Washington Watch

Sept. 1, 2005

Martin Says “Realism” Can Save Acquisition

If US weapons buyers want to save time, cut expense, and deliver needed capabilities, they must be more realistic about costs and avoid wishful thinking, according to Gen. Gregory S. Martin, the outgoing chief of Air Force Materiel Command.

Martin, speaking at a July seminar on Capitol Hill, maintained that the Air Force puts too much faith in modern manufacturing technologies, faster processors, and smarter ways of doing business when it estimates what new systems will cost. This, he said, inevitably leads to cost overruns and delays.

Had realistic timetables and costs been used from the beginning, said Martin, some programs “never” would have made it into the Air Force budget, because the service would have known that they were unaffordable.

Martin noted that the F/A-22 Raptor is now “the finest fighter in the world,” having revolutionary capabilities that no other aircraft will be able to match for decades. However, he said, the aircraft has been the victim of up-and-down funding, constantly changing procurement plans, cost caps imposed from within by the Pentagon and from without by Congress, and major growth in requirements.

“The whole system believed we could do things differently” from how aircraft were developed and built in the past, but experience has shown “it couldn’t,” Martin said.

He allowed that the Pentagon’s program analysis and evaluation shop, which used historical cost-estimating methods that the Air Force rejected, usually came out with an accurate estimate. “We should listen to those guys,” Martin said.

By comparison, he went on, the Small Diameter Bomb program is proving to be “on time, on cost,” mainly because realistic estimates of schedule and price were established from the outset. In addition, there has been “disciplined program management,” blocking design and requirements changes that were not necessary, and stable funding that both the service and contractor could count on.

The F/A-22 and other troubled programs suffered, Martin said, from a 1990s mind-set that US industry had overcome its biggest challenges, ranging from industrial consolidation and the demand for a post-Cold War “peace dividend” to the Japanese quality revolution.

There was a “belief that we had achieved cultural success” in acquisition, Martin said, fooling acquisition officials into thinking they could sweep away a lot of the old methods and “discard things that worked.”

Martin also argued for programs to be given reserve funds “up front” to deal with the unexpected problems and setbacks that invariably afflict the attempt to create new technology.

“It sounds like a slush fund,” he admitted, but really, “it’s attrition-based planning.” Having the funds to deal with a contingency saves money by avoiding the delays and reprogrammings that usually attend a technology setback.

Asked if there has been a “long line” of acquisition professionals fleeing the system after the ordeal of the tanker lease fiasco, Martin pointed out that there are, seven months later, vacancies in all the top leadership and acquisition positions in the Air Force.

However, retention in the rank-and-file acquisition corps has not suffered. In fact, “we’re turning people away” because people are not leaving at the expected rate.

A retirement “time bomb” long predicted—because 65 percent of the acquisition corps is retirement-eligible—has not gone off, Martin said. “Look at me. I was ‘retirement eligible’ 15 years ago,” he said. “People are staying with us,” he added, and there is a dedicated effort to recruit “young guys … and mentor them.”

Chinese Military Is Catching Up—Fast

China is building up military strength at an “ambitious” pace and is aggressively seeking ways to challenge US capabilities in unconventional ways, the Pentagon asserted in a comprehensive report issued in July.

Beijing may already have an edge in a face-off with Taiwan and is rapidly building up its nuclear forces, power projection capabilities, and naval power, the Pentagon warned, also noting that China is pursuing “leap ahead” and workaround strategies to blunt American military superiority.

The report, required annually by Congress, pegged China’s defense spending at about $90 billion in 2005, “making China the third-largest defense spender in the world after the United States and Russia, and the largest in Asia.”

The figure represents the best US intelligence estimate and is well above China’s publicly stated figure of $29.9 billion. Even China’s low, official budget number is double what China quoted just last year.

Moreover, China’s $90 billion buys quite a bit of capability. Unlike the US, China devotes relatively little of its defense budget to pay, benefits, and quality of life for its troops. Some $80 billion of China’s spending goes to buy hardware, resulting in the rapid acquisition of new warships, submarines, fighter aircraft, missiles, and ground vehicles.

If China maintains its annual, double-digit increases in military spending—made possible by a burgeoning economy—it will draw about even with US spending overall by 2025. Well before that, China will have the means to seriously challenge US action in East Asia and the Western Pacific.

In nuclear forces, China has developed a new ballistic missile, in mobile land-based and sea-launched versions, that can strike anywhere in the US except southern Florida. The mobility and reach of these missiles will give China a “credible, survivable nuclear deterrent.”

In aircraft, China is about to declare operational its own “indigenous” F-10 fighter, a counterpart to the US F-16. China continues to import top-of-the-line Russian Su-30 Flanker fighters and is building a naval version under license. China also is upgrading older designs to antiship configurations and studying conversion of hundreds of obsolete fighters into unmanned aerial vehicles.

Beijing is moving to acquire greater numbers of both aerial refueling aircraft and airborne warning and control aircraft from Russia. China is buying quiet new submarines from Russia, even as it develops its own nuclear boats.

While the Pentagon believes it will be some time before China can mount distant amphibious assaults, selective landings in Taiwan are well within its capabilities.

The Pentagon said that the purchase of S-300 air defense systems from Russia will give China the ability to engage aircraft over Taiwan itself. A back-engineered version also is being designed and built in China.

In recent years, China has aimed hundreds of tactical ballistic missiles at Taiwanese installations. It also has built a large inventory of precision cruise missiles.

The worry is that China is building the means to attack and defeat Taiwan before the US or any other ally can react.

China is moving forcefully to expand its command and control and intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance capabilities as well as space capabilities. The planned launch of a two-man Chinese spacecraft this month is indicative of the progress it is making both in launch vehicles and spacecraft.

China’s military doctrine also acknowledges that it cannot yet challenge the US or other world powers in a toe-to-toe fight, but it is expanding its unconventional capabilities, such as cyber-attack, the possible use of nuclear electromagnetic pulse, information and psychological warfare, and the economic or military coercion of other parties.

The Pentagon noted that it’s tough to gauge China’s intentions. Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon press conference that, despite the report’s noting of China’s military preparedness, it was not meant to signal that DOD believes an attack is coming.

“You judge military threat in two ways: one, capacity and two, intent,” Pace said. “There are lots of countries in the world that have the capacity to wage war. Very few have the intent to do so. And, clearly, we have a complex but good relationship with China. So there’s absolutely no reason for us to believe there’s any intent on their part.”

The Pentagon concluded that China is at a military “crossroads” and that the US “welcomes” the growth of China as peaceful and stabilizing power.

Shortly after the report was released, China complained to the US embassy in Beijing that the document was a pack of “reckless accusations.” Vice Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said the report was “crude meddling in Chinese internal affairs and … tries to sow discord between China and other countries.”

A week earlier, Chinese Gen. Zhu Chenghu said his country lacks the ability to fight a conventional war with the US, and, if the US intervened in a conflict with Taiwan, Beijing “will have to respond with nuclear weapons.”

The Chinese government later said the general was making personal comments and that it maintains a “no first use” policy on nuclear weapons.

Sorting Out the UAV Situation

The Pentagon, bowing to pressure from the other services, has turned aside USAF’s bid to become the executive agent for US military unmanned aerial vehicles. Instead, a number of joint organizations will try to unify and rationalize the functions of UAV forces.

In June, the Joint Requirements Oversight Council took a look at the proposal to create an executive agent, a designation for which USAF lobbied as part of a broader rationalization of intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance powers. ISR currently is the primary function for the unmanned aircraft. (See “Washington Watch: The UAV Skirmishes,” June, p. 11.)

In the end, however, the JROC decided against creating such an agent at this time. It left open the possibility of doing so in the future. The JROC comprises the vice chiefs of all of the armed services, plus some senior civilian leaders.

The Air Force already serves as the executive agent for space. Doing so for UAVs would have given it authority over how UAV funds are allocated and spent defensewide. USAF had argued that it is the natural service for UAV coordination, given its primacy in most ISR functions, as the lead service on the Joint Unmanned Combat Air System, and its experience guiding the development of air and space systems.

Moreover, some future UAVs could take the form of near-space craft, dwelling for long periods in the extremely thin air just below orbital altitudes. The Air Force believed it was best suited to coordinate UAV activities because these near-space craft will have to be highly interactive with satellites.

In addition, Pentagon regulations call for an executive agent to be designated when there is risk that the services will inefficiently duplicate each other’s efforts in a given mission area.

The JROC assembled a “tiger team” to evaluate the Air Force’s arguments and the benefits and risks of putting one service in charge of UAV coordination.

The arguments “against” came from all the other services, each of which already has developed and fielded its own UAV systems, and which see UAVs as fulfilling very service-specific functions. (See “The Clash of the UAV Tribes,” p. 46.) Making one service the executive agent, they claimed, would somehow make UAV programs less responsive to the specific needs of each branch.

Each service has enthusiastically embraced these robotic craft for their power to quickly—and relatively cheaply—expand situational awareness. They wanted to keep UAVs “tethered” to the commanders that need the intelligence the vehicles can deliver.

Nevertheless, the services agreed that the US needed an overall structure to coordinate UAV efforts. Two organizations were created in July to head up collaborative UAV doctrine and hardware coordination.

The Air Force’s new UAV headquarters at Creech AFB, Nev. (formerly Indian Springs Air Force Auxiliary Field), was designated a joint UAV Center of Excellence (COE). There, military officers will try to coordinate concepts, training, and tactics. They will work out best uses of sensors and the optimum ways for UAVs to plug into the Pentagon’s information network. The center will have an “operational” focus, the Pentagon said.

To emphasize the joint nature of the COE, leadership will rotate among the services. The first commander will be Army Brig. Gen. Walter L. Davis, who will have an Air Force deputy.

Another new organization was created, this one called the Joint UAV Overarching Integrated Product Team (JOIPT), which will do more of the UAV programmatic work that might have been done by an executive agent. In announcing this organization, the Pentagon said it will “provide a forum to identify and resolve materiel issues and seek solutions common to all the military services.”

The JOIPT will also “concentrate on improving UAV system interoperability and will promote standardization and commonality” of UAV systems. DOD expects the outfit to beign work this fall.

The two organizations—COE and JOIPT—are to coordinate their efforts, especially “when the lines between material and nonmaterial solutions blur.”

Digging Out of the Readiness Pit

Air Combat Command went back to flying something like a normal schedule in July, but flying hours it gave up under the Air Force’s austerity plan will keep readiness under par into October.

Senior USAF leadership ordered major flying hour cuts to make up an overall operations funding shortfall of more than $3 billion. (See “The $3 Billion Shave,” July, p. 76.) This move resulted in substantial reductions in pilot proficiency during the 45-day period between mid-May and the end of June, ACC officials reported.

In early May, the command slashed $272 million from its budget for flying hours, which would have cut the hours of some units as much as 60 percent through the end of the fiscal year.

After arguing that a key factor in US war readiness was going to drop too far, ACC won back about $200 million of its flying hour funds in a “rebate” approved in June by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, but the damage was done.

The effects of the lost training will be felt at least through the end of the fiscal year. The affected pilots will be permanently behind the average flying hours in their career fields. Those pilots who came up for the training-intensive parts of their predeployment cycle won’t have missed any hours.

The command lost 11,000 flying hours during the slowdown, part of its $825 million share of the USAF-wide funding cut. The 2,500 hours returned were targeted at units preparing for deployment to Southwest Asia and other overseas locations. Units that already returned from deployments, and were not scheduled to return for a while, suffered the most.

Flying hours were not the only item hammered in the funding cut. Maintenance items that support commanders deemed could be safely postponed—so called “noncritical” items—have been pushed into Fiscal 2006.

The cuts in hours didn’t affect all units equally. Bomber hours are typically more costly than fighter hours, and bomber crews tend to accrue more simulator time than fighter crews. However, ACC officials said there was a minimum number of hours below which they would not go for bomber crews.

Under the austerity plan, top priority for hours went to units either just coming up for deployment or just returned, in order to preserve the Air and Space Expeditionary Force combat capability. The second priority was for F/A-22 pilots, who are trying to achieve a December initial operational capability with the fighter.

“Fenced off” were operating hours for E-3 AWACS aircraft and those for the Thunderbirds aerial demonstration squadron, whose touring season kicked off right about the time the cuts went into effect. Testing and training units were also protected from deep cuts. All other units were focused on maintaining sufficient proficiency to be safe.

The Air Force hopes not to have to resort to such moves in the 2006 budget, which is supposed to provide increased baseline account funding for operations.