Washington Watch

Nov. 1, 2005

Hunter’s QDR Alternative

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee is launching what he hopes will be a “bipartisan … nonpartisan” Congressional review of specific military threats to the US—and whether there will be sufficient capability to address them.

At a Sept. 14 panel hearing, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) insisted his threat-based review is intended as an alternative—and not a rebuttal—to DOD’s capabilities-based Quadrennial Defense Review, expected to be released in February. However, it’s the first time that a Republican-controlled House has suggested challenging the defense assumptions of a Republican Administration.

At the hearing, Hunter maintained that he has no intention of duplicating the Pentagon’s QDR or second-guessing it. Rather, he and like-minded Congressmen want to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.

“We should try and set up a bipartisan process to consider long-term threats to US national security, reach conclusions about what the armed forces will need to deal with them, and determine what resources will be necessary to get there,” Hunter said in opening the hearing.

Among the witnesses queried on whether this alternative review would be a good idea was Dov S. Zakheim, former comptroller of the Defense Department. Zakheim said the Pentagon is in real danger of giving up more and more needed hardware programs because health care and other personnel costs are eating up an ever-greater percentage of the defense budget.

Hunter noted that he and others had made a “gallant foray” to try to move the health care costs to other parts of the budget earlier in the budget process, so the personnel accounts don’t compete so directly with weapons programs. The move failed.

“Those people costs, and particularly the medical costs, are here to stay,” Hunter admitted.

Without such a move, however, the armed forces will be hamstrung by spending on needs other than weapons, he asserted.

“The alternative is, you keep modernization at 60 percent of what it should be, or you increase the budget,” he said.

The review he has in mind will “have a threat panel and analyze the threat, and hand off the product from the threat panel to ‘gap’ panels” looking at areas that need to be addressed. He was not specific as to what these gaps might be, but Hunter has previously expressed concern with the Pentagon’s cutbacks to shipbuilding and tactical aviation accounts.

China, Hunter said, is one potential threat that he thinks isn’t taken seriously enough by the Pentagon in its capabilities-based analyses.

He also said he wants to get beyond Pentagon answers to routine Congressional budget queries. “We’ve said, ‘How come you didn’t do this?’ [and] the answer is, ‘We didn’t think we’d have enough money,’?” asserted Hunter. He now wants the answers to be based on realistic assessment of threats, not on how much money the Pentagon expects to have.

“We’re given half the analysis” he said. “We’re given what DOD thinks we can afford, and it’s their priorities, not ours.”

Hunter said, “I think we owe to the American people at least the option—at least the picture, the blueprint—of what we need to defend the United States.”

His so-called “Committee Defense Review” will “help us place the [Pentagon] QDR into context and to form educated opinions about its strengths and weaknesses,” he explained. It will get under way soon, and “we will be able to incorporate what we learn in the Fiscal Year 2007 defense authorization bill.”

Training for a Changed Force

A shrinking fighter force, the war on terrorism, and technological improvements are among the factors driving some big changes at Air Education and Training Command, according to its new chief, Gen. William R. Looney III.

The Air Force plans to shrink its fighter force by 25 percent over the next 15 years, a fact that requires attention on the front end of the training system now, Looney said.

The service in December will hold “what we call a ‘rated summit’ led by the Chief of Staff,” he told Air Force Magazine in September. The meeting will consider “the amount of aircraft that we expect [to] have and the number of cockpits that are needed to be filled,” to determine the right number of pilots to be produced each year for the next decade or two.

“Right now, it’s 1,100 pilots a year,” Looney noted. However, while the number most likely will decline, it could go up, because the greater reliability of the F/A-22 and F-35 will increase the number of sorties that each will be able to fly in any particular day. Given that the Air Force wants to replace about 850 fighters with just 381 F/A-22s, it will need to get more out of them.

“That means they’re going to have to fly a lot more than the F-15s and F-16s” that will be retired, Looney said. While the typical fighter crew ratio is about 1.25 pilots per aircraft, the ratio for the F/A-22 could go as high as 2.5 pilots per aircraft, he said.

A pilot will “go fly a mission, get out of the airplane, and then another pilot could get into it and go fly another mission,” Looney explained.

The rated summit is intended to avoid a repeat of the chaotic situation of the 1990s, when pilot production was slashed to 500 a year and many graduates were sent to nonflying jobs while the force was downsized.

“We paid a significant price for that shortage of pilots,” he said. “We don’t want to have to go through that same, major, drastic reduction, because of the unintended consequences … it has on the force.”

It remains to be seen if simulation—constantly making big gains in fidelity—can substitute more and more for real-world flying hours, Looney said.

“I’m a big believer” in simulation, he said, noting that C-17 pilots get so much of their training in the machines that “the first time they fly the airplane is for their check ride.”

However, basic training will probably become nearly a week longer, Looney said, owing to the increasingly expeditionary nature of the Air Force mission.

Once, Looney said, the only airmen who faced the enemy were flight crews, and bases were considered “safe havens.” That’s all changed, he pointed out. “Our bases are located in contested territory and we are subject to attack. Whether you are a contracting officer or a civil engineer, or security forces or dining staff, … today, everybody’s in harm’s way.”

Airmen must now know how to defend themselves and go on the offensive, if necessary. They must know first aid and self-aid. Between marksmanship and the other skills needed for the modern expeditionary mission, it will “probably result, in the next few years, in an additional five days of training,” Looney surmised.

Not all airmen will need to acquire ground combat skills to the same extent as do combat controllers or other special operations forces, he said, but even that community is due for an upgrade. The new Chief of Staff, Gen. T. Michael Moseley, “wants to create a center of excellence for battlefield airmen,” Looney said, to improve the flow of troops through that training pipeline and shore up those specialties where there are shortages.

Given the pace at which new technology is being introduced in the force, Looney said, it is a challenge keeping personnel up to speed with new pods, weapons, and hardware.

He said that new systems, like the Sniper targeting pod, are given to units about to deploy to a combat theater, and training is done on-site. A decision is made later when to add it to the fighter training syllabus. However, the fighter syllabus doesn’t necessarily get longer because a new system often “bumps” or replaces an older one.

Moreover, such systems are usually easy to understand and “user friendly,” he said, meaning training time is not too much of a burden on the unit in the field.

Looney said AETC is leaning toward step-saving training innovations, such as giving new “heavy” pilots training in “both seats—left and right. … When the time comes for them to upgrade to aircraft commander, it can be done at home station.” The idea is to skip the need for the pilot to come back to the schoolhouse if some extra work on the front end can obviate the requirement.

Such moves are being made on a case-by-case basis, Looney said.

“You always have to worry about putting a training load on an operational unit,” he said. As a fighter wing commander, “I did not want to have to teach the basics,” he said. “What I wanted to do was refine our skills so we were razor-sharp. I did not want to teach what should have been taught at the schoolhouse.”

The Cost of Being Late

Further delay on releasing and implementing the Joint Staff’s Mobility Capabilities Study, already months overdue, will cost some serious money. That’s because Boeing, which makes the C-17, is already beginning to wrap up production of the airlifter—the only outsize cargo carrier now being built anywhere in the world. Some decisions on further production now could save billions of dollars later.

Boeing’s Ronald C. Marcotte, a former Air Force three-star and now the company’s vice president for airlift and tanker programs, said some suppliers have already finished work on parts for the 180th C-17, the last one on contract under the multiyear procurement plan. Without a promise of more work, Boeing soon will have to start shuttering those parts of the production line with the longest lead times.

Marcotte said Boeing has fronted some money to keep the longest-lead suppliers going and working on the 181st airplane—he said the cost has been “in the millions”—but can’t wait indefinitely for the Defense Department to figure out how it wants to meet lift requirements.

The MCS is the successor to the Mobility Requirements Study 2005, which, despite its name, was done in 2001. It came out right around 9/11 and was immediately obsolete, since it didn’t take into account the lift needs of a war on terrorism half a world away.

However, to meet the airlift requirements set in MRS-05, it would take a force of at least 222 C-17s, according to Air Mobility Command officials. There is general agreement that airlift needs have only gone up in the meantime.

Also delayed is the Intratheater Lift Analysis. That mission is traditionally done by the C-130 Hercules. However, the C-17 showed in Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom that it is well-suited to operate from remote, unimproved airstrips and has been used extensively in the intratheater role. The ILA was to consider how much of that job should be done by the C-17, which can move about three times the load of a C-130, at about twice the cost.

The two lift studies have been rolled into the seemingly endless Quadrennial Defense Review, not slated to be unveiled until next February. However, the MCS study is supposed to come out this month, senior USAF officials have said.

Boeing says the Globemaster III is being built at “the most efficient rate” of 15 airplanes a year. Without a new multiyear contract, the cost of more aircraft would go up by about $20 million apiece, Marcotte said, and the longer the delay, the higher the bill.

The company has developed proposals for buys of 40, 60, and more additional C-17s, but the Air Force has been compelled to wait for the MCS results before it can take action. The C-17 is now at its cheapest price, since the costs of developing the airplane and a factory to build it have long since been amortized. The airplane also has been improved since earlier versions, with bigger fuel tanks and more elaborate defensive systems.

Boeing officials said it would cost “billions” to restart the C-17 line if there is a lapse in production lasting a year or more.

Marcotte also said Boeing has been working on more enhancements to the C-17. New engines and landing gear, among other changes, could allow the big transport to take off and land in as little as 2,000 feet, loaded.

Last Hurdle for Raptor

The F/A-22 was to have completed follow-on test and evaluation (FOT&E) in mid-October, the last of many predeployment tests intended to dispel any questions about its suitability for real-world operations.

FOT&E tests began Aug. 29 at bases throughout the Southwest. The objectives were to demonstrate the Raptor’s capabilities at ground attack and to show that it can meet requirements for reliability and maintainability.

At the conclusion of initial operational test and evaluation last year, testers determined that the Raptor was operationally effective, having consistently shot down everything that came up against it in mock dogfights, even when F/A-22s were outnumbered two to one.

However, the fighter earned a rating of “not suitable” for fielding, chiefly because of issues with onboard diagnostics, availability of spare parts, and maintenance procedures, particularly with regard to its stealthy surfaces.

Air Force officials believe all those issues have been addressed, and they expected the F/A-22 to pass this final confidence check without further delay.

“We really need to see if we’re ready for operations on the air-to-ground side,” said F/A-22 Program Executive Officer Maj. Gen. Richard B.H. Lewis.

Although rated “operationally unsuitable” in IOT&E, “you have to remember this airplane has very high requirements,” and didn’t need to achieve the “suitable” rating until the end of development, in December, “or until 2,900 hours,” Lewis said. He spoke at AFA’s Air & Space Conference in Washington, D.C., in September.

The F/A-22 is supposed to be mission capable 85 percent of the time, substantially better than the current standard of about 75 percent among fighters in Air Combat Command.

Despite being brand new, the Raptor is “better than where the average fighters are out there today,” Lewis said.

Gen. Ronald E. Keys, ACC commander, said at the symposium that he sees no reason why he won’t declare initial operational capability with the F/A-22 at Langley AFB, Va., on schedule in December. He also said he does not need to wait for the results of FOT&E.

The air-to-ground element of the test was to include using F/A-22s to attack both tactical and strategic targets, using the 1,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munition, or JDAM. The Raptor can carry two JDAMs and can release them at high speed and altitude, greatly expanding the range of the glide bombs and permitting the Raptor a greater standoff capability.

A “strategic” evaluation put F/A-22s in the mode of the F-117: attacking heavily defended, high-value targets while employing stealth and, in the case of the F/A-22, high speed.

Another element had F/A-22s receive new targeting information when already airborne, retargeting the JDAMs en route to the objective.

Keesler’s Comeback

The Air Force has made quick progress in getting Keesler AFB, Miss., back up to speed after Hurricane Katrina flooded the base and destroyed some of its facilities.

Keesler is a training base, and the relatively new campus facilities were built to withstand 200 mph winds, said Gen. William R. Looney III, the AETC commander.

“We were very fortunate” that such a standard was set, he said. The campus survived “with very minimal damage.” By the middle of September, Keelser started 398 new students for training. They were all in what were deemed “critical skills” such as flight crew, boom operators, and pararescuemen.

“We have developed a priority list of the AFSCs [Air Force Specialty Codes] and where they will fall in,” Looney said.

It can’t be helped that there will be some bulges in the training pipeline as AETC tries to catch up from the hurricane delays, but Looney said, “We believe that we are significantly ahead of the game.” Backups “will be the exception rather than the rule. We’re going to get back on track very quickly.”

The only big problem Looney saw was that instructors would probably have to serve at Keesler unaccompanied for some months, because the base housing areas and quality of life amenities, such as the base exchange and commissary, were hardest hit.

Although he had not “heard any discussion at an official level about whether or not we should rebuild or reconstitute Keesler,” Looney said, “we are moving ahead with the expectation that Keesler will reconstitute and do what it was doing before this hurricane.”