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USAF Woes

Cloud Cover

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USAF Tested Minuteman III Missile today. Plucked from silo in Minot, flown to Vandenberg AFB and reassembled. Launched this morning by a strike team located at F.E. Warren AFB in Wyoming.  4200 mile flight. Warhead removed, of course.

https://www.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/1831488/fe-warren-afb-tests-minuteman-iii-missile-with-launch-from-vandenberg/

https://www.af.mil/News/Air-Force-TV/videoid/676334/
 

MarkOttawa

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And RCAF? Start of major piece, imagine a serving Canadian office writing something like this for public consumption:

The Role of the Personnel System in the Air Force Leadership and Retention Crisis

The U.S. Air Force graduates a new pilot training class every three weeks. Ten years later, a new pilot training class becomes eligible for separation from the active duty Air Force. Every three weeks, the Air Force has less pilots than it did before and the exodus shows no signs of stopping. Increasing contract extension payments, commonly referred to as bonuses, haven’t stopped the bleeding, while experience shortages continue to emerge in careers such as weapons systems officers, maintainers, and enlisted aircrew. In contrast to simplistic payment gaps, the Air Force is actually suffering from systemically poor leadership throughout the ranks. Poor leadership, and its correlation to poor retention, stems from structural flaws within the industrialized personnel system — which prizes uniform progression, homogenous personnel evaluations, and ineffective selection boards — hampering the selection of the best leaders to address the challenges facing the Air Force.

The Impact of Leadership on an Organization

Sporadic complaints of job and career dissatisfaction and poor leadership have been authored, yet no one has offered a root cause analysis as to why Air Force leadership is poor. Without understanding the root cause of leadership shortfalls, any recommendation to improve Air Force leadership, and retention, is most likely insufficient because it will not address deeply systemic issues, nor highlight to senior officers how a change will address a specific weakness. The authors of the bestselling book Primal Leadership state the best leaders produce better business results (mission accomplishment), talent retention, higher morale, motivation, and commitment. However, studies have shown military promotion criteria does not necessarily gauge leadership potential and frustration with a bureaucratic promotion system causes officers to separate. The Air Force has minimally addressed the role of leadership in its retention crisis, which is shaped by its personnel system. Of the more than 300 approved research topics for Air University students, less than a handful focus on leadership impact on retention. The Fifth Discipline explains that today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions to other problems, making it easy to miss how the underlying structure of the personnel system contributes to poor leadership and retention. Therefore senior leaders focus on the symptoms of the problem, airline hiring, instead of the cause of the problem, which can be summarized by the age-old adage that people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses.

The personnel system is a holdover from the industrial age championed by the likes of Frederick Winslow Taylor. Industrial systems apply “scientific management” that make decisions based on efficiency, optimization, averages, and populations; not on individual requirements, capabilities, capacity, or creativity. Industrial systems do not attempt to promote the right person into the right job at the right time to achieve the right outcome. Instead, they standardize skills, maintain an average, and manage a population. In order to empower an individual to innovate or simply perform outside of a generic average in a rapidly changing environment, organizations must ditch industrial age policies as an anachronism if those organizations desire to stay relevant. Talent and performance are multi-dimensional, and not easily measured in simplistic ways. Gen. Stanley McChrystal decries industrial age policies in his book, Team of Teams, because the ability to adapt to complexity and continual change is imperative compared to the efficiency of industrial modes. Similarly, Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast is trying to move pilot training away from an “industrial age” training model towards one that adapts to each individual. If leadership and innovation within the Air Force is to become more than a bumper sticker, its personnel system must move away from industrial age systems. While some changes are afoot, they are late to market and don’t fix the larger root causes facing the force.

Uniform Progression

Promotion rates are overwhelmingly dependent on tenure, not leadership performance or potential...For example, pilots and other line officers are currently guaranteed promotion through the rank of major assuming they don’t have any negative indicators in their personnel file. After that point, “below-the-zone” (i.e. early promotion) rates for the 10 percent of officers allotted a “definitely promote” recommendation have roughly a 33 percent promotion rate to the rank of lieutenant colonel. The other 90 percent of the force receives a more generic “promote” recommendation with less than a 1 percent chance of promotion...

Lt. Col. Adam “Trader” Chitwood is a B-1B instructor pilot and distinguished graduate of the United States Air Force Weapons School. He currently serves as a staff officer in U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. The views expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Air Force or U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.
https://warontherocks.com/2019/05/the-role-of-the-personnel-system-in-the-air-force-leadership-and-retention-crisis/

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Good2Golf

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MarkOttawa said:
And RCAF? Start of major piece, imagine a serving Canadian office writing something like this for public consumption:
...
Mark
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The difference is that almost all in the USAF know that this piece hits close to the truth.  The RCAF seems to still be more institutionalized back into the 20th Century, and much more aligned to an ‘Emperor’s New Clothes” mindset, than at least acknowledging that maybe someone who took the time to write an educated, critically thought out piece, might actually be on to something.  I suspect the RCAF will still see (relatively) high attrition rates, and many remaining will actually press for the positive message of “we’re better
off without them.”

Le plus que ça change...

:2c:

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G2G
 

Journeyman

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....plus our Air Force has broken the code that retention has nothing to do with leadership or equipment;  RCAF pers require only embroidered squadron t-shirts and pretty coloured Velcro stuff for morale to soar... (Ad Astra, as it were).    :nod:

- sarcasm off

OK, maybe we need more mid-level leadership to write things like this, since the higher leadership is obviously taking nothing away from town-halls with the troops (or listening only to Comd CWOs advising crap like, "I've got jump wings and a dive badge ... so the troops are crying out  for the ability to Velcro two skill badges onto CADPAT!  Yes sir, that's it;  the soldiers don't care about equipment or training.")  :not-again:

- bitterness  recurring disappointment at some CAF "leadership" off
 

MarkOttawa

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Would anything work for RCAF except prospect of good new fighters within, say, six years? Start of major piece, yet another by a serving American officer:

[USAF] Help Wanted: Experienced Fighter Pilots Apply Here

According to the Air Force, the military organization has a few job openings — over 2,000 — in the pilot department, especially if you have experience. In his three-part series, Mike Benitez does a wonderful job illustrating how the service got to this position and how the lack of experienced pilots degrades its lethality and disrupts its ability to replenish the force through basic pipeline training. A year after War on the Rocks published Benitez’s articles, I hope to offer a “front line” perspective as one of the pilots the Air Force is attempting to retain.

I am one year from being promoted to major. Eighteen months after that, I’ll be at the end of my service commitment. I have over 1500 hours flying, 300 of which are combat. I have been an instructor pilot for over two years, and I love my job. I am exactly the person the Air Force is attempting to retain, and they’re offering a $35,000 annual bonus for a three to 12 year commitment. Shouldn’t this be an easy decision? To continue the vocation I love with an employer that values my skills and is willing to pay me for them? Unfortunately, this is not the case because the active-duty Air Force has a messaging problem and an identity crisis.

We Want You (to Have No Control)

The Air Force is in desperate need of experienced pilots, especially fighter pilots. The RAND corporation has mathematically proven that the only way to ease the Air Force’s pilot shortage crisis is through the retention of experienced pilots. The failure of the Air Force to meet retention goals despite generous bonuses is well-documented in recent years. From my perspective, one of the main reasons pilots hesitate to sign these bonuses is the associated uncertainty. Once the commitment has been signed by the pilot, no guarantees are made by the Air Force regarding the member’s ability to remain in flying assignments or how long they and their family will live in a given location. Around the water cooler in the squadrons, the bonus is treated and talked about as a trap. The Air Force says that the organization needs experienced pilots, however the solution is not to bribe the pilots but rather to implement an appropriate policy. No one likes ambiguity, and the solution is making guarantees [emphasis added]. For a large percentage of fighter pilots, guaranteeing the ability to stay in flying assignments communicates that their skills are valued and would go a long way in convincing them to continue serving. Show you care and value them, their skills, and their families, and they will stay. As Capt. Danny Dees said, “in order to halt the present retention trend, we need to develop a sense of commitment . . . our rated force toward the service and conversely, the service toward our rated force.” This especially will be crucial if the force follows through with multiplying from 312 squadrons to 386, with seven additional fighter squadrons.

Who Am I?

Maj. Roger Garrett explains that the problem pilots face is that the “biggest measure of success in today’s Air Force is promotion.” As a fighter pilot, my biggest measure of long-term success is time in the jet. I don’t look at the chief of staff of the Air Force and wonder in awe how he did it or what his keys to career success were. I walk into the bar and find the oldest and meanest looking fighter pilot and ask him “how in the hell did you get so lucky? Tell me how I can fly for as long as you did!” The epitome of this ideal is Lt. Col. Rob “Sweetness” Sweet, a Desert Storm veteran and former prisoner of war who still flies A-10s in the 476th Fighter Group.

A survey conducted by an Air Command and Staff College student found,

    The dilemma perceived by pilots…is one of being forced to choose between two unacceptable alternatives: they can enhance promotability and job security by giving up what they enjoy and getting a staff or rated supplement job, or they can continue in rated duties and unnecessarily jeopardize their promotion opportunities.

The report continues:

    [M]any of the airline pilots, as well as Air Force pilots who plan to . . . [separate], indicated they would have remained in the Air Force if they were given an opportunity to spend a career performing flying duties and be equitably recognized for doing so.

These statements are not from 2019, but from a survey in 1979 during another pilot retention crisis. The time was different, but the problem is the same. The majority of men and women currently in cockpits joined the Air Force to do one thing — fly — and that should be ok. The time and dedication it takes to learn the job and continue to adapt to new tactics and threats is endless, challenging, and rewarding.

However, when I tell people that I only want to fly, the common response is that “you’re an officer first and you should want to lead.” What they perhaps don’t realize is that fighter pilots lead through execution...

Capt. William “Basher” Piepenbring is an A-10C instructor pilot. He currently serves as a line IP in the 25th fighter squadron Osan Air Base, Korea. The views expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Air Force.
https://warontherocks.com/2019/05/help-wanted-experienced-fighter-pilots-apply-here/

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dapaterson

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Pilots want to fly.

That Air Forces around the world do not understand this speaks poorly of their institutional leadership.
 

dimsum

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dapaterson said:
Pilots want to fly.

That Air Forces around the world do not understand this speaks poorly of their institutional leadership.

Yes.  And since Air Forces are led by and large by Pilots, one would think that they, of all people, would understand this. 

But then again, if they only let the Pilots fly and leave the "leading" to others, then Navigators would be the leaders, and no Pilot wants that to happen (again).    :rofl:
 

dapaterson

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I don't know; with advances in AI, letting GPS box command might be a marked improvement.
 

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There are two types of pilots:  those that do this for the flying and those that do this as a mean to progress in rank and position.  Those that do this for flying are your tactical leaders.  They lead in the execution.  Those wishing to progress in rank lead in the strategic planning.  Both have an important role.  The two groups don’t really understand each other (“Why wouldn’t everyone want to fly for life” and “Why wouldn’t everyone want to be he CDS one day”). That’s why pilots in senior leadership positions don’t necessarily understand and definitely not support the “flyer for life” concept.
 

Good2Golf

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SupersonicMax said:
There are two types of pilots:  those that do this for the flying and those that do this as a mean to progress in rank and position.  Those that do this for flying are your tactical leaders.  They lead in the execution.  Those wishing to progress in rank lead in the strategic planning.  Both have an important role.  The two groups don’t really understand each other (“Why wouldn’t everyone want to fly for life” and “Why wouldn’t everyone want to be he CDS one day”). That’s why pilots in senior leadership positions don’t necessarily understand and definitely not support the “flyer for life” concept.

There are some notable exceptions to the ‘two types of pilots’ rule, although few and far between and one of them retiring last Friday doesn’t help their dwindling numbers.  Overall though, I agree with your postulate.

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dimsum

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SupersonicMax said:
There are two types of pilots:  those that do this for the flying and those that do this as a mean to progress in rank and position.  Those that do this for flying are your tactical leaders.  They lead in the execution.  Those wishing to progress in rank lead in the strategic planning.  Both have an important role.  The two groups don’t really understand each other (“Why wouldn’t everyone want to fly for life” and “Why wouldn’t everyone want to be he CDS one day”). That’s why pilots in senior leadership positions don’t necessarily understand and definitely not support the “flyer for life” concept.

Similar thing with ACSOs, although I think there's also a third type - the one who wants staff/educational opportunities more than "flying for life", but not necessarily command positions. 
 

tomahawk6

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IMO the limiting factor is the insistence that as you progress you must command either a flight,a squadron or a wing. I think allowing pilots to fly without being forced into a command position. I think the Israeli Air Force allows this. So you might have a Colonel piloting his aircraft commanded by a major who is squadron commander. Although with rank inflation a chronic problem that squadron commander might be a Colonel since wing commanders seem increasingly to be Brigadier Generals.
 

SupersonicMax

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The only benefit on doing this would be increase in pay even as a professional flyer.  The “fly at all cost” folks don’t care about rank but do care about their bottom line.
 

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MarkOttawa said:
The failure of the Air Force to meet retention goals despite generous bonuses is well-documented in recent years. From my perspective, one of the main reasons pilots hesitate to sign these bonuses is the associated uncertainty. Once the commitment has been signed by the pilot, no guarantees are made by the Air Force regarding the member’s ability to remain in flying assignments or how long they and their family will live in a given location. Around the water cooler in the squadrons, the bonus is treated and talked about as a trap.

Bingo.

The CF "Pilot-Get-Well" programme of the late nineties had this same fatal flaw. I was one of those eligible for the full $75000 amount (others were eligible for $50000, and some for $00000). I'd also just reached my pensionable point. Who in their right mind would trade that freedom for such uncertainty?

Only one guy in 400 Squadron did, and he was planning to stay in until CRA regardless of what happened.

As it was to be paid in three annual chunks and not spread over the full period, much more than was necessary would have been lost to the taxman anyway.
 

MarkOttawa

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USAF LCOL suggests mixed fleet of F-15EXs and #F-35As to replace F-15Cs (note homeland defence/NORAD role, some nice graphics in big piece):

F-15EX and F-35A: The Future of American Air Superiority
...
The optimal solution may include a mix of F-15EX and F-35A to replace the F-15C. This involves starting F-15EX procurement immediately to address F-15C readiness concerns and assess the viability of transitioning some, but not all, F-15C squadrons to the F-35A. If the assessment is positive, the Air Force could begin the 3–5-year transition cycle to build infrastructure supporting the F-35A and cross-train personnel at selected bases. Additional F-15EX and F-35A aircraft would then be purchased between 2025–2029 to complete the divestment of the aging F-15C fleet. While this will result in high procurement costs, the Air Force will return on its investment close to 2040 by divesting the F-15C and its high annual operating cost. The F-15EX will provide superior firepower and magazine capacity to complement the advantages of stealth provided by the F-35A and F-22. This option spreads procurement costs over several budget cycles, addresses readiness and capacity concerns, provides increased capability, allows time for F-35A basing to establish required infrastructure, and lowers annual operating costs by getting rid of 40-year-old fighters...

Brad Orgeron is a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Air Force. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Air Force, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

Orgeron-Table-6.png

https://warontherocks.com/2019/05/f-15ex-and-f-35a-the-future-of-american-air-superiority/

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MarkOttawa

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B-1B blues:

B-1 Lancer readiness is in the toilet, here’s why

The state of the U.S. Air Force’s B-1B Lancer fleet is bad — really bad — and lawmakers on the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee want the service to come up with a plan to fix the problem.

The United States’ long-range strike capabilities “may be placed at increased risk by aging structural problems with the B-1," according to the panel’s markup of HR 2500, the House’s version of the fiscal 2020 defense policy bill, released Monday. The Lancer isn’t getting the resources and attention necessary to improve its mission-capable rates.

The situation has gotten so bad, according to the subcommittee, that the number of B-1 aircraft that are fully mission-capable is now only in the single digits. What’s more, B-1 aircrew are being rerouted from flying the bomber to other aircraft, because there aren’t enough Lancers for their necessary training...The Air Force has 62 B-1 bombers. In fiscal 2017, the most recent year for which aircraft readiness data is available, the Air Force said that the Lancer’s mission-capable rate was 52.8 percent, meaning about 32 or 33 bombers were ready to fly at any given time.
https://www.airforcetimes.com/news/your-air-force/2019/06/04/b-1-lancer-readiness-is-in-the-toilet-heres-why/

Earlier:

USAF Upgrade, Service Life Programs Point To New Roles For B-1Bs

Nearly 18 years of almost continuous deployment as one of the world’s largest and most unlikely close air support aircraft have taken a toll on the U.S. Air Force’s B-1B bomber fleet.

...Air Force must first address the wear and tear imposed by the activity of the last two decades on the B-1B’s structures and engines, even as some experts call for reassessing the aircraft’s value in the event of a high-end conflict erupting before 2036, the fleet’s scheduled retirement date.

But the focus now is mainly on repairs. Starting in fiscal 2018, the Air Force began a program to extend the service life of the bomber fleet’s 289 GE Aviation F101 engines through 2040...
https://aviationweek.com/military-trainers-light-attack/usaf-upgrade-service-life-programs-point-new-roles-b-1bs

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tomahawk6

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I hope this will get top priority from the fighter mafia. Might as well do a full makeover which will be cheaper than a piece meal fix ie engines todat,wings and air frames later.
 

MarkOttawa

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Another major piece on F-15EX and F-35A--some excerpts, pity we don't see this sort of very detailed and quantitative public analysis in Canada.:

The Wrong Fight Over Fighters: Understanding the F-15X Purchase

Since the March release of the 2020 defense budget, the Pentagon’s decision to purchase new F-15X fighters to replace geriatric F-15Cs has occupied a disproportionate share of defense coverage, analysis, and congressional attention. Confusion reigns, as initial explanations by the Pentagon, convinced almost no one and were often met with befuddlement because the Defense Department did not adequately explain the purchase to Congress. Why, seemingly out of the blue, the Pentagon was asking for more fourth-generation aircraft when then Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson had previously stated that achieving the proper mix of fighter aircraft meant buying stealthy fifth-generation planes, “not new fourth-generation aircraft.”

In the absence of a convincingly argued case for the F-15C replacement decision, the public debate devolved into a fight between Boeing’s F-15X, the modernized fourth-generation fighter, and Lockheed’s F-35A, the stealthy fifth-generation alternative. Framing the F-15X purchase as an either/or proposition vis a vis the F-35 makes for a compelling story but does not accurately capture the complexities of the case for replacing aging F-15Cs. Policymakers and observers have focused too often on comparing the capability and physical characteristics of each aircraft. In reality, Pentagon officials made the decision primarily based on mission requirements, short-term readiness concerns, and the long-term costs of operating the fighters.

Even so, because the comparison between F-15X and F-35A is shot through with uncertainties, the decision to purchase F-15Xs should be viewed as neither a slam-dunk nor a harebrained idea. However, the brouhaha over F-15X and F-35A distracts from far more important debates the nation should be having about the future of American airpower. The most valuable commodity in politics is time, not money—and the F-15C replacement debate represents a massive opportunity cost for an Air Force with nowhere near the capacity and capability to carry out its missions according to the National Defense Strategy.

“Out of the Blue”

The Pentagon proposes to buy 80 F-15Xs over the next five years, likely expanding to an eventual buy of 144 or more to “refresh” the F-15C/D fleet—and potentially the F-15E fleet down the road. The Air Force did not request these aircraft. Rather, the Pentagon’s independent cost-estimation shop—the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation Office (CAPE)—ran its own analyses and eventually brought the Air Force around to its position, whether through convincing or by fiat. Either way, former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis signed off on the decision...

Costs of Replacing the F-15Cs

The Air Force has long known that its 235 F-15C/D Eagle air superiority aircraft face the end of their service lives in the mid-2020s. Most of these aircraft serve in Air National Guard units conducting the homeland air defense mission, intercepting Russian military aircraft [emphasis added, i.e. NORAD] and civilian aircraft that stray where they shouldn’t...

The Air Force has long known that its 235 F-15C/D Eagle air superiority aircraft face the end of their service lives in the mid-2020s. Most of these aircraft serve in Air National Guard units conducting the homeland air defense mission, intercepting Russian military aircraft and civilian aircraft that stray where they shouldn’t.

As a baseline, the 30 year-old F15C fleet currently costs $42,000 per hour to operate, and that rate is growing quickly, which means that either the F-35A or the F-15X is cheaper to operate after about a decade. CAPE pegs new F-15X cost per flying hour at $27,000. Given extensive experience with the modern version of the F-15 airframe, those costs may be slightly higher or lower, but they are relatively well known. F-15Xs would enter service in the "mature phase" of the bathtub. In comparison, according to recent testimony by CAPE director Bob Daigle, the F-35A currently costs $44,000 per flying hour. However, the F-35A remains in the "immature phase" of the bathtub, and the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin plan to drive the cost per flying hour down to $34,000 per hour by 2024 and are shooting for $25,000 per hour by 2025, according to the head of the program. Achieving the ambitious goals for F-35A operating costs will not be easy. As the program head noted, “the 25 by 25 wasn’t generated by the program office nor by CAPE. It was a stretch goal given to us by our leadership.” And while the F-35 program has made steady progress on driving costs down, the F-35 still faces significant problems with spare parts availability, the Automated Logistics Information System, and depot-level maintenance.

If F-35 operating costs flatline at $34,000 in 2024, procuring F-15Xs instead of F-35A would save $1 billion by 2030 and about $3 billion by 2040. However, if the Air Force and Lockheed were to drive F-35A costs down to F-15X levels, there is almost no difference between the long-term business case for the two aircraft. In short, whether one assumes a worse or a better case for operating costs for the F-35, the “savings” in buying the F-15X rather than the F-35 is relatively minimal over the long haul in the grand scheme of the U.S. defense budget...

In addition to the relatively minimal differences in long-term operating costs, analysis shows that differences in initial costs don’t move the needle all between the options. The five-year upfront costs of both the F-15X and F-35A are remarkably similar. According to Air Force budget documents, the F-15X will cost an estimated $80 million per plane. F-35As currently cost $89 million a copy, and the Air Force will likely meet its near-term goal of $80 million a copy. Other upfront costs are also similar...

Reading between the lines—given the nearly identical procurement costs and the uncertainty about long-term operating costs—Pentagon officials placed an extremely high value on how quickly on the transition timeline for F-15C replacement options. Officials, including Gen. Goldfein and Secretary Wilson, noted the transition from F-15C to F-15X would likely be very smooth. As Goldfein sums it up: “it allows you to use the same hangars, same construction, same base, same operating equipment which is 90 percent common, same maintainers, same operators and no time and minimal cost to make a transition.”  In a May hearing, Air Force military procurement chief Lt. Gen. Arnie Bunch testified, “the time to transition from an F-15C to an F-15X we estimate at three to six months, while the time to transition from an F-15C to an F-35 could be anywhere from 18 to 36 months and would require MILCON and other attributes that are not in the budget.”

The fact that transitioning squadrons from the F-15C to the F-35A could take from one to three years effectively erases Lockheed’s ability to deliver 80 aircraft slightly more quickly. Of course, 18 to 36 months is a vast range. Using the lower bound of 18 months, the delay to transition from F-15Cs to F-35As might be matched by Boeing’s slower F-15X delivery timeline. At the higher bound of 36 months, the transition could be delayed by years, worsening the existing readiness problem created by aging F-15Cs and tilting the near-term analysis of operating costs in favor of the F-15X.

Capabilities and Missions

... the mission of homeland air defense, which the F-15C replacement aircraft will perform, does not require a ton of eye-watering capability. As one defense official explained, this is a “mission set for which we do need the capabilities” of a tactical aircraft, “but for which we don’t need a penetrating aircraft that’s more expensive [emphasis added, i.e. NORAD].” And, even if there were a major conflict with Russia or China, it’s not the case that F-35s involved in homeland defense could be just added to the front-line force. In such a scenario, it’s unlikely the defense secretary or the joint chiefs would recommend (and the president accept) the idea of stripping fighter squadrons from homeland defense to send abroad. In this respect, arguments over the comparative capability of the F-35A and F-15X somewhat miss the point.

... The Air Force faces massive shortfalls in both the health and capability of its fighter fleet. Alongside the need for high-end capability, the Air Force simply needs more tactical aircraft immediately begin building a healthy force. As Air Combat Command chief Gen. Holmes mentioned, buying too few fighter aircraft per year means the Air Force will continue to pay ever-increasing amounts for smaller numbers of operational aircraft: “buying 48 F-35s a year will merely create a force, 30 years in the future, that averages 30 years of age per airplane.” General Goldfein has explained the exact same phenomenon: “[The F-15X buy] helps us to get at our target, which is 72 aircraft a year, which is what we need to be able to drive aircraft age from its current 28 average years to 15...

Rick Berger is a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where he works on the defense budget, the National Defense Authorization Act, military appropriations and acquisition reform, as well as on other national security budget-related issues. @bergerrichard
https://www.realcleardefense.com/articles/2019/06/11/the_wrong_fight_over_fighters_understanding_the_f-15x_purchase_114494.html

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MarkOttawa

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Conclusion of a very interesting argument by serving USAF colonel on USAF fighters (F35A, F-15EX) and various capabilities required in various theatre against different opponent. Note also point that conventional ordnance delivered vs. China will hardly bring it to its knees, need to cut off its maritime trade:

Shapes, Part I: The Shape of Airpower
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The Air Force has since adopted a target-centric worldview that treats hostile entities as if they are subject to a “first-ring” strategy that will magically cause enemies to capitulate when airpower is applied. That didn’t even work in Iraq the first time around. The Air Force’s use of precision weapons may have blinded it to the limits of airpower in affecting regime change — particularly against a regime that has proven remarkably resistant. If we think we’re going to bomb China into submission with precision weapons, we’re deluding ourselves. A modern country of China’s size and sophistication is simply not brought to its knees by any flavor of conventional war. Stalin’s Russia wasn’t. Churchill’s British Empire wasn’t. Chiang Kai-Shek’s China resisted a much more powerful Japan. Japan, Germany, and Italy succumbed to physical occupation of their territories and the destruction of their military forces — options not available against China.

That doesn’t mean there are no viable war-fighting strategies. As I’ve pointed out before, China is an island nation, and one with unfavorable geography to boot. We don’t think of it as an island nation, because it doesn’t have water all around it, but its terrain is forbidding. If China is to import necessary materials, export products, or project power that might threaten U.S. interests, it must do so in or over the maritime domain. The land routes are bedeviled with difficult terrain and a limited ability to haul goods — Shanghai can move more tonnage into its port in less than 60 days than all of China’s land routes move in a year. This dependence on maritime traffic opens the country up to a repeat of the counter-maritime strategy that ended Japan’s East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere in 1945 — provided the U.S. military has the proper forces to execute it. The way to deal with China realistically is to focus on limiting its ability to project power (which may be achievable) rather than seeking victory through strategic bombing (a pipe dream). That requires range and payload.

Of course, China is hardly the only adversary the Air Force should be prepared to fight, and the Pacific is not the only theater. Russia threatens U.S. interests, posing a powerful land-based threat to Europe and an emerging expeditionary threat elsewhere. Iran looms large over the Persian Gulf, posing the twin problem of long distances and a lack of friendly border countries for the most part. A nuclear-armed North Korea is still technically at war with South Korea, sitting atop some of the most rugged terrain in North Asia. And the violent extremist threat has in recent years required airpower employment in Africa and Southwest Asia. The prevalence of violent extremists combined with their widespread distribution means the end of the constant rotational presence that has devastated Air Force readiness is nowhere in sight. With a variety of challenges comes the need for a variety of response options.

The Shape of Airpower

As a smart investor relies on a diversified portfolio, so to must the airpower strategist rely on a diversified set of airpower options. The Air Force does actually do this when it comes to bombers: It currently has three models of bomber, with the B-2 optimized for stealth, the B-1 for heavy conventional loads, and the long-serving arsenal plane, the B-52, possessing unmatched — you guessed it — range and payload. We have the C-17, C-130, and C-5 all providing airlift. The KC-135, KC-46, and KC-10 refuel other aircraft in flight. The idea that the F-35 would replace the F-16 and A-10 (vastly different aircraft) was fanciful at the beginning, and it hasn’t gotten any more viable with age.

A procurement strategy that limits the Air Force to a single model of fighter denies the nation a diversified set of airpower capabilities and closes off the use of unique options against a major power. It almost seems as if the Air Force is stuck in the 1980s, when the Soviet threat loomed large over Europe, and the Chinese military was still focused on mass over technology. The long-awaited “pivot” to the Indo-Pacific region with airpower capabilities looks to be a repeat of the focus on irregular warfare required by simultaneous conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan — a focus that never actually came to fruition and instead resulted in a misuse of high-end airpower capabilities for low-intensity operations for more than two decades. A similar condition prevails today: Airpower capabilities designed for one theater and one adversary are applied where they do not fit, in defiance of historical evidence.

The Air Force needs to regain a diversified force, optimized for a variety of conflicts. This diverse force should acknowledge the nature of the most capable adversaries (Russia and China) and the widely differing geography that comes with each. The Air Force has belatedly realized that it should have bought more F-15s, and with the F-15EX, proposes to buy the most advanced variant of what is, inarguably, a world-class fighter. It’s a poor reflection on the state of discourse about airpower if it devolves into an argument of which fighter is “better.” Better for what? Where? Range and payload, baby.

Col. Mike “Starbaby” Pietrucha was an instructor electronic warfare officer in the F-4G Wild Weasel and the F-15E Strike Eagle, amassing 156 combat missions over 10 combat deployments. He is the last American aviator to reach 1000 hours operationally in the mighty Phantom II. As an irregular warfare operations officer, Col. Pietrucha has two additional combat deployments in the company of U.S. Army infantry, combat engineer, and military police units in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is currently assigned to Air Combat Command. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Air Force or the U.S. Government.
https://warontherocks.com/2019/07/shapes-part-i-the-shape-of-airpower/

Mark
Ottawa

 
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