View Full Version : CBO Cites Enduring U.S. Air Superiority

05-15-09, 08:35 AM
CBO Cites Enduring U.S. Air Superiority

By Graham Warwick

Congressional scorekeepers in Washington have issued their latest list of alternative plans for the U.S. military to meet tactical aircraft needs, from accelerating purchases to fill threatened “fighter gaps,” to letting inventories shrink and replacing lost capabilities with bombers and unmanned combat aircraft.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) based its analysis, distributed online May 14, on the Defense Department’s fiscal 2009 plans. But it attached a note that says the new FY ’10 budget request does not change much, except in slightly accelerating the retirement of some U.S. Air Force fighters and the ramp-up of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter production (Aerospace DAILY, April 7).

The analysis begins by noting that under DOD’s 2009 procurement outline, fighter inventories will fall below the armed services’ stated inventory goals, peaking with gaps of 400 aircraft by 2025 for the Air Force and 125 by 2017 for the Navy and Marine Corps. But even if inventories fall, the tactical fighter force may still improve overall as new aircraft vastly outstrip older types.

For instance, CBO calculates that the Air Force’s aggregate ability to carry 2,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs) would increase substantially under 2009 plans because of the F-35A’s greater payload and longer range compared to the F-16, as well as by the fact that air-to-air F-15C/Ds will also be replaced by bomb-carrying F-35s.

The Navy and Marines may see less of a jump, however, because their aircraft to be replaced by the JSF are all air-to-ground capable and the Marine Corps’ STOVL F-35Bs will not be able to carry the JDAMs internally. Moreover, while the ability to carry air-to-air missiles in stealthy configuration would “markedly increase” across all three services, total internal and external capacity would remain about the same as now, CBO says.

Among CBO’s suggested alternatives, three involve buying more fighters, faster. The first would accelerate and increase F-35 purchases; the second would buy new F-16Es for the Air Force and more F/A-18E/Fs for the Navy, reducing the number of F-35s needed; and the third would cancel the JSF program and replace it with F-16Es and F/A-18E/Fs.

The other CBO alternatives would substantially cut fighter inventories by procuring far fewer F-35s and making up for lost air-to-ground weapons capacity by either buying more than 1,000 MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft for all three services, or a mix of 250 stealthy medium-range bombers for the Air Force and 275 aircraft carrier-capable unmanned combat aircraft for the Navy and Marines.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said a month ago that the current tacair force “is significantly excess to the requirement” — a factor leading to the decision to his budget request to retire 250 of the oldest legacy fighters in its fleet in FY ’10 and halt F-22 production at 187 aircraft (Aerospace DAILY, April 8). The vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, said the new force structure would be a high-medium-low mix of F-22s, F-35s and unmanned aircraft.

Many of the aircraft proposed to be retired will be F-16s and A-10s, according to defense and industry sources. Cartwright said they will be replaced partly with Reapers.

In recent testimony on Capitol Hill, Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have maintained the unmanned theme. Pressed by defense authorizer and Lockheed Martin aircraft supporter Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) over the need to overcome enemy surface-to-air missiles, Gates noted May 14: “I would say the only defense against surface-to-air missiles is not something that has a pilot in it.”

Mullen noted that some analysts and officials see the JSF as the last, new strictly manned fighter or bomber — and that he was one of them.

Photo: Lockheed Martin