F-18GlandingWASHINGTON: The second comprehensive report to Congress on the Pentagon’s aviation fleet paints a pretty robust picture of the fleet in most respects all the way out to 2043. But there’s a rub: like the Obama Administration’s budget request, the report doesn’t take sequestration into effect. (You can read the report below.)

DoD Aircraft Report to Congress

One of the Pentagon report’s most important clients, the chairman of the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee, Rep. Randy Forbes, offered a subdued view of the absence of sequestration cuts:

“Although this report fails to incorporate sequestration cuts, it does provide a comprehensive perspective on how the department believes it needs to prioritize its airpower investments over the next thirty years,” he tells us in an email.

But he raised questions about the strategic assumptions underpinning the study. The study does take into account last year’s strategy with its Pacific pivot.

“I wonder if the assumptions we have adopted to drive our thinking from the past two decades are the most appropriate to be influencing our planning for the coming three decades? Potential competitors now enjoy strategic depth, advanced integrated air defense systems (IADS), and precision guided weapons [more powerful than] what our airpower faced in Iraq or Bosnia in 1991, 1995, and 2003,” Forbes says.

Forbes raises questions that would resonate with the Marines and strategic elements of the Air Force: “Can we count on assured access to local airfields in future operational scenarios for our tactical land-based aircraft? Can we be certain that the Carrier Strike Group will be able to sail through contested waters in the Western Pacific or Northern Arabian Sea? To me, meeting this challenge requires a sustained investment in our long-range strike capabilities that will be placed in jeopardy if we continue to allow sequestration to wreck our procurement accounts.”

Because of that, he is closely watching the Navy’s handling of the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program and what kind of mix of manned and unmanned aircraft the service decides on.

Fairly predictably, Forbes cautions against shutting down the F-18 fighter line, saying he thinks, “it would be premature for the Navy to allow the F-18E/F production line to shut down before we have full confidence that the F-35C is ready to move to full-rate production and we can confidently take the risk of having just one naval strike-fighter production line open.”

In terms of long range strike, the aviation plan notes that it does not allow for any planes being destroyed or permanently grounded and it continues to state the (deliberately) vague Air Force plan for 80 to 100 new Long Range Strike aircraft, with Initial Operating Capability (IOC) planned for the mid-2020s.


  • TerryTee

    They better keep the F-18E/F line open, they still don’t know if the F-35C can even land on a carrier yet after the tail hook redesign. Not to mention the “Minor” ( Major Sarcasm ) Helmet & Software issues that need to be worked out.

  • ziggy1988

    Actually, the Navy would be well advised to terminate both the F-35C and the Super Bug and to accelerate the development of the UCLASS and the F/A-XX, because neither of those manned short-range jets is capable of flying deep into China or Iran even IF US carriers could sail close to China’s shores, which they won’t be able to safely do in real wars with either of them. It is also important that the UCLASS and the F/A-XX be very stealthy.

    The fact that the USAF plans to procure only 80-100 NGBs, and to induct them into service no earlier than the mid-2020s, while pumping billions of dollars every year into the useless F-35, shows how unseriously the USAF takes the A2/AD threat. 80-100 aircraft won’t be enough, and the NGB will be needed far earlier than the mid-2020s. In fact, it’s needed right now, because Chinese, Russian, North Korean, Iranian, Syrian, and Venezuelan airspace is firmly closed to all nonstealthy aircraft. All of these countries, except North Korea, either have or will soon have the S-300 air defense system and/or its derivatives (HQ-9, S-400, S-500).

    The ONLY aircraft that can survive in such airspace are the B-2, the F-22, the NGB, and stealthy drones.

  • Peter

    Regarding the new Long Range Strike Aircraft, it is interesting to note that in 1994, Northrop offered the USAF 20 more B-2s for a unit cost of $566 million each. Both then President Bill Clinton and the USAF rejected the offer. So…the replacement for the B-2 come 20 years later is….?


    I mean could Northrop offer that deal again today for about the same unit price, and would the USAF accept 20 more B-2s? That’s a good question to ask considering that the B-2 assembly line is already there. Instead, DoD is going to spend $3.7B to R&D a new replacement bomber when that money could be spent on buying more B-2s right here, right now. Seriously, how many of these “replacement programs” actually do work before getting curtailed in numbers or downright cancelled? Has any articles been done where Northrop downplays their own B-2 and uplifts the Long Range Strike Bomber, or is the B-2 still considered the best Stealth Bomber out there even today?


  • Lop_Eared_Galoot

    Because of that, he is closely watching the Navy’s handling of the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program and what kind of mix of manned and unmanned aircraft the service decides on.

    No service whose ruling officer class are dominated by manned aviation bias will sell out it’s own interests to a superior system. Especially when ‘sans fighters’ that system is vulnerable to other knights-of-the-sky systems.

    Hence UCLASS, like UCAS-N will be used solely as a means to walk away from commitment to the existing (not a Navy) solution. And when the JSF is finished because the USN has jumped ship, it will be dropped in favor of the NGAD.

    Which, from it’s current ‘twin engines, two crew and sized like the Raptor’ will be at least 150-200 million each and thus just as unaffordable as the F-35 is now. Maybe more, if our currency crashes.

    Fairly predictably, Forbes cautions against shutting down the F-18 fighter line, saying he thinks, “it would be premature for the Navy to allow the F-18E/F production line to shut down before we have full confidence that the F-35C is ready to move to full-rate production and we can confidently take the risk of having just one naval strike-fighter production line open.”

    With a +43 second lag over the spec’d Mach .8 to 1.2 acceleration times, non competitive VLO in the beam and flank sectors and only 2 missiles on board most of the time, the F-35 isn’t a fighter because, even if you believe BVR is overrated and all air combat will continue to be decided by transonic WVR maneuver, the jet it still lacks the dash speed ability to get ahead of the friendly package and hold a CAP point -beyond- the target. As between the ingress route and any enemy baselanes.

    The F-35 is not meant to go wandering around the bushes of an ambush IADS where any sudden illumination by a megawatt class EPAR can flashlight it’s vulnerable sectors from beside or even behind the jet.

    The Nebo/Vostock VHF/UHF EWRs can see the F-35’s ‘optimized for fire control bands’ LO signature -just fine- and they will cue the Flap Lid, Tombstone and Gravestone into acquisition.

    Given we have CMs that can (maybe) spike the EWR (if they can find it). the risk is still not abated as the shift to ARH-onboard means that the most fleeting of tracks (contrails would be enough) can still fire missiles which, at 3-5nm lightoff of their own seekers, will be able to see the slow and low energy F-35 anyway.

    And if the F-35C is outclassed, then the drag pig F/A-18E/F is certainly so, as it adds a lack of wing area and massive toe-out drag to the question, rendering it firmly subsonic below about 25,000ft and with little EM as specific excess above it.

    The USN is looking at a situation where it effectively has NO FIGHTERS AT ALL and a surfeit of bombers, none of them survivable in a PacRim as Near Peer, high tier, threat environment.

    As such, the question then becomes why not use such weapons for ALL early war targeting because the need to ‘go downtown’ just to prove the enemy cannot defend his own airspace is increasingly non-credible if you can instead pick his AD apart over 30-60 days as we did to Iraq’s IADS in the workup to OIF.

    Indeed, the whole ‘bombers must get through!’ operational paradigm as a 1930 Douhet notional value placed upon destroying the enemy’s will to fight by destroying his (3GW) industrial potential to go on making weapons compromises our modern tactical aircraft by limiting the number of munitions they carry to 2 or so rather than the dozens they could manage if they were able to reduce the warhead from 2,000lbs to something closer to fifty. We already have the ability to standoff 50+nm with glide kits and rocket boosters but with a small turbine that distance goes up to 200nm+ (See: LOCAAS and SMACM and MALD-J).

    Which means that you _win the war faster_ through more DPMIs per sortie as targets serviced, if you simply attack point targets which are vulnerable to Hellfire level warheads. None of which are apt to have an S-300/400/500 battery attached to their personal defense.

    In this, we see the beginnings of a glimmer as to the kind of aircraft, easily and rapidly procurable, we really do need:

    As a targeting system with an ARGUS-IR level of persistent wide-area stare with large mass video memory and a big bandpipe to shove data through while maintaining both signature and lift levels necessary to flood through areas at 300-500 knots and 60-100 airframes.

    At least 15% of those airframes being dedicated rebro assets passing the raw data back to an orbiting BMC4ISR platform or a surface equivalent.

    Such aircraft, being only 20 or so feet long with inflatable wingskins and no bombbays would act like abalone swimmers, ‘taking a deep breath’ as they vanished under the surface of enemy Cyber before coming up for air every 10-20 minutes to pass back an enormous (and one way) shot of stored video for CCD analysis of historicals on the main processing platform.

    Unlike the MQ-9B/C and X-47, they would not carry their own munitions but would instead be little more sophisticated than a TLAM themselves, albeit with vastly more gas and carrier compatible landing gear.

    Meanwhile, a third aircraft would act as a gun cabinet with literally dozens of 6ft long, <200lb, 250nm capable, minimissiles which would fly to the designated target lane handed off from the processor station and updated by the search unit with a 30 minutes ingress at Mach 1 or so.

    Since the bus platform and target processor flies pylon turns overtop an SM-6 equipped Burke (600km reachin with lofting) there is little threat to them (or it, since a 737 class platform could tackle both, so long as it didn't have to recover at sea).

    And again, the notion that you need a 'fighter' to defeat enemy 'fighters' is essentially defeated before it starts.

    One other thing to keep in mind people: while 3GW as industrialized warfare may not work well in a 'hybrid' 4GW, where you have to find the enemy to knock heads together under a "Beatings will continue until moral improves!" basis of selective engagement. It still offers the ultimate threat of sending the enemy to the poor house if he persists in -projecting power- (= required industrial assets).

    Provided only that you can reach beyond his frontal defenses to the full backfield of his country to take out those industrial targets. With China some 2,5,00nm across 'the short way' (Beijing to Canton) this is not something that even a JASSM-ER can do. It is also not something that a tactical fighter, even one which is rated to high end supercruise (and hence looks more like a YF-12 'battlecruiser' than anything which could come aboard) can usefully escort with. Because the mission lengths would exhaust the crew, deplete their weapons options and require an ENORMOUS bloat of fuel fraction.

    So, the idea that the NGB/LRSB and NGAD are somehow essentially linked or alternatively tradeable is also false.

    If you want to hit China where it hurts, you have to deeper than any amount of package synergies or advanced tactical as technical leveraging can provide for, just in terms of sheer numbers of enemy apt to be encountered over distances traveled.

    If you want to do this, you have to go 'above and beyond', into the 200K @ Mach 10 regime of a hypersonic theater interdictor that looses KEMs as Rods From God. And whose standoff obliquity (think: skipped stone) as BRL is on the order of a timezone away.