Sunday, February 12, 2017

Extortion

Help us.  Help us!  The sky is falling.  Naval ship and aircraft maintenance is failing.  We must have more money …   …   …  oh, and more ships and more planes.  This is the story that has been blasting forth from the Navy for the last few days.  The Navy would have us believe that they’ve done everything they can to keep the Navy in top condition but the evil, external forces of sequestration and national need have conspired to savage Navy maintenance and readiness despite the Navy’s heroic efforts. 

Of course, this ignores the fact that a month ago the Navy was voicing no such outcry.  A year ago, the Navy didn’t really care about maintenance and readiness as they knowingly deferred desperately needed maintenance.  A decade or two ago, as the Navy was making conscious decisions about deferring maintenance in favor of new construction, they didn’t care at all about maintenance or readiness.

This blog has thoroughly and repetitively documented the Navy’s unceasing and fanatical devotion to new construction at the expense of maintenance and readiness and yet, now, the Navy has suddenly seen the light.  Does that sound right?  Does that sound remotely believable?  Or, does it sound like the Navy has suddenly realized that the new Administration might be amenable to providing larger budgets and is making a play to grab their share of the potential largesse?

Here’s a statement by Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Bill Moran, to a Senate panel, just the other day:

“It starts by strengthening the foundation of the Navy by ensuring the aircraft, ships and submarines we do have are maintained and modernized to ensure they meet the full measure of their combat power,” he said. (1)

How Adm. Moran can utter this statement with a straight face is beyond me.  Is this the same Navy that recently and repeatedly tried to get Congress to let them early retire the Aegis cruiser class rather than perform maintenance and upgrades?  Where was Adm. Moran when the Navy was trying to eliminate the Ticonderogas?  Where was Moran when the Navy routinely and repeatedly decided to defer maintenance on aircraft carriers?  His statement is the height of hypocrisy. 

Moving on, though, let’s look at other aspects of this recent outcry.

The Navy has just documented the state of the aviation fleet.

“Currently, 53 percent of Navy and Marine Corps aircraft are unfit to fly. That rises to 62 percent of strike fighters and, as we reported yesterday, 74 percent of Marine F-18 Hornets.” (2)

Adm. Moran offers further dire warnings should budgets not be increased.

“Adm. Bill Moran, vice chief of naval operations, said the impact for the Navy would be immediate: Two carrier air wings would cease operations entirely, and two would operate at that “tactical hard deck” of 11 flight hours per pilot per month, the minimum allowable for safety.” (3)

Oh my gosh, that’s terrible!  Why is the situation so bad?  According to the Navy, the problem is lack of new aircraft.

“Overused, under-maintained, and not replaced, the aircraft are simply wearing out.  …consumption is outpacing procurement: Since 2000, we have struck 748 strike fighters and procured 573 for a delta (net loss) of 175 aircraft.”

The Navy’s solution?  Buy more aircraft!

“We need to continue producing JSFs … and reopen the Super Hornet line with Boeing to take pressure off the current force now.”

So, the Navy’s solution isn’t better maintenance of existing aircraft, bigger budgets for depots and spare parts, or better stewardship of the taxpayer’s dollars.  No, the Navy’s solution is to buy new aircraft. 

Hey, Mom and Dad, I didn’t change the oil in the car you gave me, I never cleaned it, I didn’t perform any tune ups, and I didn’t do any preventive maintenance and, as a result, the car isn’t running anymore.  Can I have a new car?  Most of us would see the absurdity in that and yet the Navy is having exactly that conversation with Congress!

This is nothing more than out and out extortion of Congress by the Navy.  The Navy is attempting to blame Congress for decades of conscious Navy neglect and threaten Congress with dire consequences if Congress does not meekly acquiesce and provide significant budget increases.  All the while, the Navy glosses over and ignores the fact that it was 100% the Navy that made the endless series of irresponsible decisions that led to the current hollow force.

Extortion.



Side Note:  We’ve seen the Navy sink the entire Spruance class rather than allow the possibility of the Spruance/NTU combination to threaten Aegis funding.  We’ve seen the Navy neuter, retire, and sell off the entire Perry class rather than allow it to threaten LCS funding.  Does anyone else think that allowing hundreds of aircraft to sink into disrepair sounds a lot like more of the same?  Be honest, given their history, could you see the Navy allowing older aircraft to prematurely fall into disrepair and languish in depots in order to avoid threatening new aircraft funding?  Just saying – there’s a lot of parallels.



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(1)USNI News website, “VCNO Moran: Navy is Less Ready Because ‘We’re Too Small’”, Sam LaGrone, February 8, 2017,

(2)Breaking Defense website, “Navy, Marine F-18s In ‘Death Spiral’ As Readiness Plummets”, Sydney J. Freedberg, February 08, 2017,

(3)DoD Buzz website, “Budget Woes May Force Navy to Shutter Two Carrier Air Wings”, Hope Hodge Seck, 9-Feb-2017,


30 comments:

  1. Don't forget wiping out all the F-14s that were in storage.

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  2. Lets not forget the ten scrapped Flight I Los Angeles Class.

    33 year nominal service life, vs Realized service life of

    Baltimore: 16 years (!!!)
    Phoenix: 17 years
    Boston: 17 years
    Baton Rouge: 17 years
    Omaha: 17 years
    Cincinnati: 17 years
    Altanta: 17 years
    New York City: 18 years
    Indy: 19 years
    Birmingham: 19 years

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    1. oops, missed Groton @ 19 years

      It was 11 boats scrapped prior to refueling, not 10.

      Apologies.

      And looking at the data, there may be a number of other Flight I boats that were scrapped post-refueling with a decade of core life remaining.

      You (CNO) discussed the issue here

      http://navy-matters.blogspot.com/2015/08/los-angeles-class-overhauls-and.html

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  3. When the pigs hear the slop hit the chute they run and squeal and jostle for position. It is the same with (per your previous post) non-warfighting admirals.

    Rather than take responsibility for the poor state of the fleet and complete lack of CONOPS for new ships, and costly lousy quality shipbuilding, they merely squeal whatever they think will get them more slop.

    Terrible analogy and disgusts me being a retired officer, but it is sadly the truth.

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    1. Let's see if we can learn something from your experience. Do you think we're picking the wrong people for flag rank or do you think we're picking good people who are then transformed into bad by the pressures of the job?

      Either way, what do you think we can do about it?

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    2. Boy that is a long post, or doctorial thesis, all on its own. But I'll give you the short take based on my experience.

      First Organizations take on the characteristics of their leaders - in terms of work ethic, knowledge of process, responsibility, etc. That said the people in the Senior Acquisition billets DO NOT have experience correctly applying the regulations. Even the 2nd tier (Colonels and LtCols) often do not have ANY experience. So the junior officers that come out of the fleet or grad school and get sent to these billets don't even have a mentor that can tell them what a good statement of work is, much less how and A, B and C Specification relate to each other.

      Second, the careerism in the services leads to wanting to do something quick and flashy so it helps get the next promotion. So when the Flag down to Majors are looking to only do what will help advance them and be quick you get a tendency to short cut and do things that are short sighted only. The fact that the Organization as a whole has this motivation only makes it more prevalent and almost irresistible.

      So in summation, we have the wrong people at the top se3tting the wrong values for the organizations. Worse we have a lack of knowledge of how the system should work. SO we get a bunchy of Cowboys that are full of themselves and try to do things they honestly believe will help the Fleet using every shortcut there is and ignoring all of the knowledge learned beforehand.

      The quickest solution is to make sure all of the personnel get a 1 month Introductory Acquisition course, BEFORE going to the Command, that educates them on how the pieces play together (contracting, specifications, SOWs, testing methods, CONOPS, Logistics, etc.) Not how to be an expert but just why each part is important and WAHAT WILL HAPPEN if you ignore one or more of them. This is what I did with every new person that cam into my offices.

      They won't be experts are writing specs or SOWS but at least they will know how important they are and will know to seek out experts that can help them.

      As for getting the Flags to change their Organizations? A lot more news headlines or Politicians with a sense of more than themselves is required.

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    3. Nice comment. As you point out, the real answer is a book length exploration.

      One of the aspects that you don't address is the role of those who achieve the ultimate rank and have no further career to pursue within the military (CNO, for example). Such a person, freed from career pressures and the need to produce quick, "flashy" results should be able to look at the rest of the organization and guide things. The CNO should be able to say to those under him, hey, stop what you're doing and formulate a CONOPS first. However, that's not happening. To an extent, that invalidates your theory (though much of your theory is unarguably correct). It also points us back to the idea of the job "corrupting" the individual. By the time the individual makes a level of career achievement that ought to allow him to relax and exercise wise guidance, he has become so twisted by the job that he no longer knows what he should do.

      I very much like your idea about introductory acquisition training, by the way. Of course, it won't help any when the uppermost command is demanding instant results. Still, it's a start.

      Good contribution.

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    4. So.... how did we get someone like Rickover? The man was apparently a complete arse to work for; but he got results, seemed to have a long view of what was good for the Navy (and the taxpayer), and arguably severely damaged his career many times to get the results he needed?

      Was he a product of the system at the time, or just a white elephant that we got lucky to have?

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    5. I believe that Rickover was able to survive and thrive only because of the era he was in. If you look at that time, the 50s and 60s, there was reward for accomplishing things. At the same time the Navy transitioned to jets, arresting gear, catapults (all crazy ass ideas if you ask me :-)) and lastly ballistic missiles and so introducing new tech was accepted.

      Part of that environment was, I believe, a result of the greatest generation that (having gone through the depression and WWII) recognized BS and realized it could make you starve to death or get you killed.

      The other part as the belief that the threat was real and we could go from Cold to Hot war in the blink of an eye. If you are focused on and training for war maybe tomorrow and the latest toy doesn't work today, you quickly give feedback to the proponent of nice idea call me when it works.

      SO to get an Rickover like person (maybe without the jackass part) I think we need an environment change. Depressing until you realize the Services have gone through these types of phases for millennia. It is hard work bu the environment can be changed.

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  4. "Or, does it sound like the Navy has suddenly realized that the new Administration might be amenable to providing larger budgets and is making a play to grab their share of the potential largesse?"

    (I'm back!) I think it is totally that they are looking for a bigger share of the pie.

    They are also haunted by past decisions, like to not put the proper corrosion control on the A-D classes of F/A-18's.

    Still, I wonder if you look at it just from a balance sheet point of view if it makes more economic sense to scrap the A-D's and their shorter range and just buy new SH's. They might in fact be cheaper than bringing the A-D's back online.

    Of course, that feeds the beast and allows the Navy to continue peeing in the corner; so maybe the best thing is 'Here are X$. Make it work'.

    Sequestration happened. Sure. But the Navy blew $23 billion on a Zumwalt class that won't work; and how many billions on the LCS and F-35C and BioFuels and Lean In Circles? It's ridiculous.

    As to the increased OpsTempo.... yes, that happened too. But when did we hear an Admiral say to President Obama or the Congress 'Hey, we can't do what you want without more money for maintenance....'. Never, so far as I know. It seems they just did what they were told and burned the airwings down so they didn't have to be unpopular.

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    1. "As to the increased OpsTempo.... yes, that happened too."

      OpsTempo, hmmmmm, yes. And where in the world has the Navy made any difference? Where, if the Navy hadn't been present, would things be worse? One can make a very good argument that not a single Navy deployment has done any good, whatsoever.

      The Chinese are gobbling up the South China Sea just as fast as they can build new islands and intimidate neighboring countries into giving in to their demands so I'm pretty sure that none of the Pacific region deployments have accomplished anything.

      Iran is working steadily towards nuclear weapons, has seized boats and crews from multiple countries, routinely harasses commercial and naval shipping so I'm pretty sure that our deployments there haven't accomplished much.

      Russia has annexed Crimea and invaded Ukraine and buzzed Navy ships and aircraft so I'm pretty sure our deployments there haven't accomplished anything.

      So, where are the useful OpTempo deployments? If we had not deployed any ships for the last two decades, where would the world be worse off?

      OpsTempo is a great justification for more money but an objective analysis suggests that it is borderline worthless. To paraphrase a famous quote, OpsTempo's are expanding to meet the needs of the expanding OpsTempo's.

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    2. I'm with you 100% on that!

      The idea of burning the wings off Superhornets for ridiculous missions that ultimately are kind of political placeholders 'Look! We did something against terror!' burns me; especially while we just sit there while China closes off the ECS. I'd say probably the most valid strikes were done early in Afghanistan, and those by F-14's operating off of what remained of the corpse of the Cold War infrastructure.

      But how much of this is within the purview of the Navy? They are controlled by the civilian government.

      What I wish would have happened, but didn't, was the Admirals laying down the truth and resigning rather than grinding the Navy to a nub plinking Hi-Lux trucks. When in a debate, President Obama said that 'The admirals weren't telling him that the Navy needed more', while at the same time even I knew the Navy was cross decking men and machinery and lengthening deployments, I was disgusted and amazed. How could they *NOT* be telling him??

      But that gets into your larger point about Navy leadership and their goal of budget slice. The car analogy is a good one. The Navy is burning its cars to the ground so that they can tell Congress they need new ones. The Marines are even worse!

      I don't have a good answer going forward. I think the most economical way might in fact being buying new SH's and dumping the A-D class; while at the same time modernizing and re-invigorating the Navy maintenance depots and insisting all existing and new aircraft *must* go through maintenance.

      But that rewards the bad behavior that the Navy has had by A) putting A-D's out there with poor or non-existent corrosion control B) cutting back on maintenance across the board and C) doing things like funding the USS Boondoggle class in the Zumwalts.

      If I could get a brain transplant of the admirals from the FRAM era then giving the Navy more money might make sense. But with this lot you're just rewarding bad behavior.

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  5. What you are seeing in TACAIR is the result of trying to extend the life of the Hornets and Super Hornets well past their service lives. So now you have worn out aircraft being inspected and fixed all the time and depots that are overwhelmed. All of this was to protect the F-35 program which continues to bankrupt the DoD. Additionally this was easily predictable when they chosethis path. The idea was that we couldn't admit that buying anything but an F-35 would add value (i.e. 4th Gen is dead). So we tried not buying SH's while throwing billions into extending old aircraft another 2 or 3 thousand hours ( at a higher cost per flight hour than new aircraft). Things will only get worse when we have to maintain a fleet of F-35s which cost twice as much per flight hour to keep flying.

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  6. "Things will only get worse when we have to maintain a fleet of F-35s which cost twice as much per flight hour to keep flying."

    This is such an important metric, I think.

    The Navy used it as the death knell of the Tomcats, then started burning out the Hornets and planned on expensive F-35's.

    All that damned technology would, you'd think, buy you some ease of maintenance and cost reductions. But instead it appears to be opposite.

    So the planes will fly less, and we will have less of them. And it will be harder to retain pilots. And it will be harder to keep the pilots we have in fighting trim.

    It begs the question to me: How much use would the Navy get out of a plane built to rough Tomcat specs: Same or slightly greater combat radius; weapons loadout, speed, manueverability, etc... but made better with new materials and advances in technology that are now current so that it would be easy to maintain; and have sensors that are the current state of the art.

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    1. "All that damned technology would, you'd think, buy you some ease of maintenance and cost reductions. But instead it appears to be opposite."

      You read this blog so you must be a student of history, right? Look at the historical maintenance costs for aircraft. What did it take to make a WWII Hellcat fly? - a wrench, some oil, and a couple hours per flight. What did it take to make a Skyraider fly? - a bit more. What did it take to make a F-14 fly? - computers, digital diagnostics, and many hours per flight. What does it take to make a F-35 fly? - trick question; no one knows cause they can't get them to fly; presumably, when they do fly, it will require a supercomputer to run the ALIS maintenance program, a supersupercomputer to generate and load the mission profile, a team of tech reps working for a month to get the aircraft operational, and a host of chaplains praying for the aircraft to launch so they can say they met a mission requirement.

      The point is that history draws a pretty straight line between increasing complexity and increasing maintenance and flight hour costs. We can wish that it wasn't so. We can theorize that it shouldn't be so. But, the reality is that it is.

      However, the next generation of aircraft will solve all those problems and not only reduce maintenance to near-zero but lower flight-hour costs to the point that every flight ought to generate a profit! At least, that's what the Navy tells me.

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    2. Fair enough. I'd like to think myself a student of history. Its probably better to say I'm a fan as I'm not as good at drawing conclusions as I think I am. :-)

      That said, you're correct about the line of complexity and maintenance hours. But does it have to be that way?

      In my youth my uncle kept his cars going through repeated tune ups which included plugs, points, and timing. Engine life was measured at ~ 100K. Carbs had to be fixed and rebuilt from time to time. Eventually if you kept the thing long enough you had to replace rings and seals and pretty much rebuild the motor.

      Now, with better materiel science, and better computer control, you can have an engine realistically go 100K on 1 set of plugs with good performance. Sure, if you buy a Bugatti Veyron or a BMW 5 series too complex edition maintenance is a joke, but if you buy a camry or even a lexus or Corvette maintenance is confined largely to oil changes.

      Complexity (Carbs to MPFI) went up; but it used mature solid state tech and it went up in the right places; so while the OBDC running things is more complex than the carb, its solid state and easy to fix or replace.

      Why can't you do the same with jets?

      The avionics should be solid state and upgradeable with flashes. If the jet itself is kept within reason you shouldn't need a 40K thrust afterburning turbofan to push the sucker.

      Instead we've build the draggy F-35, and made draggy pylons on the F-18 E-F.

      I'd be real curious to see what the maintenance requirements (when new) for a C version of the F-16 is compared to something just off the line with the bigger engine and better avionics.

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    3. You make a good point about car maintenance. What you're not factoring in is that cars are not about maintenance, they're about mean time between failures (MTBF). Cars used to be given preventive maintenance. Now, we've optimized them so that no maintenance occurs until they catastrophically fail.

      Your uncle could fix any problem with a screwdriver and a wrench in under an hour. When a car fails today, you need a factory trained technician equipped with a specialized diagnostic computer just to diagnose the problem. The actual repairs, in my experience, tend to take days/weeks.

      So, today's cars go longer between failures but the failures are major events and beyond the scope of the backyard mechanic. We also don't keep cars for 5-10 years like we used to.

      Which is better? It's debatable.

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    4. Good point about the automobiles.

      It would be interesting to run the numbers.

      Build a turbofan/jet that acts like an automotive engine (very high MTBF) for an F-X fighter for the Navy that fits my parameters above, and then buy enough engines to (hopefully) get a bulk discount. If you can store a certain amount of engines on the carrier (You could do statistical analysis to determine how many you need) and then if engine X is supposed to fail at 6000 hours you pull it at 5000 hours to be sent back for remanufacture and replace it with a new engine.

      You might save money by not having to wrench on them as much. It might give you better sortie rates.

      I don't know if that's true or not, or even if they can built jets like that. But it would be an interesting thought expiriment.

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  7. As soon as I saw Navy leadership take this tack on deferred maintenance (that's really what it is...) to remain relevant as leaders after doing nothing about it for years other than lip service, I got irritated. They could, with a fight from the old administration for sure,they could have reprogrammed $$ and made it a priority. As an example the F-18 depot/structural mod pipeline Moran is talking about today has been known about for 3-5 years, and while never completely ignored was never made a priority.. 10 years ago it was defined as the Strike-Fighter Gap (then) then. Of course we're stupid, right, it's not like we couldn't see the effects... Ships upkeep? Even worse I'll bet.

    I am really glad the problem killing our Navy's horrible material readiness is now a priority but how about some accountability for the messengers who got us in the mess? .... I'll hold my breath.

    BTW, consider more operating funds so the Navy and especially Marine Corps don't keep losing jets and helos. It's getting too expensive. I am 100% convinced that pilot crew flight time is dangerously low. All that cheap talk about doing things smarter pushed 10-15 years ago with less traps, etc. Leads to a state of readiness like we have today. Same goes for more training hours for aircraft, ships and subs... ASW is a team sport, War at Sea an art and fleet air defense a logistics challenge.

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  8. Quick fix scenario:

    The admirals responsible for maintenance and pilot training have to do check rides 1/month with the pilots, in a jet randomly picked off the flight line.

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  9. The navy has purchased 160 EA-18 Growlers. If all 9 carrier airwings were deployed simultaneously--each with 5 Growlers--there would be 115 Growlers sitting at Whidbey Island. The Navy could put 100 of these aircraft in the boneyard without any loss of combat capability, thereby saving maintenance dollars. And, why does the Navy have 160 tactical jammers and the USAF has none? What does the USAF know that the Navy doesn't?

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    1. I'm not sure where this came from or where you're going with it but I'll give you the short answer.

      For budget reasons (meaning the AF didn't want to pay for them), the AF gave up the electronic mission to the Navy. Thus, the Navy supplies ALL the tactical electronic warfare for all the services.

      As far as the number of aircraft, around 115 have been delivered with a total of 160 or so on record. Bear in mind that these aircraft are used not only for carrier work but to make up training squadrons, Marine squadrons (I think!), AF support, joint tasking support, NATO support, etc. In other words, many more aircraft are needed than just the number for carriers.

      We also need an excess so that some can always be rotating through depot maintenance.

      We need spares for operational losses.

      Finally, some unknown number have been purchased largely to keep the F-18 production line open. My guess is around 30 or so fall into this category but it could be more.

      The AF doesn't "know" anything that the Navy doesn't. The AF simply made a bet that electronic warfare would not be important and that they'd rather spend their budget on stealthy fighters and bombers. They bet wrong.

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    2. USAF has other jamming assets. Navy has to forward deploy, needs organic jamming on carriers. That's what I would guess, at least?

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    3. I don't think USAF has any dedicated electronic jammer jets anymore, they got rid of the EF111s years ago and not sure how many EC130H are left, not quite in same category as a EF bird but,yeah, USAF has gotten of the ECW business for awhile now, USAF delegated that job to Navy/Marines....

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    4. The AF has EC-130 but only about a dozen of them. They perform more of a communications disruption role rather than tactical jamming, as far as I know.

      The AF also supposedly has specially equipped F-16's for SEAD but, again, this is different than tactical jamming, I'm led to believe.

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    5. I think the F16C Block 50? has taken over the dedicated Wild Weasel job but as Vietnam showed, it really is a very unique skill....as far as I know, nothing wrong with the F16C doing the job, it's just you need to practice a lot at it, not exactly the kind of thing you can improvise....I would compare it a little to ASW for Navy, if you don't practice it, you lose it, having a sonar on a ship doesn't mean you can do ASW well. I guess USAF went ALL IN with stealth and decided they didn't need a dedicated EF and dedicated Wild Weasel.

      Hopefully, they won't be proven wrong.

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    6. They use modified F-18 Super Hornets now to do it.

      EA-18G Growler is what it is called. Not sure about other details.

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    7. The AF will be proven wrong because the Russians are using different frequencies for their radar. Our stealth is good at confusing short frequency radar while long frequency radar picks stealth up. FYI you can detect stealth by measuring cell phone signals

      Wild weasel and electronic warfare mission modules and expertise will be needed to be relearned 12 hours into the next war.

      Like anything else relying on one set of skills never won anything. Generalist are usual survivalists. The Navy today is specializedAnd not prepared for a multi faceted changing war

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  10. Trump or someone else high up needs to mandate that the USN, USAF, and the US Army put maintenance needs ahead of these expensive acquisitions.

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    1. Do not forget the USMC. Especially the Marines given recent events...

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