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Gates Saves the Air Force

August 4, 2009

040623-F-6911G-002.jpgIt wasn’t long ago some were asking the unthinkable-“Do we still need an Air Force“? The Secretary of Defense has rebuffed such a notion over the past year by restoring relevancy to the aging and shrinking force. Here’s David Axe:

In April 2008, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the Air Force wasn’t doing enough to help win the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “It’s been like pulling teeth,” Gates said of the Air Force’s reluctance to invest more in the Reaper and Predator aerial drones that have proved so useful for finding and killing insurgents. At the time, the Air Force was still hoping to buy 381 F-22 stealth fighters — 200 more than the Pentagon was willing to fund — plus as many as 100 smaller F-35s, per year.

Just two months later, Gates fired the Air Force’s two top officials. In retrospect, it’s clear Gates was removing the biggest obstacles to revamping the Air Force, to better support “Irregular Warfare” (IW) against insurgents and other “asymmetric” threats. In April this year, Gates promised major budgetary shifts to give IW proponents “a place at the table” when it came to divvying up U.S. defense spending.

In quick succession, Gates ended F-22 production, slowed buys of F-35s, boosted the status and production rates on drones, and plowed $700 million into three new, inexpensive airplane types for IW. The results, for the world’s biggest and most capable Air Force, have been dramatic.

Make no mistake though in thinking such a force is good only for attacking low tech foes. As we often argue, with new Hybrid Wars, COIN is the New Conventional, as high tech precision weapons and new sensors can be carried by light fighters and UAVs as well as on the declining number of high performance jets in service today.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. elgatoso permalink
    August 7, 2009 2:39 am

    defiant:The Falcon Blackswift was supost to be powered by a combination turbine engine and ramjet, an all-in-one power plant. I thnk that in 20 years the technology shall be operative.. The turbine engine accelerates the vehicle to around Mach 3 before the ramjet takes over and boosts the vehicle up to Mach 6.

  2. Mike Burleson permalink*
    August 6, 2009 7:05 am

    “The number of jets will decline as their electronics…But the precision ammunition will help to compensate declining numbers”

    Defiant, this sounds like the Navy’s rationale for its incredibly shrinking fleet. So you put all your funds in making traditional aircraft survivable, then neglect other war fighting needs. Your force is more capable, but because there are less of them you start cutting down on missions, and tell some of your allies they’re own their own. The air force builds less than 200 new jets in the last decade while the older legacy fighters go to war.

    The formula should be smart bombs+common platforms (yes I revised that some) where you can have numbers and capability, without limiting yourselves to only a handful of high tech but not very flexible aircraft, ships, or vehicles.

  3. Defiant permalink
    August 5, 2009 6:34 pm

    MIke, with the tech that works how will you be able to penetrate contemporary s-300 sam defended area? If you don’t want new stuff you have to forget about power projection.
    The number of jets will decline as their electronics (the new sensors) need most of the budget and to stay competitive you will need the new stuff.
    But the precision ammunition will help to compensate declining numbers as you do not need to delivers huge loads of dumb bombs.
    Fewer jets will also need less fuel, with increasing energy costs this does matter.

    Elgatoso, the only military use for scramjets is cruise missiles, i think lockheed is developing something like this. A Scramjet needs certain speeds to be activated, something supersonic, for this you will need a rocket booster.
    Blue wild yonder won’t be realised, one reason is given at the end of the article. Why would you seriosly put so much money in one assett, you can shoot this down with 1 missile.

  4. elgatoso permalink
    August 5, 2009 1:18 pm

    First flight of the X-51A scramjet demonstrator is now on track for early December .The hypersonic vehicle is designed to be the first air-breathing craft to demonstrate sustained speeds in excess of Mach 4 using a “logistically friendly” hydrocarbon fuel.In 20 or 30 years even the advanced jets like the F-22 will be obsolet.The Air Force should be nuclear powered flying laser by them.(defense technology international;blue wild yonder)

  5. Mike Burleson permalink*
    August 5, 2009 9:37 am

    “you have to plan 20 years or in advance to produce the weapons you’ll need”

    You right Chuck, and thats what’s killing us with these high tech platforms which are “too good” to even fight with, as in our current wars. So we go back to basics, keep the tech that works and can be deployed quickly. But these decades long procurement cycles for equipment often obsolete when it finally does enter service, as with the F-22 and maybe the JSF, has to end or we are bankrupt.

  6. Chet Curtis permalink
    August 5, 2009 8:00 am

    Saved the Air Force? Are you kidding? In this high tech environment you have to plan 20 years or in advance to produce the weapons you’ll need. We do not have a strong industrial base, one manufacturer of fighters, one manufacturer of wide bodies, that’s it. We are betting we won’t face a real air force in the future. Drones are good right now and have poteential but are sitting ducks against a modern air force and anti-access weaponry. The Air Force fleet will age out quicker than we get F-35s and there is no assurance the F-35 buy will be as large as we plan. I don’t think the Air Force was saved at all.

  7. UndergradProgressive permalink
    August 4, 2009 7:29 pm

    Defiant, with the number of F-22s and F-35s the AF is planning on purchasing (we do have some of the ’22s already), air superiority is largely a sure thing against even other 5th generation aircraft. Against fourth or third generation aircraft, deploying the vast numbers of F-15s and F-16s is enough, no?

  8. Chuck Hill permalink
    August 4, 2009 7:08 pm

    Interesting, this type could fly off of big deck amphibs and escort MV-22

  9. Defiant permalink
    August 4, 2009 3:37 pm

    it’s all fun and games until someone runs into a real air force. in order to perform ground attacks air superiority has to be established. HIgh tech precision weapons require high tech precision sensors, which are expensive, Some sensors even require size in order to be more effective. And the better your sensors are, there will be les acceptance to loose these assets.
    Drones will not make fighter obsolete and removing the pilots relevant systems will not make a plane significantly cheaper. The prices for new planes will increase further as new sensors and systems are developed, which all increase survivability, so you will need them. You can’t do much against an enemy wither higher radar range (in relation to rcs).
    Only because iraq and afghanistan had no significant air force doesn’t the next one is the same. You shouldn’T prepare for the last war.

  10. Chuck Hill permalink
    August 4, 2009 2:49 pm

    “$700 million into three new, inexpensive airplane types for IW.”

    What are the three?

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