lockheed boeing long range strike bomber

PENTAGON: The grander the title, the blander the content. That’s normally a safe rule in Washington. But if analyzed closely, this afternoon’s “State of the Air Force” briefing by service Secretary Deborah Lee James and Chief of Staff Mark Welsh, plus the accompanying pamphlet A Call To the Future, actually do articulate a remarkably clear vision of where the US Air Force wants to be — and where it fears it’ll end up instead.

So what does the Air Force want? Modernized nuclear, conventional, space, and cyber forces that are optimized against high-end adversaries such as China, with the “strategic agility” to adapt rapidly to new threats. “We [must] posture for the most demanding scenario, not necessarily the most likely,” the Call states bluntly.

What does it not want? First, no more mega-programs like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: “huge, long-term projects limit our options,” says the Call, saying the acquisition system in general is “cumbersome,” “brittle,” and lacking in “strategic agility.” Second, no wholesale shift to unmanned aircraft: “It’s not like they’re taking over” from humans in every mission area, said Gen. Walsh. “There’s a sensor we haven’t figured out how to replicate yet, and that’s the one that sits on your shoulders.”

What is the service willing to give up? First, size: It hopes to shed 23,000 servicemembers in five years. Second, it wants to shed what it considers low-end capabilities most suited to low-tech targets, like the A-10 Warthog ground attack plane. Congress might not let it cut either people or planes, however.

That brings us to the final question: What does the Air Force fear? Congress, sequestration, and unreadiness. “The message Gen. Welsh and I keep taking to Congress [is] ‘please don’t carve money out of our readiness accounts,” James said. “‘Please, Congress, lift sequestration in FY ’16, because if these difficult choices in FY ’15 were troublesome, hold onto your hats, it’s gonna get worse.”

Indeed, although the Call is addressed to “airmen and airpower advocates,” Congress is equally the audience. “As I was going through my confirmation process on Capitol Hill and I would do my courtesy calls with senators, I frequently heard that they felt that the Air Force seemed to lack consistency,” James said. “This kind of framework — if we follow through with it — should certainly help us attain better results in that consistency department.”

So far, of course, Congress has thoroughly shot down the Air Force’s central proposal: freeing up funds for near-term readiness and long-term modernization by retiring the A-10. “It’s a great platform,” said Gen. Welsh, a former A-10 pilot himself. “The question is what do you want to give up instead?” Welsh has asked the military’s combatant commanders whether they’d rather spend marginal dollars on more close air support or something else, such as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), he said, and “I now have a list of fifteen things they’d prefer us to spend the money on.”

The service’s great near-term fear is that Congress will save the A-10 by cutting into readiness funds. The anxiety over readiness, in turn, connects directly to the Air Force’s focus on a high-threat future.

True, the Air Force has plenty of experience: not just 13 years of war, like the rest of the services, but also 10 years of continuous no-fly-zone patrols and frequent punitive strikes before that. The problem is that bombing inept Iraqi anti-aircraft troops and low-tech insurgents is not the right kind of experience for the high-threat future Air Force leaders envision.

“We are not where we need to be or want to be in the Air Force where it comes to our full spectrum of readiness,” James said. “There’s flying and there’s flying,” the Secretary went on. “We put an emphasis on the full spectrum of readiness training. This is the high-end, difficult type of flying against simulated threats we could face in some of the most difficult parts of the world, and so it’s particularly that type of flying we feel like we’ve got to have more of, we’ve got to focus on.”

The emphasis on the high-end threat shapes long-term modernization as well. Of the Air Force’s top three programs — the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Long-Range Strike Bomber, and the KC-46 fuel tanker — two are stealthy strike aircraft intended to penetrate advanced air defenses. (The third, the tanker, is the long-range lifeblood for everything from strike to reconnaissance to transport). Even higher on the spectrum is the strategic nuclear deterrent, which has gained new attention after painful scandals within the force and rising tensions with nuclear-armed Russia and China.

“We can’t do everything and therefore we have to have some clear priorities, and nuclear is number one,” said Sec. James. “People need to understand that. that’s precisely why we’re shifting resources and we’re shifting personnel” to shore up the deterrent force. The Long-Range Strike bomber will be capable of carrying nuclear bombs, and the ICBM force must be modernized, she and Welsh said, though “it’s a question of when.”

“Both the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary, they’re extremely interested in this area,” James said. “This is a national asset, so it’s not just an Air Force issue,” she said, in a clear parallel to the Navy’s argument that it needs a larger budget share to build a new nuclear missile submarine. While budget plans are far from finalized, James said, “I would suspect you are going to see more money put into modernization.”

Besides the nuclear force and the big three aircraft programs (fighter, bomber, and tanker), the final top priority is cyberspace. All the services are striving to carve out a niche in cyber, the one area of the budget that’s still growing, but the Air Force sees brave new worlds as its core competency. The service wants to elevate cyber operations to co-equal status with air and space, ideally using all three at once to attack a single target — what the Call describes as “a multi-domain approach.”

“What it really calls for is for us to get our act together on what we’re going to do in the cyber domain in the future,” Gen. Walsh said. “Make it mainstream to the five core missions of our Air Force” — including offensive strikes — “as opposed to kind of a niche capability with really talented people doing it behind the green door.”

Comments

  • Curtis Conway

    “Second, it [the USAF] wants to shed what it considers low-end capabilities most suited to low-tech targets, like the A-10 Warthog ground attack plane.”

    Unfortunately for the USAF the Law says that you specifically are required to support our troops in combat, and that cannot be done with a fast jet, the only solution the USAF wants to put forth. We must have A-10s or something of like design and capability to provide Combat Air Support (CAS). So USAF, rise to the challenge, and stop trying to plan yourself out of a congressionally mandated mission given you in LAW!

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      • SS BdM Fuhress ‘Savannah

        That Alfa Romeo and all your $75 an hour will look good under one of these bombers!

    • ycplum

      They should just do away with the fix-wing/rotary-wing restriction on the Army.

      • Curtis Conway

        Amen!

    • GreensboroVet

      Ok. Change the LAW. Let the Air Force get rid of the A-10s and let the Army do what it should have done back in the 60s. Build a updated version of this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdWY3qe2xQ4

      • Curtis Conway

        Amen. Write your congressman.

  • katep864

    nice

  • CharleyA

    The USAF have always thought of themselves as futurists, and tailored their acquisition programs to support that vision. But for the past 50 years, the country has found itself embroiled in conflicts that require less whiz-bang technology, and more persistence. Yet the USAF wants to prepare for the type of war it wants to fight, not the type of war that just happens. One example: the Century Series fighters were not suited for the war which evolved in Vietnam, and were quickly withdrawn in favor of a heavy fighter/bomber, the F-4, and a medium attack aircraft, the A-7. Both of these aircraft were not even USAF designs – they were Navy aircraft adapted for USAF use. Now we find the USAF struggling to replace aircraft worn out (and not updated) in a more or less constant state of low intensity war. Are the F-22 / F-35 the proper aircraft to delegate to these types of conflicts? These aircraft have the same lifespan in terms of airframe hours as legacy aircraft, yet cost at least 5 times as much to acquire as their predecessors, and about twice as much as a new Super Hornet. Perhaps the USAF needs to go back to the Vietnam era and rethink what aircraft it needs to equip the bulk of its tacair forces. Why not buy new build Super Hornets, and let the Navy help you out once again.

  • Araya

    This is really a 180 degree shift form Asymmetric Low End “Threats” to real Symmetric
    and Nuclear Threats sounds good after the last Then or more years of COIN
    bullshit, sorry the expression. The Focus one the big three Program (LRS-B, F35,
    Tanker) and less one crap like non stealthy Drones is also the right decision. With exception of the readiness to give up the CAS Mission or better said to kill the only Airframe how was designed for the A10 I see no criticism points. Maybe the USAF should focus for the Nuclear Part of his plan at first more one the ICBM Leg them one the Bomber and add later a Nuclear Standoff Option to the LRS-B with a new Cruise Missile.

    • Curtis Conway

      Now there is an idea!

  • ziggy1988

    “Even higher on the spectrum is the strategic nuclear deterrent, which has gained new attention after painful scandals within the force and rising tensions with nuclear-armed Russia and China.

    “We can’t do everything and therefore we have to have some clear priorities, and nuclear is number one,” said Sec. James. “People need to understand that. that’s precisely why we’re shifting resources and we’re shifting personnel” to shore up the deterrent force. The Long-Range Strike bomber will be capable of carrying nuclear bombs, and the ICBM force must be modernized, she and Welsh said, though “it’s a question of when.””

    How nicely stated! And such an emphasis on the nuclear deterrent is absolutely necessary, given the rapid buildup and modernization of both Russia’s and China’s nuclear arsenals.

    • H. H. GAFFNEY

      Neither Russia’s nor China’s nuclear deterrents are going through rapid buildup. Russia is hardly able to get up to the New START treaty levels — all with missiles developed in the 1980s (or before), with their new maneuvering warheads. China can’t even seem to put its three new SSBNs to sea — no missile yet (the fourth SSBN never patrolled). I guess the Chinese finally have fielded their DF-41 — but still in modest numbers. But we do need to exaggerate, don’t we?

      • James Hasik

        Well put, Hank.

      • ziggy1988

        You are dead wrong. Russia has already built up its strategic nuclear arsenal to New START levels (the DOS’s false data notwithstanding) and intends to build up still further. It is now replacing its single-warhead Topol and Topol-M missiles with Yars missiles capable of carrying 6 warheads each, and its Skiff SLBMs with Bulava and Liner SLBMs capable of carrying 10 and 12 warheads each, respectively. Their tactical nuclear arsenal is several times bigger than Russia’s and is still growing. And now, they’re also deploying intermediate-range missiles banned by the INF treaty and new, nuclear-tipped cruise missile carrying Yasen class submarines.

        China has FIVE SSBNs (4 Jin class, 1 XIa class), with a fifth Jin and with Tang class SSBNs (each of which will be able to carry 24 SLBMs) under construction. It is also MIRVing its DF-5 ICBMs, adding more DF-31 and DF-41 ICBMs, and deploying more DF-15s, DF-16s, DF-21s, and the new DF-26C IRBM (no wonder why Russia wants to kill the INF Treaty). And the PLAN is developing newer variants of the JL-2 SLBM, which will ultimately be able to carry 12 warheads over 12,000-14,000 kilometers.

        So I’m not exaggerating anything. I’m saying the truth. Both Russia and China are rapidly modernizing AND building up their nuclear arsenals.

        • ycplum

          The last I heard, the Xia was decommissioned (or at least not in active service). There are 5 Jin class and the Tang is undergoing sea trials.
          .
          My understanding tis that the JL-2 can carry 10 warheads, but is likely to carry only 3-4 (possibly to extend its range).
          .
          China is modernizing, but has not caught up yet. The second stage of the JL-2 is believed to be liquid fueled.

        • Curtis Conway

          The Russians are conducting multiple ICBM launches per month from Kamchatka across to the Sea of O of that area and back, some announced, some not. What are they getting ready for? Burning up a lot of ordnance. Getting a lot of practice . . . for what?

          • GreensboroVet

            Getting ready to recreate the USSR again. Getting nukes ready because their army, navy, and air force is no threat to US.

          • Curtis Conway

            You might want to take a real close look the the numbers and age of the equipment. New stuff in quantities coming on fast. Not as capable as ours, but still coming on fast, and that is across the board.

    • 10579

      We are more worried about funding the welfare receipients of this nation than protecting allAmericans from the Red menace.But to look a little deeper and scratch the surface a little deeper we will find that the Red menace is alive and well in this nation in DC. There are 435 in one chamber where 75 at least lean to the dark side and quite a few old school politicans in the other chamber. They are more worried about getting reelected than preserving the nation that gave them the millions of dollars they hide in places like American Samoa.
      Dump the jsf 35 and retro-fit the F18,F-15 with stealth updated electronics,new mor powerfull engines.The F-35 is a elephant in the room who has paid off handsomely for some politicians,lockheed martin,boeing and various other greedy people who are in areas of power.Lets do what is good for our military,our people and our national security.Anything left over we can then work on welfare.Bring back star wars and nasa to help secure our safe future.Peace through strength Forget leading from behind.That only leads to being corn holed

      • Curtis Conway

        Amen. Many left over from WWII and moved to other departments in the federal government because we could not keep them in defense.

    • bobbymike34

      With great posts like these I don’t feel so alone as one of a few voices for Triad and Nuclear Enterprise modernization.

      There is no more important mission than nuclear deterrence and we have been in full retreat, politically, from the mission for 23 years now. There is also no better or cheaper way, frankly, to show your enemies geopolitical resolve than to fully commit to a modernized deterrent force.

  • SS BdM Fuhress ‘Savannah

    Let’s just quit playing around. Build 500 B-2′s and take over the World. The Elite can hide somewhere on a sub while the Nukes fly and in the end come up and have the World they want!

    • Siggenthal Station Steve

      Not so far fetched, we built over 600 B-52s! If we had made the 132 B-2′s we were supposed to, they would have been a lot cheaper each! The B-52 program in total was a far larger % of GDP spend then the B-1 and B-2 combined!

      • SS BdM Fuhress ‘Savannah

        I wonder if it would be better off building B-17′s and B-24′s or one of those without the guns. I mean have the Raptors to protect them from air and just regular bombs to level places into Oblivion. At the cost of One B-2 how many could you make, the whole 8th USAAF? I mean I doubt we will use nukes in a war.

  • Fan of the Sizzle Man

    Well, what would Don the Sizzle Bacon say?

  • Mike

    Ya see, one of the problems that got laid out in an agreement many years ago, is that the Air force never needs the A-10 because they are never on the ground slugging it out with numerically superior forces. And since they never get their ascots dirty they really have no sense of the real need by our ground forces….. And, no, as much as I love helicopters for getting us in and out in a hurry, they are no match for doing CAS for ground troops….. Perhaps the above agreement really does need to get reworked so that the Army can start working like the Marines who seldom have to plead for CAS as they are all part of the Navy…… Many of us of the Vietnam era can attest to wishing for a few hours that we were Marines and not GI Army issue over just that problem…. :(

    • Curtis Conway

      Amen!

  • Jeffery Surratt

    The problem with trying to guess what future needs of the USAF are going to be, it is just a guess. After 20 years in the AF and 20 years retired, the real problem is the waste in the DOD budget. Just ask for more money-give me a break. It is not Gen.Walsh’s money he is spending. As far as sequestration goes live with it and stop crying to Congress. I have to live within my budget, it is time DOD does so as well. We need someone with big balls to tell Lockheed Martin and the rest of the military industrial complex we can not afford 98 million dollar fighters. You will have to build them for 60 million or we will keep flying what we have. Until DOD puts in real cost savings at every level (like not replacing office furniture every two years just because if we do not spend the money we will lose it), the funding problem will continue.

    • Curtis Conway

      Have you checked out the size of the BLACK portion lately?!

    • Siggenthal Station Steve

      By the way, let’s make sure we take into account the much lower value of the US Dollar over the past 20 years! It’s about 1/2 of what it use to be! So, a present day $600 Billion Defense budget is roughly equivalent to a $300 Billion budget in the early 90′s! To avoid this whole Dollar value issue, it’s best to refer to % of GDP. Even back under the peanut farmer President Carter, we spent about 4.5% of GDP on the military, in 2013 we were at about 3.8% (Russia is 4.2%). Even at the peak of spending the past 10 years we were still only spending about the same as Carter did as a percentage, certainly less then the roughly 6% that Reagan was spending to win the Cold War. Back under JFK the Military was 47% of the Federal Budget and Health & Human Services was only 3%! Now, H&HS is about 24% and the Military is only about 15%! We should be spending 4.5 to 5% of GDP on Defense. Many economist over the years have agreed that 5% is a sustainable level of Defense Spending for a Nation. That was part of the reason for the downfall of the USSR, they were spending 25 to 30% of GDP on their military! (and maybe Putin will take them down the same path again?) And who really knows for sure what the Chinese are spending? And because of their much lower labor cost (and less regulations) they are getting a lot more for whatever they are spending. The greatest myths out their nowadays are that the US is spending far to much on Defense and the deficits are because of that!

      • Jeffery Surratt

        The U. S. Government is spending far too much on everything. CBO projects that by 2024 interest on the debt will be 880 Billion per year. We have to start cutting the Federal Budget across the board. And start paying down the debt. If we started paying off just 100 billion per year it would take us 170 years. But, no we are adding 600+ billion per year. This can not go on. Cutting all budgets by 10% would be a good start.

  • Hammer6

    I’m troubled to read that the USAF vision document lists five core missions, none speak squarely to supporting ground forces. The closest – air superiority – enables joint force dominance of all domains. With sequestration forcing prioritization, this gap, present in the service’s core documents, ensures CAS & BAI won’t get the needed emphasis and funding. The A-10 issue may be just the beginning.

    • Siggenthal Station Steve

      As many have said already, let’s just give the A-10s to the US Army and that will instantly put and end to the whole discussion! Change the dam law!

  • Clausewitz

    Definitely the right focus to take. The wars of the future will not be repeats of Afghanistan and Iraq, it’s important to recognise that. This A-10 business is frankly ridiculous. Either amend whatever act prevents the Army from maintaining and using them or just cut the damn thing out altogether.

    • Siggenthal Station Steve

      How do you know the wars of the future won’t be more “Afghanistan’s and Iraq’s”??? I think the Islamist nightmare is going to be with the world for at least another 50 to 100 years, maybe longer! Heck, look at what’s happening in Nigeria, Libya, Mali, Syria, Gaza and now again in Iraq! The war against Islamic Terrorism (WW4) is far from over! As Churchill once said, it may be the “end of the beginning”! (at most) This is going to be a long hard slug! Probably longer and harder than the Cold War (WW3)!

  • Security Protocol 0319

    Hey here’s a crazy idea, why don’t you retire the A-10, buy up a ****-ton of Textron Scorpions, outfit them with a 27mm BK, Paveway, Maverick, Hydra and boom, there’s your new ground attack option.

    • Siggenthal Station Steve

      We should “Lend/Lease” at least a hundred A-10s to the Ukrainians! ASAP!

  • Jason Wisdom

    Why are we so focused on Kicking ass in the USAF? We have 3 other branches to do that. Let go. It’s time for the AF to head to the stars Secretary Deborah Lee James and Chief of Staff Mark Welsh. There are so many vets ready and available for recall to help change the mission to something “POSITIVE” The choice has always been our leadership and we now know where you two knuckle heads are guiding the Air Force. Let me just say this … WTH?

  • daniel

    What the AF wants? Sounds more like what people who want to hollow Out The Military want. Low tech like the a10 is a god send to troops pinned down by enemy fire. But faculty lounge lizards like the one in the Oval Office don’t care about that.