The resulting overall program, although far from what the service really needed, at least seemed to offer the promise of stability. After nearly two decades of turbulence, the prospect of clarity and resolution was welcome.
The Air Force will likely have to add more airmen and keep more old aircraft than it had planned. It will be able to buy far fewer new fighters than it needs and will be forced to keep old ones longer. It could well end up postponing acquisition of a new bomber. To cut costs, USAF is slashing the size of its nuclear weapons inventory. Meanwhile, it is “burning up” transports and fighters in combat at a high rate. The service also faces a looming huge bill to extend the lives of aircraft it believes are or will soon be too tired or obsolete for combat.
However, the big changes were made so late in the cycle, he said, that there wasn’t enough time to work them into the plan before the budget deadline. A new, financially and structurally rebalanced program won’t be ready until late this fall, when the service puts the wraps on its 2009 funding request.
The cost to the Army and Marine Corps of adding those troops is expected to be around $60 billion, a figure that ignores any costs the Air Force now must bear to support them.
McNabb’s result—a highly condensed version of a Mobility Requirements Study—determined that if all 92,000 new ground troops fit out combat brigades, it will take 335 strategic airlifters to move them around—about 35 more than the Air Force’s plans call for, Moseley said in June. If, however, some are put into support organizations, USAF’s airlift burden will be less.
The airlifters would cost upward of $7 billion, while the airmen would cost more than $100 million per year.
“I will resist” funding such a program by cutting any of the Air Force’s top priorities, Moseley said in April. He said he expects to announce new “roadmaps” for every aspect of Air Force planning—organizations and programs—by the end of this month, and he said they will be released to the public.
The Air Force’s acquisition priorities, in order of importance, are:
Other disruptions have played havoc with the Air Force program. Record high—and climbing—fuel costs pushed the service to cut flying hours by 10 percent, to be offset by simulator time. That didn’t set well with Congress, and after grilling from unhappy members of both houses, Moseley admitted that he, too, was having misgivings about the idea. Still, for every $10 per barrel climb in the cost of fuel, the Air Force must find another $616 million annually to pay for it. Moseley said he doesn’t believe the cost of fuel will come down, either.
In its 2008 authorization bill, the House voted to add $403 million to increase all the services’ flying hours, but the amount wasn’t enough to get the Air Force’s mission capable rates to the service goal of 80 percent. Instead, MC rates will hover at or below 75 percent for at least another year. Across the board, USAF readiness rates have declined by 17 percent over five years.
“Operation and maintenance costs have gone up close to 180 percent over the last 10 years operating these old aircraft,” Moseley told defense reporters in April. The cost surge mainly has to do with repairing or “remanufacturing” aircraft that are stress-fatigued, and finding or fabricating parts that haven’t been made in decades.
In May, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget pleaded with Congress to temper its zeal to provide ever-more-generous compensation to uniformed personnel. It pointed out that adding a half-percent boost to the Administration’s requested 3.0 percent military pay raise would cost the Defense Department about $7 billion over five years. Growth in health care costs for all the services, coupled with Congressional denial of Pentagon plans to get military personnel to bear some additional co-pays and other fees, will take another $16 billion chunk out of the budget. Together, those items could pay for tankers and USAF fighters over the same period.
The 316,000 figure, however, was determined before the Army and Marine Corps were expanded.
Other issues are eating into the Air Force’s buying power. There has been above-average cost inflation in building materials and aerospace metals, on which the Air Force is dependent. A growing shortage in the availability of titanium, for example, has directly led to delays in delivering F-22 fighters and other aircraft.
“That tells you the magnitude of the problem” in funding, he said. Moseley has said the service needs an extra $20 billion annually, just to tread water.
Early this year, USAF released its final request for proposals for the KC-X, and is expected to choose a winner this fall. The Boeing KC-767 and the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co. (EADS) KC-30 are the two contenders for the program. The Air Force wants to buy 179 KC-X aircraft, in a first batch of 80 and a second of 99. Although it originally thought it might buy two types of aircraft, the service has decided to stick with just one, to reduce logistics costs. It may also use the selected aircraft as the basis of a next generation fleet of intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance aircraft. The Air Force has budgeted $13 billion to buy KC-Xs through 2013.
The service’s second priority is the CSAR-X replacement for the HH-60 Pave Hawk search and rescue helicopter fleet, which is worn out from heavy use and which has never really been large enough to meet requirements. Moseley has called it a “moral imperative” to invest adequately in a system to retrieve airmen shot down in battle, and USAF plans to buy 140 aircraft for the mission.
Top service officials predict lengthy litigation is still to come. Moseley lamented that the program had become more “about lawyers” than about picking up downed airmen, who would pay the price for the program’s delay.
The test of a Chinese anti-satellite weapon earlier this year also prompted the Air Force to boost its efforts in developing space situational awareness programs, a move that Congress supported. Moseley said he had tasked Air Force Space Command chief Gen. Kevin P. Chilton to “take a look at the post-ASAT shot” and determine where the service needs to bolster its space capabilities. However, Moseley stopped short of urging that an American ASAT program be launched.
The Senate, in its 2008 defense authorization bill, determined that the Space Radar, a high-profile program that could provide the ability to maintain persistent surveillance over world hot spots, should proceed only with greater interagency cooperation.
The Air Force has just two manned combat aircraft programs in production: the F-22 and the F-35 fighters. Both aircraft are stealthy, “fifth generation” fighters exploiting the most advanced technology available. The F-22 is being delivered at the rate of 20 per year. The official “program of record” is for 183 of the fighters, but this figure has always been a budgetary accommodation and not based on the requirement, which is for 381 aircraft. Under current plans, the F-22 program will start shutting down in 2010, but the service has the option to keep F-22s in production if there are delays with the F-35 fighter, which has just entered low-rate production of initial test aircraft.
So far, the Air Force has not backed away from its long-held objective of buying 1,763 F-35s, which are to replace the F-16, A-10, and some F-117 aircraft. However, while the service planned to buy 110 of the aircraft annually, its latest plan calls for buying only 80 per year at maximum, meaning that USAF’s numeric goal would not be reached until 2034.
“We should be buying the Joint Strike Fighters at 80 to 100” per year, Moseley asserted. “We should be buying these ... in economic order quantities that allow the manufacturers to get at the best delivery price and to get us to recapitalize faster,” but the planned budgets won’t allow it, he said.
Shorter Life ExpectancyThe F-16 fleet is in the process of receiving both structural life extension and system improvements, but heavy use in Iraq and Afghanistan has sharply eroded the fleet’s life expectancy, which is expected to be about 25 percent less than was anticipated for normal wear and tear. This fact pushed the F-35 to the fourth most urgently needed priority on the Air Force’s list.
Hard use also compelled the Air Force to undertake a broad rehabilitation of the A-10 Warthog. Most of the A-10 fleet will receive all-new wings, because cracks were discovered in many of the airframes. The type will also get a precision engagement upgrade, allowing it to use the latest weapons, as well as a modern cockpit. About 223 A-10s, so modified, are now expected to remain in USAF’s inventory through 2028 or beyond.
A new bomber is in the planning stages, but has yet to get under way. Although senior USAF officials have long speculated the aircraft would be supersonic, hypersonic, or unmanned, the service has zeroed in on buying a subsonic, manned bomber with extreme stealthiness. It will have an unrefueled combat radius of at least 2,000 miles and be able to carry up to 28,000 pounds of ordnance.
Also in the nuclear arena, USAF decided it will confine its intercontinental ballistic missile fleet of Minuteman IIIs to 450 missiles. Another 50 will be taken out of service and used as fleet reliability test articles. All 500 are slated to receive a suite of upgrades to improve their maintainability and navigation accuracy.
Likewise, the Air Force is continuing development and production of the Global Hawk high-flying intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance UAV, of which a fleet of 60 is planned. However, USAF has so far not figured out a plan to replace its major ISR aircraft, the E-3 AWACS, E-8 Joint STARS, and RC-135 Rivet Joint. The E-10 multirole command and control aircraft was canceled in the FY07 budget, and no successor has yet been named.
The manned U-2 reconnaissance aircraft will remain in the Air Force inventory until about 2012, or until its unique signals intelligence function can be duplicated by its chosen successor, the Global Hawk. Moseley said he will not retire the U-2 until his field commanders are comfortable doing so.
Congress added 10 C-17s to the Air Force’s program last year, though, because the type has been highly successful in a range of operations but is being used at an extremely high tempo. Also, the Pentagon’s last major mobility study had left many unanswered questions about future requirements, just as Boeing was preparing to shut down the production line.
However, when costs began to rise on the C-5 upgrade in the spring—threatening a Nunn-McCurdy cost cap breach—the Air Force began to float the idea of buying another 30 C-17s and reducing the size of the C-5M program. Senior leaders also complained that it didn’t look like the Galaxy would achieve the promised 75 percent mission capability rate that made the upgrade worthwhile in the first place.
Rising costs likewise compelled the Air Force to reduce the scope of the C-130 Avionics Modernization Program, being performed by Boeing. To pay for the increases, USAF cut the number of transports to be so modified, by 118 aircraft. The Air Force continues to buy new C-130J aircraft, but not at a rate that will allow it to replace its oldest C-130Es—which have wing box cracks—in a timely manner.
Moseley said in June that he also envisions the JCA as being a platform around which coalitions can be built. Much as the F-16 is used by many coalition partners, Moseley sees the JCA as a way for cash-strapped countries to participate in joint activities. He also sees it as a principal Air Force contribution to the nascent Africa Command.
The joint arrangement, however, didn’t sit well with the Senate Armed Services Committee, which said in its 2008 defense authorization bill markup that the Air Force should be given responsibility for the fixed-wing cargo mission.
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