heels of former defense chief Robert M. Gates' decision in 2009 to retire 255 older jet fighters.

Navy air doing better

The average age of an Air Force fighter is now 22 years, nearly double what it was in 1999, and an age at which fighter jets usually are retired. The service faces a shortfall of 100 to as many as 800 fighter jets by 2024. As a result, it is being forced to invest millions of dollars in older F-16s to extend their life spans.

"We've got to recapitalize our force if, in fact, we're going to be able to provide the nation what it needs, what it's come to expect, in terms of aerospace capability," said Gen. Deptula, who took part in several Pentagon studies on the military's future. "We've known about this for 20-plus years."

By the numbers, the Navy, which flies a fighter fleet about half the size of the Air Force's, seems to be doing better.

After 10 years of frequent carrier deployments during two long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Navy has almost the exact same number of fighters - 1,179 - as in 2001. It has retired older F-18 Hornets in favor of newer F-18E/F Super Hornets.

Yet it too faces a projected fighter gap of required missions compared with available aircraft. The Navy plans to do life-stretching work on 150 older F-18s, from 8,600 flight hours to 10,000 to ensure the gap does not exceed 50 planes.

John E. Pike, a longtime military analyst who directs the GlobalSecurity.org research website, said President Obama's military strategy, which ditches the demand that the armed forces be able to fight two big land wars at once, means the Air Force and Navy have a sufficient number of fighters.

"Now we have only one major theater war, at most," Mr. Pike said. "The tactical aviation components were sized before the precision revolution, in an age of sorties per target, and now we live in an age of targets per sortie. Probably, we have a bit more tactical aviation than is called for at the moment."

This is the point Mr. Panetta and the top brass are making to justify smaller armed forces overall.

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MQ-X Contender Avenger UAV Takes To The Air
Aviation Week, 8 Feb 12, David A. Fulghum 
 
MQx.jpgThe U.S. Air Force’s plan to acquire a next-generation, stealthy, precision-attack MQ-X unmanned aerial system has a candidate with the first flight of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems’ extended second variant of its jet-powered Predator C Avenger.
 
The closely held flight took place Jan. 12 at the company’s Palmdale, Calif., facility. USAF, in its 2025 road map, has stated a preference for a stealth signature (but not very low observability) and long endurance (the latest Avenger can fly for 16 hr.). Predator C offers a serpentine inlet for its Pratt & Whitney engine and a ducted exhaust to shield the aircraft’s heat signature.
 
General Atomics is building four Avenger Cs. Starting with the second aircraft, the fuselage was extended 4 ft. for additional fuel capacity. A third aircraft is expected to fly this summer followed by the fourth by early next year.
 
“The Air force wants the MQ-X to operate and survive in a contested or degraded operational environment,” says Chris Pehrson, the company’s director of strategic development.
 
That means that competitors might substitute electronic attack and electronic warfare for some of the stealth capability. Any design would combine reduced signature, jamming self-protection and long-range surveillance.
 
“The kind of sensors you put on a platform can allow a greater standoff distance by looking deeper into enemy territory,” the official says. “Avenger is a jet-powered UAV, so it can fly faster and respond more quickly to time-sensitive targets and threats.”
 
General Atomics is pushing the flight envelope of Avenger beyond 400 kt., to almost twice the speed of the turboprop-powered, workhorse MQ-9 Reaper. It will not be highly maneuverable because it’s not a fighter, nor will it have the speed to keep up with a package of strike aircraft.
 
“But the speed does allow it to transit to a target area or react to pop-up threats faster,” Pehrson says. “You are looking at a trade space of endurance, altitude, speed and agility. The Avenger has wings like a powered glider so it can operate at about 50,000-55,000 feet. That’s not as high as a U-2, but it will be above most of the traffic.”
 
Sensors of interest for the Avenger include the Raytheon surveillance ball that is on the Reaper now and multi-spectral sensors like those on the U-2 that can broaden the amount of the electromagnetic spectrum that can be monitored for targeting and reconnaissance.
 
Various Air Force and Navy officials have indicated that Raytheon’s jamming variant of the Miniature Air Launched Decoy (MALD-J) is being considered as a standoff electronic attack capability for the Avenger and other aircraft involved in suppressing air defenses.
 
“We see both suppression and destruction of enemy air defense applications for this platform,” Pehrson says. “It could be equipped with electronic jammers and anti-radiation missiles as one option. Right now, we’re looking at about 3,000 pounds internal payload and about 3,000 pounds (more than an F-16!!) on external, wing-mounted hard points.”
 
Several hundred additional pounds of payload can be carried in the forward electronics bay. In total, it’s about a ton more than the Reaper can carry. To help cut down on the amount of data that has to be transmitted to ground stations, there are plans to do machine processing on board.
 
“We like to give the operator or analyst the fused, correlated, real-time situational awareness with all the sensors that we possibly can,” Pehrson says. “If you have a ground moving target indicator on the radar, you want to know with high confidence that it’s the same object you are looking at with your electro-optical or infrared sensor. If it’s also giving off a signals signature, that’s all going to be on a single display.”
 
The Avenger is expected to cost $15-18 million for the baseline aircraft, including sensors. (About what the F-16CG cost in 1996!!)
 
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Caveats: NONE

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Comments:

Posted by Frankn on
Okay, I've never been a big fan of Zatar Deptula but he's got a point. (story available on request over beers) As long as there's a chance that there might be a democrat in the white house we need to maintain a robust fighter fleet. Dems love air power. It gives them a sanitary way to project power and apply force without the need to accept responsibility for sending the boots into harms way. Even better when you can send an RPV, controlled from Vegas, so no voter (taxPAYER) lives are at risk. As I've said before, the engineering advantages of RP tech are tremendous but it's only as good as the link to the control van. Our donation of a global hawk to the Iranians is proof to the world that there's no such thing as a hack-proof link. The first time they turn our UCAVs around and drop on the blue forces will be the end of our current obsession with no-risk airpower and if we haven't kept live manned TACair viable we're vulnerable.
Frankn
Posted by Jolly on
Great points Frankin. Ok, beers on me at the Frat House in Memphis next time you're in town in exchange for stories. I'm all for the RP capability within reason. We still need to have a robust fighter force to use the air power arm the way it should be. A fighter force run by fighter pilots not some geek wearing space wings. I totally agree that fighting the War from a Van down by the river makes it far too easy for our Chicken Hawk Politicians to project our power around the planet in a unconstitutional manner.
Posted by DuckPerry on
There is a perception/vision, that with sophisticated Air Superiority Manned Fighters (ala F-22s) the US can quickly (sic) gain and maintain Air Supremacy in a theater ala Desert Storm, OEF, OIF, etc. Once Air Supr. obtained, the drones can do the 'plinking' of ground targets to support the JFLCC/CFLCC. A theory supported by the current fight. With more loiter, more flexibility, more combined EA/ES, Persistent ISR and Strike capablity packaged into one platform than before, the UAVs are popular. Tacticians postulate that LO UAVs are vital to dismantaling of Hi-Tech/4th-5th generation IADs. Got to admit that is something we counted on in some of our OT&E evals at Nellis.
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FROM THE AIR FORCE TIMES:

There is another view of what is affecting JSF and why. A former senior staffer for the U.S. Senate contends that the F-35 program’s problems reflect diminishing interest in manned aircraft whose performance is limited primarily by its aircrew.

“I think the biggest issue facing the JSF is that there has been a profound shift in the military’s perception of the value of manned aircraft compared to unmanned aircraft,” he says. “I’ve had long conversations with a Marine Corps forward air controller who has just returned from Afghanistan. He pointed out that an F/A-18 can be kept on call for 15 minutes, but an unmanned Reaper is there for eight hours. The day of the fighter pilot is over. There has been a seismic shift in the military’s value judgment of manned and unmanned aircraft.”
Posted by ETHolm on
There's certainly a place for RPVs/UAVs/whatever they'll be called next week, in our bag of tricks. Gotta be: Why does a golf bag have more than one club in it anyway?

It's truly amazing how prescient are the prognosticators who postulate the premature passing of pilots; especially those of the fighter variety. (Yeah, I'm "P'd" off, as the alliteration alludes!) I'm always impressed with the never-flown-ANYTHING-experts when they pontificate their position with such scientific certainty, usually based upon board games and computer dice-rolling methodology. Makes me want to go out and buy a used car, ya know?

I recall reading an article in the September 1950 (I think) issue of National Geographic titled "Flying in the Blowtorch Era". Its author breathlessly huffed about "modern" (first/second) generation fighters being too much for anyone over about 25 years of age because of the new jets' speed. Yeah, really. We gotta watch those kinda guys; they get to sell think-tank BS for money to any hill-bound "suit" that'll listen, especially if the latter smells another vote.

It's been said before, but apparently not enough: "There are only two types of airplanes; Fighters and Targets. Waddawe wanna build?

"E.T."
Semper Viper!
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