Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Schwartz v. Young Context Smackdown

Today’s "Daily Report," posted at airforce-magazine.com, quotes the Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Norton Schwartz, on the subject of the F-22. Schwartz said the new fighter should not be judged by metrics intended for use when the fighter reaches maturity.

Nothing to Scoff at: Setting aside unreasonably high expectations, the F-22’s reliability rates are entirely “respectable” and its performance today is not meant to be judged by metrics intended for when the fighter fleet reaches maturity, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz told defense reporters today in Washington, D.C. Last November, Pentagon acquisition executive John Young criticized the F-22, characterizing the aircraft’s mission-capable rates of around 62 percent as worse than expected and signaling a “troubling” trend. Further, Young said the aircraft wasn’t meeting its key performance parameters, which are put in place to see how well the aircraft is matching its requirements. Schwartz, in the Air Force’s first official response to Young’s comments, said “it is important to ... keep these things in the appropriate context.” MC rates for the F-22 are “in the 60 percent range,” when factoring the time spent maintaining the aircraft’s low-observable characteristics. But, they are “in the mid-to-high 70s range” without LO maintenance, he said. “That is respectable,” he noted, particularly when compared to the service’s previous stealth platforms: the F-117 and B-2. “My take is that, while there may have been expectations that the F-22 would be even more ready in terms of mission capability rate than that, these are not numbers which are to be scoffed at,” he said. Further, the KPPs are meant to apply when the F-22 fleet reaches 100,000 flight hours. Today it stands at about 55,000 hours, meaning that the fleet is “not at maturity” yet,” he said.

Schwartz has finally cast a harsh light on Pentagon acquisition executive John Young’s remarks (at the Defense Writers Group last November) that the F-22 sufferes from a mission-capable rating of "only" 62 percent. The F-22 is the only fifth-generation fighter in the world, and it can kill anything sent up against it. According to General Schwartz, if you took out the low observable maintenance then the MC rate would be in the 70s. Folks, this is a new airplane. Does anyone remember how the F-15 performed, MC-wise, when it first was deployed? It was not a pretty picture. The F-22 is already ahead of that aircraft. John Young surely knows all this, but that's what you get when someone is ideologically opposed to a weapon system.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Coming to a knife fight with a gun

Mark Bowden’s piece in this month's Atlantic Monthly, “The Last Ace,” is a good depiction of how rapidly technology is changing the battlespace. Our relying on aging F-15s against modern air defense and newer and updated fighters with newer avionics and technology may end our complete dominance in the air or at least make us pay more in blood. We will still have to rely on aging fighters to see us through for many years.

... complete dominance is eroding. Some foreign-built fighters can now match or best the F‑15 in aerial combat, and given the changing nature of the threats our country is facing and the dizzying costs of maintaining our advantage, America is choosing to give up some of the edge we’ve long enjoyed, rather than pay the price to preserve it. The next great fighter, the F‑22 Raptor, is every bit as much a marvel today as the F‑15 was 25 years ago, and if we produced the F-22 in sufficient numbers we could move the goalposts out of reach again.

This prospect has been has been explored by Rebecca Grant’s Mitchell Institute study, Losing Air Dominance, and by our own Magazine. Wonder who will stand up and take the blame when this happens?

This country has paid the price before for not preparing for the next war; but then again, they didn’t have the dreaded disease of next-war-itis, and who knows, as the author states, how many wars have been averted by having complete air dominance? This is a risk this country shouldn’t accept.

Living Up to Expectations

Anyone following the “Effects-Based Operations” dust-up over the past few months (see, for example, “Improvisation Won’t Do It” in AIR FORCE Magazine) had to be interested in yesterday’s remarks by Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, commander of Joint Forces Command. According to the Daily Report in airforce-magazine.com, Mattis called EBO “a bastardization” of what the Air Force does, to wit:

Mattis said EBO is a “sound approach” against “closed” systems, such as taking down a power grid, but has no place in “real war.” Where EBO “went wrong,” he said, is that it assumed war is predictable. However, human beings are unpredictable, some things are “not quantifiable,” and wars are simply a series of “muddling,” improvised responses to constantly changing conditions, he continued. The “American desire for certainty” must be resisted in combat, he said. Responding to a question from an Air Force officer, he called EBO “a bastardization” of what the Air Force does.

So, Mattis lived up to our expectations—unfortunately. He can’t get over his belief, also stated yesterday, that EBO has no place in “real war,” you know, the kind with cool swords and stuff. We should all be grateful he was not in charge of military operations for the past 20 years

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Running Out Of Time

According to AFA’s Daily Report, a recent GAO study states that we could be without viable aircraft in certain locations around the country by 2020. Here's the core of it:

Eleven of the 18 sites across the nation at which the Air Force maintains fighter aircraft on 24-hour alert to protect US airspace “could be without viable aircraft by 2020,” if their legacy F-15s and F-16s are not replaced within the next few years, the GAO warns in a new report.

Finally, a report that declares--directly and publicly--what we have been saying for years: We are going to run out of useable aircraft if we do not start replacing the aircraft we have, and soon. As tough choices have to be made in cutting the defense budget procurement, seems to me we’ll depend more on 50 year old aircraft and UAVs to defend our country. Is that the way a superpower is supposed to do it?

Friday, February 6, 2009

So we took a couple decades off

If you don’t invest in your 401K or IRA for 17 or 18 of your prime earning years, the results are predictable: the desired income just isn’t there. So too with our nation’s investment in airplanes. We want the air dominance to keep us safe, but we just haven’t wanted to invest in fighter airplanes for nearly two decades.

A Daily Report graphic (here) captures the nation’s quandary now that the airplanes are aging and technology is leaving them behind.

If you want to know why USAF fighters are so old, look no further. In the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties, fighter purchases (vertical bars) generally oscillated between 150 and 400 a year. Turnover was heavy, so average age (red line) hovered around 10 years. Then, in 1992, came the crash. Fighter purchases fell to almost nothing and have stayed in that desolate spot through three presidencies. With no replacements, fighters have stayed in service, growing long in the tooth. The average fighter is now an unprecedented 21 years old.