Viable Strategy Needed:

Asked about Air Combat Command’s portion of the nearly $20 billion in Air Force unfunded priorities for Fiscal 2009, Gen. John Corley lamented the fact that USAF is even in this situation. “First, you’ve got to have a viable strategy,” the ACC commander said. “A viable strategy shouldn’t outfit a force from a set of unfunded priorities,” he told the audience Friday at AFA’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando. Nor should a viable strategy try to achieve the needed force structure through supplementals. Others will determine the acceptable level of risk the nation can assume, but from Corley’s perspective, “we’re way into the red line in the acceptance of risk.” The general also noted that F-22 production is limited to 20 Raptors per year, and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will max out at 48 aircraft per year. These budget-driven limits do not allow the Air Force to bring down the average age of its fighter fleet, thereby maintaining the danger that unexpected problems will emerge in geriatric aircraft. The Nov. 2, 2007 crash of the 25-year-old F-15 in Missouri, after its support structure suffered a fatigue crack, is now a classic example of the sort of unexpected problem that can spring up in old aircraft. If money can be found, Corley proposed what he called a hybrid solution. “I would take existing production lines, and ramp them up,” to get aircraft on the ramps quickly and in cost effective buys. (For example, Lockheed Martin could clearly build more than 20 F-22s per year, and unit costs would drop if the annual purchases were larger.) He said this should be done in conjunction with modernization of the existing aircraft that are still viable, to create an integrated force structure.