Thursday, July 31, 2014

Ouch! That Had To Hurt.

The Air Force just released a document describing its vision for the future (1) and it contains an amazing statement that warrants our attention.

I’m not an AF expert and this isn’t an AF blog so I won’t go into any great detail about this document beyond the one statement that has meaning for DoD in general and the Navy, in particular. 

As a lead-in to the statement, the document defines agility as an organizational characteristic.

"... the term “agility” is meant to capture the attributes of flexibility, adaptability, and responsiveness."

It then describes the purpose of agility.

"Agility is the counterweight to the uncertainty of the future ..."

That’s a fascinating statement that borders on profound, if applied properly.  I’ll leave it at that.

Now, the statement of interest.

"Huge, long-term programs limit our options; we are too often left with “all or nothing” outcomes and “double or nothing” budget decisions."

Ouch!!!  That had to hurt.  I don’t think there can be any doubt that the statement is a direct and scathing indictment of the F-35 program.  That the AF would be the organization to make this statement is amazing.  That the AF would appear to have learned this lesson is amazing.  Of course, it remains to be seen how the AF will pursue its next generation bomber and other programs without falling prey to yet another long term, big budget program.

I wonder what the AF’s industry partners think about this?

If the AF recognizes the severe handicaps imposed by the F-35 program, such as the loss of institutional agility and handcuffed budgets, then why don’t they cut their losses and terminate the program before it does further damage?  The F-35 could be terminated and redesigned, programmatically, as a much smaller effort without forfeiting any of the sunk costs of R&D.

The Navy needs to read this statement and re-evaluate their F-35C/B commitments.  Further, the Navy would do well to take this lesson to heart regarding the rest of their programs.

(1) America’s Air Force: A Call to the Future, July 2014


  1. The AF can't kill the F-35 any more than it could save the F-22.

    1. The AF CAN kill the F-35 - it just doesn't have the organizational will and fortitude to do so. If that's true (and it is) then that makes this new document a meaningless PR/spin exercise. Either they believe what they wrote and are willing to act on it or they're just generating PR/spin.

    2. They don't say, "we will never do huge, long-term projects." They just point out the problems with these programs.

      Killing the F-35 would require OSD and Congressional approval. Good luck with that.

      Honestly, I'm not sure there is another good option at this point for the USAF.

  2. The Navy is already pulling back from the F-35C: they have halved their order for FY15, and halved its projected procurement for the next five years, under the guise of sequestration. But the -C is a very expensive aircraft, and is not of an optimal configuration for a modern carrier aircraft, i.e. two engines. Wheeler has been shaking DC this week with his piece in about the real costs of the F-35, vs. the fantasy URF numbers that proponents like to flash about. The Navy's version taps out at an eye-watering $337M each - when you include nonrecurring items and support costs and then spreading them over two airframes - which is the Gross Weapons System Cost. And the $337M does not include sunk development costs. For fairness sake, the URF for F-35C is about $137M, and the F-35A, about $103M. The GWSC for the F-35A is about $148M. So even when you are buying 26 -A, your additional costs to actually support a flyable aircraft is about $45M on top of its price out the door of the factory. Assuming that the Navy can afford to buy about 30 -Cs per year at FRP, that still means that it will be paying ~$40M on top of the URF, or about $170M for each flyable aircraft. Seems a bit untenable to me.

  3. It has been my opinion for some time now that the days of using manned TACAIR as the primary means for prosecuting strike warfare missions against a capable adversary are numbered; and that the future of airpower for strike missions lies in a combination of UCAV's directed by various manned and unmanned ISR platforms, combined with the use of long-range standoff weaponry types launched from ships and from aircraft.

    There is a close connection here with the proposals which are now being made by some naval thinkers to greatly expand the offensive power of the Navy's surface combatant fleet through use of a variety of stand-off weapons types. My thoughts on that topic, made from my perspective as a USAF Partisan, are contained in my responses to a post made by Bryan McGrath over on Galrahn's Information Dissemination forum:

    Future of Surface Warfare Lethality

    1. I agree that UCAVs will eventually take over, but we still can continue to prosecute manned strike warfare against capable opponents as long as we're willing to accept casualties. We lost 40,000 airmen in WWII with another 18,000 injured. 2,500 airmen died in Vietnam.

      We obviously don't have WWII numbers of aircraft anymore, but in the past we were more willing to take casualties.

    2. Yes, this is precisely so. We can keep up with manned TACAIR strike as long as we are willing to accept ever-increasing casualties -- at least up until the point where we run out of both aircraft and pilots.

      Even then, by the year 2045 or thereabouts -- maybe by 2035 possibly -- even with the availability of autonomous UCAV's and high volume stand-off weapon types, it will not be possible to achieve air superiority over a land battlefield against a capable adversary without taking very substantial human and material casualties both in the air and on the ground.

      Because by the year 2045 or thereabouts -- maybe earlier -- ground forces will be supporting the air forces just as much as the air forces are supporting the ground forces. It will not be possible to defeat highly advanced AD/AD systems in the year 2045 unless ground forces AND air forces are simultaneously attacking the centers of A2/AD resistance.

    3. Possibly. It's hard to predict that far in advance. Twenty years ago, we were still flying basically the same aircraft we have today, against earlier versions of the same threats we have today.

      Disruptive technologies such as DEWs or small, hunting munitions might enable us to fight from the periphery.

      Or the most effective way to gain air superiority may be to put a "future AFV" on the enemy's runway.

  4. The F-35 is past the "Too early to tell" stage and is in the "Too late to do anything about it" stage.

    The ONLY aircraft, that I can recall, having been cancelled are the A-12 and the B1.

    The A-12 was SO fraudulent that even DoD could not justify it, and it was not flying yet. The B-1 was cancelled because it was too expensive and questionable operationally, and then Regan built a 100 of them as a campaign promise to Calif.

  5. At this point politically and financially the F-35 series won't be cancelled. It's not just our defense planning that will be upended but that of our allies corrupt defense departments also.

    The fundamental core of F-35 allowing increased awareness and digital links to Aegis equipped vessels is a huge plus. This capability makes it easier to sell to our client states as a force multiplier. What's unfortunate is that no one wanted a mini AWAC in lieu of an strike aircraft.

    I agree with CNO that this is a very rare admission of culpability by the Air Force. Can't see the same happening with our Navy at all over LCS.

  6. What I think is really interesting is what this statement says about the perception of the chosen few about the program outcomes of the last 10 years or so, and what does it say about what they think worked and what they think did not?

    They may be saying the days of the mega all in one program is numbered or at least it is no longer perceived as the ideal project model.

    Is this thinking also is reflected in other services?

    Time will tell.



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