Solving the dilemma of meeting today’s pressing and obvious operational needs without depleting the technological reservoir of tomorrow ranks as the key task of Lt. Gen. Lawrence A. Skantze, the Air Force’s new Deputy Chief of Staff for Research, Development and Acquisition.
He cited two examples in the latter category: Reexamination of the “aerospace plane” concept espoused and subsequently dropped in the 1960s, and the proposition that airborne laser weapon systems could have significant military utility.
Tentative evidence from initial Air Force studies suggests that a “reasonable degree of confidence” exists that such a vehicle can be put into operation over the long term. These reviews of the aerospace plane’s technological feasibility, General Skantze said, are “generic” in character and not based on any assumptions about specific operational needs.
The objective in the case of anti-SLBM launcher in the boost phase, before separation of the individual multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle (MIRVs) can occur. Yet to be demonstrated is the practical feasibility of keeping a sufficient number of airborne laser platforms on patrol to provide the required coverage of Soviet SLBM launch areas.
Two Air Force research efforts—the engine model derivative program and the gas generator program—he said, have already shown clearly that “we know how to build engines with considerably fewer parts and that weigh less” than the current generation of high-performance powerplants. The ATF’s engine will be marked, therefore, by significant improvements in durability, reliability, and increased efficiency.
The Air Force approaches ATF from the premise that the F-15 and F-16, although based on old technology, are first-rate performers, and that the new design will need to incorporate a range of technological advances that in combination can “make a significant difference,” according to General Skantze.
To sort out various promising technologies and blend them into an integrated concept will take another year or more, he said. Several current demonstration programs are likely to funnel information into the ATF concept formulation, General Skantze said. Included here are two programs of long standing—the Advanced Fighter Technology Integration (AFTI) and HiMAT, for High Maneuverability Advanced Technology, involving RPVs as test beds.
Whatever the ultimate nature of the ATF airframe, according to General Skantze, the design will take advantage of new materials to lower weight and reduce drag by means of advanced airfoil shapes. Metal matrix and graphite epoxy composites as well as powdered and “super plastic” formed aluminum materials may well turn out to be the stuff that ATF will be made of, he suggested.
Multimode, digital flight control technology should simplify further integration of the aircraft’s flight, propulsion, and fire-control systems. Such technologies can take full advantage of the aircraft’s unprecedented maneuvering flexibility and automated weapons delivery.
ATF, General Skantze predicted, will capitalize on recent major advances in avionics technology where the only limiting factors appear to be “our imagination.” Key objectives here are extensive cockpit automation and integration using advanced higher order computer languages, very large scale and very high speed integrated circuits (VLSI and VHSIC), and the fusion of the information flow from various sensors with flexible, multifunction displays and wide field of view head-up displays (HUDS).
In order to nail down promising technology options for ATF’s concept formulation, the Air Force is working with eight prime contractors on what General Skantze terms a “freewheeling” approach where both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions are being considered.
The intent is to have Air Force Systems Command and TAC run the comparative evaluation and then examine various levels of upgrading for both aircraft types. The end result, he said, could be that one aircraft is picked for the long-range interdictor mission (tailored for the interdiction of the Warsaw Pact’s rear echelons), transforming the aircraft in effect into a dual fighter, while the other is earmarked for some “lesser upgrading.”
Some time next summer, the Air Force plans to decide which aircraft is to be upgraded for the dual-role mission and what upgrades are to be performed on the other aircraft. Originally, the plan called for the acquisition of 400 interdictors, but the Air Force, at this time, is undecided about the required number, according to General Skantze.
The reasoning behind the Air Force’s decision to set up a second production line, according to General Skantze, is “that we don’t want to confine ourselves to a sole sources position and do want to maintain the industrial base at a broader level.” The intention at this time is to pick representative block buys of either the F-15 or F-16 and equip those aircraft, beginning in 1985, with the alternate engine.
Washington Observations• The Air Force’s 1984 POM (Program Objective Memorandum) puts considerable stress on expeditious development and acquisition of an advanced, compact, extended-range SRAM, also called the Advanced Strategic Missile System. While some of the proposed design’s performance features remain tentative, the missile is to have a range of about 100 miles on the deck and several hundred when flown in a semiballistic mode.
The advanced SRAM is meant to augment both the B-1B and the Advanced Technology (Stealth) bomber. In the case of the B-1B, the aircraft can penetrate on the deck, pop up for a quick look by its ALQ-161 sensor for hostile radars, and launch an advanced SRAM against these targets. The effect is a “smart” nuclear weapon of considerable reach.
• Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy Richard N. Perle recently disclosed that the Israeli Air Force, during the conflict with Syrian forces in Lebanon, lost an aircraft carrying highly sensitive Israeli-developed ECM equipment. The Israelis, determined not to let the equipment fall into enemy hands, mounted a strike to destroy totally the downed aircraft on the ground. By the time the Israelis arrived over the target, there were “already Russians on the ground pulling out pieces” of the downed aircraft. As a result, the Israelis “got the Russians” as well as the downed aircraft, he said.
• As part of the Air Force’s “declaration of war on cost overruns,” a major program review identified labor settlement as one cause of cost growth. According to USAF’s Assistant Vice Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Hans H. Driessnack, “It is not our business to tell industry how much to pay their employees, but it is our business to tell them how much we are willing to pay for their products.” An in-depth Air Force analysis of the labor contracts of fourteen major defense contractors led to the “obvious conclusion … that aerospace workers are well paid and their wages are increasing faster than inflation.”
The Air Force made its concern over labor cost growth known to chief executive officers of major contractors. Air Force Secretary Verne Orr issued instructions to “make every effort to see that we do not pay negotiated wage settlements to our weapon producers that are greater than the amounts that the federal government decides are adequate for its own employees and recipients.”
As the military use of space becomes more essential, he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “the requirement for a more responsive launch capability has become more critical. Quick reaction launch, survivable launch, and reusable aerodynamic space vehicles are examples of concepts which have been proposed to meet this need.” NASA and the Defense Department are already investigating launch vehicle concepts to supplement the Shuttle over the near term, he reported.
Another concept, he told Congress, is the “In-Line” launcher concept that uses a module with one or two main engines placed under the Shuttle’s external tank. These concepts are attractive, according to Dr. DeLauer, “because they would permit operation of a mixed system, but not always require the Shuttle Orbiters which may not be able to meet the future demands for space and transportation.”
• Air Force experts believe that there could be significant spinoff from the joint DARPA/Navy Blue-Green laser communications system that is developing the means to communicate from space with submarines at operational depths. These experts suggest that this space-based system might provide global coverage, survivability, and flexibility in both tactical and strategic operations of the Air Force as well as of the Navy.
• The General Accounting Office’s propensity for playing fast and loose with the facts when the objective is to derogate the Defense Department and its components reached new heights in a report of September 29 that accused DoD and the Air Force of improper lobbying in behalf of the C-5B.
DoD’s official comment asserted further that “the factual errors and incorrect legal conclusions contained in the report might have been prevented if the GAO had not violated its own standards and procedures in denying DoD the opportunity to comment on a draft report before the final report was released to Congress and the media.”
Daily Report: Read the day's top news on the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
Daily Report: Read the day's top news on the US Air Force, air power, and national security issues.
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