How ASD is Meeting the Needs of the Nineties

Oct. 1, 1980
With the advent of the 1980s, I am convinced that there are few more stimulating challenges than those faced by the Aeronautical Systems Division (ASD) of the Air Force Systems Command. We are at the forefront of the Air Force’s efforts to mold new and existing technologies into superior weapon systems for our operational forces. We must meet this challenge in an era of tremendous budget pressures, where inflation and shrinking real dollar value limit us to fewer systems and smaller quantities. Our research and development (R&D) efforts must be innovative to develop systems, subsystems, and techniques that provide significant force enhancements. Our goal is to produce both mission-effective and cost-effective aeronautical systems. Our efforts at ASD are directed to meeting the continually changing threat. That threat is no longer measured only by its numerical superiority, but also by its qualitative improvements in capability.

I will explore the particular challenges to the Air Force R&D effort in the light of a diminishing resource pool of scientific and engineering talent. I will also discuss some of the ASD’s current programs to respond to the Air Force’s operational needs in the face of the massive Soviet military buildup, and, finally, discuss the recent realignment of the ASD management organization to meet the changes we foresee to our business base.

Scientific-Engineer Shortfall

Historically, the US Air Force has relied upon technological superiority, not numbers, to accomplish its demanding mission. This technologically intensive environment still exists, and any lack of technological advance would be a step backward.

The Air Force is short about 1,200 officer-engineers out of our authorizations for roughly 8,000. While the rated officer shortage is largely a matter of retention of trained personnel, the engineer shortage is a problem of recruitment as well as retention. The fundamental problem is that the total number of engineers this nation produces is not increasing sufficiently, and the percentage coming into the military, specifically the Air Force, is diminishing. Throughout the Air Force Systems Command, manning is down to eighty-six percent in critical engineering skills. People with ten, twelve, and fifteen years of experience are being replaced with inexperienced, though eager, youngsters. The military simply cannot compete with industry in the area of pay for either newly graduated or experience military or civilian engineers.

But we can compete—and compete very well—in the areas of job satisfaction and responsibility. The future of our R&D efforts and the hardware and systems that are made available to the operating commands will be based on the skills and talents of the people who design, test, and acquire those systems. We must attract scientists and engineers to the Air Force from an already diminishing resource pool, and, equally important, keep them in the employ of the Air Force.

One measure the Air Force can pursue to partially alleviate this increasingly severe engineering shortage is to expand the production of engineers at both the baccalaureate and graduate level through the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT). The AFIT education program is fundamentally essential to the development of the high-quality people necessary to sustain the technological superiority of the US Air Force. So far the declining levels of experience have not had an ill-effect on ASD’s mission accomplishment. However, the long-term ramifications of this situation, if not redressed, will have significant implications for our national security.

ASD Program Activity Highlights

Our mission at the Aeronautical Systems Division is to plan and manage the acquisition of aeronautical systems, subsystems, and equipments. ASD is at the leading edge of technology, modeling existing and new technologies into highly mission-effective and cost-effective fighting weapon systems for our operational Air Force. ASD is responsible for managing research development test and evaluation funding of more than $2 billion a year and procurement funds that amount to more than $6 billion for each of the next several years.

Our current and planned management efforts are directed to the reequippage of the general-purpose tactical aircraft forces, the modernization and enhancement of the strategic forces, and improvements in airlift and trainer capabilities.

Tactical Force Modernization

A large portion of the production money that ASD manages is going toward the purchase of new tactical weapon systems—the A-10 Thunderbolt II, the F-15 Eagle, and the F-16 Fighting Falcon. The F-16 program will be in production in the mid-1980s, whereas the A-10 and the F-15 programs will complete their production runs by 1984 or shortly thereafter. The acquisition of these new systems is in response to the crises we faced in the late 1960s and early 1970s—the need to update the capability of our tactical air forces. These three weapon systems have provided our National Command Authorities added conventional warfare capability and “punch.”

These systems will certainly change as required to meet the evolving threat. As the Air Force’s center for aeronautical systems engineering excellence, ASD is extensively involved in the development and management of major modifications and enhancements to make current airframes endure and give our aeronautical systems added capability. Development of the EF-111A Tactical Jamming System and the F-4G “Wild Weasel” are good examples of the major conversions to existing systems the Air Force is undertaking to maintain the vital technological superiority.

The requirement to enhance the capability of existing aircraft systems for the changing tactical operating environment is a challenge, but the operational and support benefits from improved reliability and greater availability of standardized items will result in significant life cycle savings to the Air Force.

Our tactical force capability enhancements designated for integration into aircraft types are:

  • Joint Tactical Information Distribution Systems (JTIDS), at time division multiple-access, jam-resistant, secure digital information distribution system for the F-15, F-16, and E-3A AWACS. The JTIDS program is managed by AFSC’s Electronic Systems Division, Hanscom AFB, Mass.
  • Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM), an all-weather, all-aspect radar missile to replace the AIM-7F/M. It will significantly improve air-to-air combat capabilities of the F-15 and F-16. The AMRAAM program is a joint Air Force/Navy development managed by the Armament Division (AFSC), Eglin AFB, Fla.
  • Other advances are under development for improving air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons delivery capability.

The task for integrating these advanced subsystems and equipments into the designated aircraft is a formidable one. There is quite a different set of development challenges associated with major modifications and enhancements to existing aircraft as compared to changing a “paper design” of a new system. Thorough panning and extensive coordination with operating and supporting commands is essential to minimize the installation and testing downtime to aircraft of our operationally ready forces.

Low Altitude Navigation Targeting Infrared for Night system, or LANTIRN, is a long overdue system to give the tactical air forces an improved capability to acquire, track, and destroy ground targets at night, and also permit target acquisition and weapons delivery with a minimum work load for the pilot. I personally think this is one of the most significant steps that we have taken to improve our tactical operations. For too long we’ve been tagged with the label of a day-VFR air force. The LANTIRN system, together with our force of F-111 deep-interdiction fighters, will give our tactical capability new significance.

Another aspect of the tactical mission that affects the success of all other operations is the suppression of the enemy’s air defenses. The 1973 Yom Kippur War confirmed that a key prerequisite for successful air operations is the degradation or elimination of the enemy’s air defense system.

The Air Force’s approach to defense suppression includes three main systems—the EF-111A, F-4G “Wild Weasel” aircraft, and the Precision Location Strike System (PLSS). ASD will modify forty-two F-111A aircraft for the defense suppression role to provide for an electronic warfare capability presently lacking. The primary role of the EF-111A will be to screen strike aircraft from detection by surveillance radars.

The F-4G “Wild Weasel” is an autonomous, lethal defense suppression system, with advanced avionics enabling it to locate and neutralize a wider range of enemy fire control systems than the F-105G it replaces.

PLSS is an all-weather tactical system designed to accurately locate and attack threat radars and attack nonradiating targets (airfields, bridges) using location information from other sources. When integrated with such other systems as EF-111A, “Wild Weasel,” Army artillery, and attack helicopters, it will destroy and degrade enemy air defense systems. The TR-1 (a variant of the U-2 airframe) will be used as an Airborne Relay Vehicle to carry the PLSS equipment.

In addition, we are pursuing a promising concept for small, pilotless aircraft that seek out, harass, and destroy ground radars. The low-cost expendable minidrone, called Locust, will carry a sensor to automatically acquire and attack hostile radio frequency emitting targets. Locust is a joint development program with the Federal Republic of Germany.

All these programs have the same objectives—to give our tactical forces the capabilities to handle any and all conflict circumstances. We are looking even further into the future with such things as new radars, new wing designs, and more efficient engines to power our forces. We’re studying composite materials for future aircraft, to make them lighter and more fuel efficient.

The addition to these systems and the flight-line results of our extensive modernization effort over the past decade give us great confidence in the health of our general-purpose forces. However, new initiatives to cope with changing threat scenarios and employment concepts are necessary.

Strategic Forces Posture

Ten years ago, our strategic forces were clearly superior to those of the Soviet Union. But now, a crisis is near. I believe the balance of nuclear strategic forces is one of rough parity, the product of a massive military investment by the Soviet Union over the past fifteen years.

We are now making major improvements to the B-52, the mainstay of our manned bomber force. The aim is to make it a viable weapon system for the next ten years or so. We are modifying the B-52G and H models with updated avionics to maintain a satisfactory level of reliability and, in the case of the G model, provide for future compatibility with the Air-Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM). We believe that these modified B-52s can serve as effective cruise missile carriers well into the 1990s.

The ALCM program is the only currently funded initiative that provides a near-term counter to the growing expansion of the Soviet strategic capability. This highly accurate missile will increase bomber routing and targeting flexibility, thereby reducing exposure to enemy defenses. It will become a major part of our strategic deterrent force because it will complicate the Soviets’ problem of defending their territory.

The ALCM is so important, however, that we need to allow for the possibility of unforeseen problems with the aging B-52s, as well as for the possibility that we might need a larger force of ALCMs than can be carried on the B-52s. We are, therefore, pursuing a possible new Cruise Missile Carrier Aircraft (CMCA). Initially, we are looking at evaluating a B-1 derivative, termed the Strategic ALCM Launcher, or SAL. Funding has been programmed for a flight demonstration in FY ‘82 to convert B-1 test aircraft No. 3 to a cruise missile carriage configuration and launch cruise missiles from both internal and external launch points.

The B-52 is entering its third decade of service. Over that time we have asked much of that bomber. We flew it as a conventional weapon system in combat during the Southeast Asia conflict, and it held up well. We have continued to add new systems and equipments to it and, so far, it continues to hold up well. But how much more can we ask of that airplane and still expect it to perform? To find a suitable replacement for the B-52, we’d better start now.

The near-term requirement must be satisfied by either committing part of the current B-52 force in an obvious and visible way, or obtaining approval for a stretch FB-111 force or a B-1 force. Approval of one of these near-term variants would allow a more studied look at a follow-on aircraft—giving us time to optimize its performance and incorporate technological improvements that best meet the fundamental requirements in the far term. Without a near-term solution, additional pressure will be placed on initiating a follow-on aircraft as soon as possible, which may not allow us to optimize on technologies. I am strongly convinced that the Air Force has an enduring requirement for a strategic long-range, large-payload aircraft, capable of rapidly projecting force anywhere in the world; to demonstrate resolve, conduct surveillance and reconnaissance, or strike fixed and non-fixed targets using a variety of sensors and weapons. I submit that a strategic long-range, large-payload aircraft is the only military system capable of rapidly projecting demonstrable force worldwide in response to national authority.

The modernization of our strategic forces in the 1980s is as important as the tactical force modernizations we undertook in the 1970s.

Airlift and Trainer Systems Posture

The CX aircraft is a program I consider to be the most significant new start in the current field of aeronautical weapon systems. The CX will be a transport aircraft designed to correct the shortages in our ability to rapidly reinforce Europe, enhance our ability to move a significant-size force to any spot on the globe, and modernize our ability to move forces within a theater—to the flanks of NATO, for example.

The aircraft will use existing technology. Our goal is to have source selection completed and a full-scale development contract awarded by mid-1981, looking toward an initial operating capability in 1986 or 1987.

The C-5 Wing Modification Program is an example of the major modifications to existing aircraft cited earlier. ASD is developing improved wing life for the C-5 Galaxy, extending the safe life of the transport and ensuring its availability beyond the year 2000.

The KC-135 Stratotanker is the primary strategic tanker asset of the Air Force. A KC-135 Reengining Program is under way to incorporate the new-technology General Electric/SNECMA (CFMI) CFM56 turbofan engine into this aircraft. These engines will increase operational capability and flexibility, and reduce fuel consumption as well as noise and pollution.

Another interesting initiative is the Companion Trainer Aircraft (CTA) Program, a modified off-the-shelf business jet for realistic flying training of Strategic Air Command B-52 combat crews at a fraction of the fuel and flying hour cost of equivalent training in the B-52. The CTA will also contribute to the goal of extending the service life of the B-52 fleet.

Conceptual studies have been undertaken for a Next Generation Trainer (NGT) aircraft to replace the current T-37B, or use of an existing domestic or foreign aircraft.

The foregoing has been the highlights of our major programs at ASD. Space does not permit coverage of all the other programs and projects in work to improve the Air Force’s capability to accomplish its mission. Few of the other programs get the attention of the large, glamorous system programs discussed previously. However, these varied subsystem and equipment programs are crucial to the maintenance and enhancement of the Air Force’s war-fighting capabilities. The life-support programs, chemical defense for personnel and equipment, and advanced avionics and automated support equipment development efforts are vital to the effective operation of the Air Force.

Acquisition Management Challenges

The development and acquisition environment presents certain perpetual challenges to which we must continuously adapt. Dealing with the unknowns and the unexpected in the development of a technically advanced system program has become integral to ASD’s business operation. Added to this is the unavoidable disruption to sell-laid “planning” occasioned by directed shifts in priorities as a consequence of changed perceptions of defense needs.

The new decade presents us with new dimensions and challenges. The nature of the threat is changing continuously and becoming more diverse and complex. The tense geopolitical environment can only place more demands on the readiness and responsiveness of the operating commands and their systems and equipment. The requirement for global force projection on a sufficient scale and speed can only be achieved with the extensive use of airpower. Perhaps the most immediate and far-reaching impediment to our freedom to operate and defend our nation’s vital interests is our dependence on dwindling and insecure supplies of energy resources. These factors condition the environment in which we manage acquisition, and are not within my control as Commander, or in the control of any of my program managers. We must, however, face up to the reality of these influences and we must strive continuously to account for them in our planning and managing.

Consequently, I have placed considerable emphasis on “corporate planning” for ASD. Corporate planning has a future orientation and is based on my conviction that meaningful organizational goals and strategies can only be developed from examination where we are and where we appear to be headed. My expectations for corporate planning at ASD are to:

  • Anticipate problems and opportunities by understanding changes in the business environment.
  • Evaluate major policy issues on an ASD-wide basis.
  • Communicate a sense of direction for all levels.
  • Establish a basis for measurement of progress.

A small, talented Corporate Planning Office assisted me and my key managers by facilitating and monitoring a planning process and providing special analyses when needed. With the increasing complexity of the challenges in the acquisition business, the critical resource situation, and the inestimable consequences of being headed in the wrong direction, sound corporate planning is essential.

ASD Organizational Assessment

Perceiving a change in the late 1970s in the character and dimensions of the ASD work load, our corporate planning effort focused on the business base we could anticipate in the 1980s. It is important that our organization be suited to the conditions we reasonably anticipate. The program management organization structure at ASD at the end of 1979 was a legacy of the earlier 1970s. This organizational form was characterized by large weapon system programs (C-5), F-111, F-15, A-10, F-16, and, prior to its cancellation, the B-1) For each of these major systems there was s System Program Office (SPO), headed by a single manager with the authority and responsibility to achieve the program objectives. The SPO is a dedicated resource group of project personnel for managing a program. The SPO concept was pioneered by the Air Force and is the proven effective approach for managing the acquisition of major weapon systems.

But ASD’s business base is changing with the advent of the 1980s. The activity associated with the A-10 and the F-15 major system programs is stabilizing. In concert with the Air Force Logistics Command, we have identified the parameters for completion of the development tasks and the timing for the orderly and complete Program Management Responsibility Transfer (PMRT) for these systems. As soon as practical, following AFLC’s assumption of program management responsibility, the ASD SPOs for these programs will “go out of business.” The highly skilled and experienced people from these program offices will be available to redress partially some of the most severe manning shortfalls faced by ASD for new system and subsystem development.

In place of the major single-aircraft development programs that characterized the 1970s will be new programs that will exploit existing equipment. These programs will require a heavy investment of personnel, but they do not appear practical for management as separate, single-project organizations.

The deliberations on how to organize management of the CX Development program crystallized our thinking on this question. It makes great sense and offers practical personnel economies to group together under a single senior manager, programs having related military objectives, common users, and significant development and deployment interactions. The CX Program could benefit from interaction with related airlift and trainer system programs such as the C-5 Wing Modification, KC-135 Reengining Program, and the Companion Trainer Aircraft (CTA) Program.

The existing Deputy of Strategic Systems, the successor organization to the B-1 SPO on the cancellation of the program in 1977, was a precursor model of the type of mission-area organization that is better suited to the ASD’s emerging business base. Under a single, effective manager are all of the Air Force’s strategic aircraft enhancement programs. This mission-area oriented organization has proven itself flexible and responsive to change as when, in July of this year, the management of the ALCM was efficiently assumed from the Joint Cruise Missile Project Office we operated in Washington, D.C., with the Navy.

We considered variants of the Strategic Systems Program Office and decided to realign the current ASD programs into a mission-area management structure, effective April 15, 1980. Supplementing the Deputy of Strategic Systems are the Deputy for Tactical Systems, Deputy for Reconnaissance and Electronic Warfare Systems, and the Deputy for Airlift and Trainer Systems. This aggregation of related systems will improve cross-program visibility and create opportunities for integrated solutions to mission-area problems.

To supplement the mission-area program management structure we elected to continue to provide specialized management attention for critical subsystems by the existing Deputy of Propulsion, the Deputy for Simulators, and a realigned Deputy of Aeronautical Equipment.

I chose to preserve the F-16 System Program Office as a separate SPO for at least another year or two because of the unique international cooperative aspects of that program. (This program is the largest defense co-production effort ever attempted, with more than $1.4 billion in contracts placed in Europe. Also, the ASD staff organization did not require adjustment and was not affected by the realignment of the program management structure.

In our new alignment, the Deputies are responsible for providing executive policy and supervision for the mission programs and for offering guidance and assistance on issues that cut across program lines. Complete authority is delegated to the individual program directors for the management of their assigned programs. The stature of our program directors and the integrity of the single manager concept continues as a fundamental element for the success of ASD’s mission.

The new program management structure for ASD, with the mix of mission-area and specialized hardware management elements, will result in a more balanced organization with a set of Deputates having greater consistency in size and potential stability than our previous organization. Most important, the new structure will certainly lead to more effective use of our most important and fundamental resource—people. I anticipate an improved development and utilization of specialized skills, background, and experience to address the new challenges we face in each area.

The resulting organization will carry ASD well into the 1980s with more benefits. This mission-area orientation is more aligned with the DoD Program Planning and Budgeting System structure and the AFSC Vanguard planning system. Vanguard is perhaps the most important advance in our quest to accurately assess future requirements and match the technology of these requirements. In all mission areas, the development of an entirely new system or a major enhancement to an existing system will be the result of critical technologies fused together to create a technological opportunity.

This organizational alignment provides for improved mission-area trade-off analyses and mission-area problem solving. Our managers will be able to provide our higher headquarters decision-makers with better, more comprehensive, and cost-effective alternatives to mission objectives and requirements.

We will continue to assess the suitability of this organizational alignment to our future work load. Embodied in the mission-area structure is the capability to “spin-off” a project team as the nucleus for a full-blown, single-product SPO of the type common to our past organization. I am confident of our ability to sep up to the challenge of managing a high-priority major system program on an accelerated schedule, should that be necessary. With corporate planning at ASD, we have the process for dealing with change in a coherent manner.

Lt. Gen. Lawrence A. Skantze, a 1952 graduate of the US Naval Academy, is Commander of AFSC’s Aeronautical Systems Division at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. He won his wings in 1953 and served with a B-26 squadron in Korea. Since that time his career has been largely in research and development. He has served as Director of System Engineering and Advanced Planning in the Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory Program, as Deputy to the Commander of ASD for the SRAM program, as Systems at Hq. AFSC, and has a master’s degree in nuclear engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology. His byline last appeared in AIR FORCE in the July ’79 issue with the article “Electronic Warfare Initiatives.”