The Word From the Vice Chief

June 1, 2001

Gen. John W. Handy has been vice chief of staff of the Air Force since April 2000. He also serves as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joint Requirements Oversight Council. What follows are excerpts of April 12 remarks to the Defense Writers Group in Washington, D.C.

Foreign Fighter Threat

“If we put our pilots in their [foreign] aircraft, … nine out of 10 of those sorties are lost to our guys in their airplanes. What that tells you is that training is the difference between our aircraft today. It is not technology, it is training. If I were weighing the scale of capability and my challenge was I just need to train better to beat you, I am going to spend the money in training, because I’ve already got the technology. That is a scary thought. … The [Russian-made double-digit] SAMs are an incredible threat. It is a scary, scary thing. There is no sense in not developing weapon systems that have the capability to defeat potential enemies and potential technology breakthroughs as well as those that we already know about.”

Fighter Requirement

“[Reducing the planned buy of F-22 fighters] would represent constraints that would unquestionably lessen our ability to guarantee the security of not only air forces but deployed ground forces. We couldn’t do our job. I’ve already said the requirement is 339. In fact, the requirement could readily be more than that. We constrained it many, many times already. You all know that as well as I do. We are down to 339. I am saying, categorically, that in our best analysis of the threat, ground and air, our best analysis of the tempo that this nation expects, that is the number you need to prosecute the conflict.”

Conventional B-2 Bomber

“With regards to B-2C: You all know we have an unsolicited proposal, and we just don’t have the money to afford the aircraft right now. We really, really like the capability that the B-2 brings to the fight. That is perhaps one of the most unremarkable statements I’ll give you all day. That shouldn’t surprise anybody. Its performance in the air war over Serbia was extraordinary and well-documented. … But with the existing topline, we can’t get where we are from, to there. We have an incredible list of other priorities that are desperately needed over and above that.”

Aging Infrastructure

“Right now, our milcon [military construction] rate, for example, is on a 250-year recap [recapitalization] rate. … The last people I know who could do that were the [ancient] Egyptians. … We are not in the business of building military installations that can last 250 years. Industry rate is 50 years. When you ask about trade-offs, we’ve traded off a tremendous amount of our infrastructure for what we have today, and we need to get out of that. We need to get into the business of here is the requirement, send that bill to the President, and get on with it.”

Two Major Theater Wars

“The whole debate about two MTWs and lesser contingencies, … to some degree, presents more sizing constructs. … I am not convinced that, even if we back off of the two-MTW construct-which seems to be fairly popular, if you read a lot of what you report-[it would] change a whole lot in terms of numbers, because no one can predict with certainty what the challenge is going to be out there.”

Anti-Access Issue

“I differ with [critics who] go straight from anti-access as the issue … to the B-2 as the solution–as if … long-range strike is the only solution to anti-access. We could have an entire day together talking about how you deal with anti-access [problems]. I would assert that this nation can go anywhere in the world it chooses to, any time it chooses to, through a wide variety of kick-down-the-door accessible means. … It is healthy to discuss potential problems, but then it is also healthy to follow that up with [a question], ‘What are the appropriate methods to attack the problem?’ All too often, it is just, ‘long-range strike.’ I am not being pejorative about long-range strike by any means. It is just one of [many] things in the tool kit, and we should never be in a position of having one arrow to fire in the name of solving a potential problem.”

Joint Strike Fighter a Key

“Categorically, the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps need Joint Strike Fighter. We all agree to that. … One of the issues we face as a department–I mean all of us, not just the Department of the Air Force, but all DOD–is interoperability. The Joint Strike Fighter presents a huge advantage to this nation, to get a fighter at a price that gives you a weapon system that all of us are using. That concept is right on the mark.”

Fighter Trade-off

“Why not more F-22s instead of Joint Strike Fighter? Well, I’ll just make it clear that the reason for the combination of the high-low mix-F-22 air superiority and Joint Strike Fighter for the predominantly air-to-ground role–is that mix. As you migrate into the future and you want greater and nicer and more capable technology and interoperability, then it makes good sense to continue with that high-low mix concept. … I don’t want to ever get in the debate of trading one for the other; we need both. …

“I don’t think it is wise to … try to pit … two very specific fighters against each other. They have roles to play and the advantage that we would have in the Air Force is that in that day when you have that appropriate high-low mix between F-22 air superiority fighters and a JSF with the predominantly air-to-ground role and some variants, perhaps, of the F-22 as we go through time, that we will have replaced our very old fighter force with a very modern fighter force. Let me emphasize that. You all know the average age of our force right now is 22 years. By 2020 it is going to be 30 years, even with the current acquisition programs.”

Fighter Maintenance Costs

“The thing that is killing us today [is that] our flying hour program [cost] has increased from seven to 12 percent a year over the last five years. … The F-15 costs per flying hour, maintenance man-hour per flying hour, is on about a 45-degree angle on any chart of cost. … We’ve loved the F-16. We love the F-15. The A-10 is an incredible workhorse. The F-117 is an incredible aircraft. But all of those are old technology, and … it is costing the nation too much. … Right now, in 2001, we are looking at a $500 million increase to the ’01 flying hour program due entirely to the increases in the costs per flying hour. That is $500 million that we could have been spending somewhere else, but we are going to have to find out how we get through this year.”

Future Electronic Warfare

“Inside the Air Force, we debated long and hard about the EF-111 and our whole EW capabilities, and we’ve just last fall had a major EW summit to address some of the questions you are talking about. The Air Force is not discounting any option. On the other hand, we are not looking to-. … The solution in the EW world is probably a joint solution. We want to work with all of our service teammates to answer the question, to discuss potential solutions. And it could be any one of the litany of things you are talking about plus others that we consider. …

“We will continue to look at the business of EW. You could say, Is there a space solution? Is there an airborne solution? Is it a common wide-body? Is it potentially a UAV [Unmanned Aerial Vehicle]? Do you need to man a platform to do the things you are talking about doing to detect signals? Is it the manned platform or a potentially unmanned platform that really reacts? All of the above.”

Excitement About UCAVs

“We are heavy into … UCAV [Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle]. These things are neat, exciting ideas. They present some capabilities that we have never seen in the past. All services, I think, are excited about it, and I can certainly tell you the Air Force is. A lot of [this is] myth. Heck, I am a pilot, but I am not on any crusade to keep jobs for pilots. That is not what we are about. It is an issue of exciting technology. It represents some tremendous capability, and we shouldn’t limit ourselves in any fashion to what we can do with the UCAV or any other unmanned, unpiloted platform.”

Air Force and Osprey

“We need to see what the current facts in the [V-22 Osprey] investigation reveal. We need to see what the current test program reveals. The prudent answer is, we want to watch and see what the actual, real facts are. I really can’t go any further than that. We need the V-22. Our SOF [Special Operations Forces] are in the position, almost an untenable position if we don’t get the V-22. Don’t misread my comments. It is just that common sense says, ‘Let’s look and ask some tough questions.’ “

Worries About the Force

“Right now, we are able to recruit our numbers. We are about 102 to 103 percent of our goal in recruiting. We have banked 100 percent of our requirement, but we still have not met our retention numbers in the areas that you are most concerned about, and that is in second-term and career airmen. We’d like to retain 95 percent of our career people until retirement. Ninety-one percent is the current position. People are a real, real serious problem to us.”

Experience “Death Spiral”

“Our maintenance folks are manning aircraft maintenance at 100 percent today. But if you look inside the number, you are overmanned in the recruit. … We are undermanned, at about the 75 percent level across the board, [in] seasoned technicians. … You don’t have the technicians that you need to … train the next breed of people. It can quickly become a death spiral. We can throw money at parts. We can put money against the flying hour program. It is difficult to just say that the people problem is a money issue. It is not just money. It is recruiting, training, retaining. Looking after families. Avoiding high-demand, low-density, silver bullet-type weapon systems. … I cannot overemphasize the importance of people to us.”

Two Types of Age

“There are two things to consider with the age of something. There is a technological age, and that is how you modify and modernize the system so it has got better radar, better internal capabilities. … The other one would be the structural age or the chronological age. All of us age chronologically. You can improve yourself technically with glasses and hearing aids and knee replacements; weapon systems are not unlike that. … B-52s [that stood] on alert in the days of the Cold War weren’t flying an awful lot. So, [in] chronological age, which is the one we are both quoting, it is an old airplane. [In] flying hour age, there is a tremendous amount of flying hours left on the airplane. From an engineering perspective, not from the technological internal weapon systems, but from an engineering perspective, the airplane is not as old as the years would imply.”