The Army’s plan to take over some of the long-range strike mission is “stupid” and a waste of resources that are urgently needed elsewhere, said Air Force Global Strike Command chief Gen. Timothy M. Ray.
“I genuinely struggle with the credibility of that plan,” Ray said on an AFA Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies podcast posted April 1. “I just think it’s a stupid idea to go invest that kind of money to recreate something that [the Air Force] has mastered.”
Ray was referring to the Army’s new vision, which calls for it to operate in all domains, taking over some missions from the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Space Force in long-range strike, maritime warfare, amphibious warfare, and space operations.
Under the new vision, the Army plans to field hypersonic weapons that can rapidly target enemy missile launchers and airfields.
“I kind of get it in Europe, but I completely don’t get it in the Pacific,” Ray said.
In order to work, allies and partners must allow the Army to put the long-range missiles on their soil, and while “I can see some of them probably agreeing in the European theater, maybe the Central Asian theater, … I don’t see it coming together with any credibility in the Pacific anytime soon,” Ray said. The Army also won’t have such a capability for at least five years, and it would take “a month or two” to physically deploy, while Air Force bombers will have the capability sooner, and can react almost instantly.
“I can prove … this to you in a matter of months, with real capability, versus theoretical capability,” Ray said. The Air Force has said it would test the hypersonic AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon before the third week in April, and officials said the test could come as soon as April 5. The missile will be carried initially on the B-52 bomber, and later on the B-1 and potentially the F-15.
“There are a few hypersonic events coming up, but … let’s let the facts play out,” Ray said.
The Army will also be shooting from a fixed, ground-based location, however briefly, while bombers are always moving.
The Army plan is “far more expensive, and it’s going to take a fundamentally different approach to basing,” Ray said. It’s trying to “skate right past that brutal reality to check that some of those countries are never going to let you put … stuff like that in their theater … Just go ask your allies.”
Meanwhile, bombers have been doing Bomber Task Force missions worldwide, including new places like India. “We … have the ability to be there in hours; not days, months, or weeks,” and “for more extended periods of time, and the ability to keep up the operational pace,” Ray added. “Why would we entertain a brutally expensive idea, when we don’t, as a department, have the money?”
Ray said he’s been asked about this by members of Congress, and replied, “Honestly, I think it’s stupid … Give me a break.”
Retired Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, dean of the Mitchell Institute, said the pursuit of hypersonic missiles by the Army is an attempt “to prove their relevance in the wake of Afghanistan and Iraq.” Expected tighter defense budgets have spurred the Army to “aggressively try … to grab missions that they think will help them become more relevant in our new National Security Strategy, … and long-range strike is at the top of that list.” Because the Army lacks bombers, it’s seeking missiles.
However, the missiles “cost double-digit millions of dollars per shot” with a “handful costing as much as an F-35,” Deptula added. “…There’s no way that’s affordable given the number of targets at play.” Missiles, he pointed out, “can’t be re-used” and require extensive logistics support to be moved into place.
“The crews operating them also need to know where to aim, which drives the requirement for overhead imagery. Instead of relying on joint capabilities, the Army is looking at developing its own aircraft- and space-based sensors, which duplicates what the Air Force already provides. That flies in the face of what it means to be joint,” Deptula said.
The new mission also diverts money from core Army responsibilities, such as air base defense and missile defense.
There’s “a reason why services have core competencies,” Deptula asserted, “and why roles and missions matter. And it’s time to induce some discipline in the process.” Limited money should be aimed at programs “that optimize combat operations and capabilities across all the services. Not just one.”
Meanwhile, Ray said AFGSC continues to “reinvent what we do with the bomber. It’s classic air power.”
The dynamic force employment missions that replaced the Continuous Bomber Presence construct at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, have proven popular with aircrews. “Morale is through the roof,” Ray said, noting it is also a hit with allies. A recent mission in which a B-52 flew over every NATO country in a single day was extremely reassuring to them, he said.
Ray said USAF Gen. Tod D. Wolters, U.S. European Command and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, told him, “‘You have no idea the boost you guys gave this entire command.’” Bombers can “move in” with great speed, Ray said, and start operating “in some places that people didn’t expect us to show up in.”
He noted that Russia’s recent imitation of such deployments is “the highest form of flattery … They’re just not quite as good at it.” Ray has told combatant commanders “throw us in there, because we’re ready for this; go ahead and test us.”
Ray also said the B-21 bomber is progressing well, and thanks to its open mission systems, will be far more upgradeable than any previous airplane.
“We can very rapidly bring new radios, new emitters, new weapons” on the B-21, which he said should not be thought of as the “B-2.1” Where it “took me many years” to get the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, or JASSM, on the B-2, on the B-21, “I’m going to be able to do that in a year.” It will also be a more maintainable jet, and Ray said the Air Force will be able to combine specialty codes in its B-21 maintenance train to reduce the manpower footprint. The B-21, he said, embodies “very mature technology, compared to what you might think,” and it exemplifies all the aspects of Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr’s “accelerate change or lose” philosophy.
He noted that the Rapid Capabilities Office, which has responsibility for managing the B-21, is also in charge of managing the Airborne Battle Management System, so the B-21 will be “part and parcel” of the ABMS from the beginning. “It’s not an add-on or afterthought,” Ray said.
Ray touted the bomber as a critical need for the nuclear triad, saying such aircraft are adept at “messaging” strategic intent in the form of highly visible deployments, in a way that ballistic missile submarines and ICBMs are not.
Ray said he’s briefed Congress on AFGSC’s classified bomber roadmap, and the various aspects and alternatives included in it are “very well endorsed” by the members.