Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bomber Op-ed Response

I read with great interest the op-ed of General Elder, supporting the need for an advanced manned penetrating bomber. At this stage, I would postulate that what is needed is the development of an advanced long-range penetrating aircraft, which could be used as a bomber or to give the US many other capabilities from which we as a nation have not benefited. General Elder aptly makes the case for the bomber, although the B-52 strikes in Desert Storm were not the first strikes of the air campaign: they came after the Task Force Normandy helicopter assault against border radar sites (at H-hour minus 22 minutes), after the F-4 Wild Weasel attacks on surface-to-air missile sites (shortly before H-hour), after the F-117 attacks on command and control facilities in Bagdad (at H-hour), and after 18 F-15 Strike Eagles attacked fixed Scud launchers in western Iraq (a few minutes after H-hour). What he fails to mention is the ability to make surgical attacks deep in enemy territory without putting a bomb through the roof. I am, of course, referring to the ability to insert special operations forces clandestinely into target areas to achieve desired surgical results unobtainable through aerial bombing. Targets in this category include, but is not limited to, safe-havened targets, targets that may expel dangerous pollutants if exploded, certain cyber targets, the most hardened and deeply buried targets, hostage rescue situations, communications lines invisible to aerial sensors, etc. The Air Force has long acknowledged this need. The Jan 1996 AF Executive Guidance stated, “Long-range, low-observable transport aircraft will be required for special operations forces to accomplish missions in hostile territory by 2015.” The object of the SECAF and CSAF guidance was to start the research and development so we could have such an aircraft as an option to replace unsustainable Vietnam-era C-130s. The development of such an aircraft remained the number one priority of AFSOC (the MC-X or M-X) through the FY06 POM, when it became apparent that the R&D funding would not be forthcoming. Then, AFSOC ran out of time, and was left little alternative than to recapitalize the unsustainable aircraft with new and improved MC-130Js. These new aircraft are truly “Super Hercules,” with improved speed, avionics, cargo handling, maintainability, and several other performance features. But they are not low observable and will need tanker support to reach certain targets from some bases. This of course, suggests the other important capability that we’ve never enjoyed in our US defense arsenal: an advanced long-range manned penetrating tanker. If we employed such an aircraft today, many “too tough to handle” targets could be attacked with shorter range, but survivable, strike aircraft. So, the development of an advanced long-range penetrating aircraft is critical to give the Air Force the tools it needs for future war. Deciding on how to configure it can wait. So can the discussions on whether to glean the benefits in economies of scale by buying an initial robust force or merely seek a “silver bullet” approach. But we can no longer afford to wait to do the research and development of the aircraft. We cannot afford another M-X, where we have to wait another generation of aircraft to provide our warfighting commanders an already required capability.

Randy Durham, Lt Colonel, USAF (Ret)
Niceville, FL

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