Washington Watch

March 1, 2004

Boosting Pacific Force Structure

The portion of USAF forces deployed to bases in the Pacific region may increase under proposals being spearheaded by Gen. William J. Begert, commander of Pacific Air Forces.

Begert, who spoke in January with defense reporters in Washington, D.C., said he believes that continuing tensions between North and South Korea and between China and Taiwan, as well as the ongoing war on terrorism, require a major reassessment of the allocation of forces. In his view, the Air Force—along with other branches of the US military—should shift more forces to the Pacific.

Begert said component commanders in the region have briefed Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on “a way ahead in the Pacific that gives us the basing and access … and lash-ups with our allies and friends that we need.”

Begert said the briefings took place “over a period of months” and had been conducted “very close hold in terms of specifics.” That gave the US an opportunity to consult US allies and friends in the region before carrying out any major changes.

He emphasized that no final decisions had been made yet.

He also noted that talks were under way with South Korea and Japan to prevent any “unpleasant surprises” and to make certain the force shifts are practical.

Begert is pushing for a permanent or rotational complement of bombers and other aircraft at Andersen AB, Guam. Currently, the base has no permanently assigned aircraft; instead, it serves as a staging facility for transiting aircraft and forces. Begert maintains that the island’s proximity to regional hot spots—1,500 miles both from the Taiwan Strait and from Korea—and the fact that the air base, over the last decade, has been maintained and upgraded, make it ideal as a center of airpower projection.

“It’s a huge base structure, very capable,” he said. “We’ve invested very heavily in Guam over the past 10 years or so. … The capacity of the base to either absorb airplanes stationed there or airplanes that pass through is really very, very good. ”

During Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, Begert said, the base went from “having no airplanes on the ground to literally 75 airplanes on the ground … within 48 hours and never missed a beat.” Moreover, he added, “it’s US territory.”

One approach might be to rotate a mix of bombers at the base, Begert said, noting that B-1Bs and B-52s were stationed there during Gulf War II and “the deployment … went very, very smoothly.” In addition, he said, the island offers a good training range.

That’s particularly important for the future, Begert said, for aircraft such as the F/A-22. At Guam, “you can go supersonic and do supersonic cruise and the other things you need,” he explained, adding that there is also both air-to-air and air-to-ground training capability available.

Begert acknowledged that any move to the Pacific would be somewhat remedial, in that US forces in Asia “downsized dramatically” 10 years ago. On top of that, PACAF had some “pretty painful reductions” over the past year or so, he said. And there could be additional cuts coming. “It’s something I worry about, ” he said.

“We need to keep what we have and see what we can do to enhance what we have in terms of capabilities,” emphasized Begert. He said that any increase need not be permanent, pointing out that the US has asked for—and been granted with little prompting of the host nations—temporary basing rights throughout the region. A common caveat has been to refrain from publicizing the endeavors.

“We’re able to go in and move force structure in there for a particular operation, then we move out,” said Begert. “We’ve had very good success in Asia on getting access to the bases that we need. ”

Hurry Up With Those F/A-22s

Begert expressed concern about the age of PACAF’s F-15 Eagles based at Kadena AB, Japan. These 1970s-vintage aircraft, he said, are beginning to suffer serious age-related deterioration, and maintenance crews are losing the battle to keep them up to par.

“We set a standard of 79 percent in-commission rate, and they haven’t met that, come September, [in] four years,” said Begert. “They were down to 70 percent last year.”

He said there is no single cause of these aircraft problems, making predictions next to impossible.

“It’s a variety of issues that you find with aging airplanes,” said Begert. He cited “wiring bundles that corrode or turn to dust” and “structural issues.” Kadena has 48 airplanes, and, out of those, he said, structural failure caused five to require new wings last year. In some of the F-15s, the vertical tail assembly had to be replaced. In others, canopy seals failed, leading to pressurization problems.

Begert said, “It’s just one thing after another.”

Budget Request Tops $400 Billion

President Bush on Feb. 2 presented to Congress a $401.7 billion defense budget for Fiscal 2005. If enacted, it would raise defense budget authority in real terms for the seventh year in a row. A companion future-years plan calls for an increase of about $20 billion annually through 2009. The Bush Administration projects that year’s defense budget would be $487.7 billion.

Air Force budget authority came to $120.5 billion, an increase of nearly $10 billion over 2004. However, a senior defense official told reporters that most of that increase is “pass through” money, meaning it will go to space and other accounts that provide defense-wide capabilities. The Navy/Marine Corps budget received a $4.2 billion boost to $119.3 billion, while the Army budget increased only $1.8 billion to $97.2 billion.

The new budget raises by about $13 billion the funding for operation and maintenance accounts, which finance flying hours, steaming days, tank miles, and the like. Procurement, however, would be virtually flat, at about $75 billion, although some buying accounts would get a substantial increase to replace equipment and munitions expended during operations over the last 30 months.

Investment in science and technology would go to about $69 billion, but its share of the defense budget would be unchanged.

Bomber Work Coming Together

The Air Force on Dec. 12 held a long-range strike summit to begin work on a “flight plan” that will guide the service as it searches for ways to supplement or replace the existing bomber fleet. The solution may be a manned or unmanned aircraft or something that’s not an aircraft at all.

Officials have scrupulously avoided using the term “bomber,” primarily because the service has shifted toward capabilities—or effects-based—planning and away from platform-oriented planning. They do not want to presuppose that the best solution to the problem of long-range strike is necessarily a traditional aircraft.

Service officials had planned to wait another decade before starting research and development for a bomber replacement. However, lawmakers did not feel that was moving quickly enough, so last fall Congress authorized $100 million specifically to get the plan going.

USAF directed the summit attendees to put into like categories and time frames all the programs, initiatives, technologies, threats, and ideas pertaining to a new bomber-like capability, said Brig. Gen. Stephen M. Goldfein, USAF’s director of operational capability requirements.

USAF has been pursuing a host of projects that bear on long-range strike, Goldfein told reporters at the Pentagon in January. The summit’s goal was to discover “what are the common threads,” he said, adding that no decisions were made.

The summit was held too late to influence the Fiscal 2005 budget, but the new flight plan will help determine direction for long-range strike in the 2006 budget. The plan is expected to succeed the current Bomber Roadmap, released in 2001.

According to the old Bomber Roadmap, the Air Force should have a replacement for current bombers by 2037, but, Goldfein said, the service is reconsidering that date.

“We know the age of the three bombers we have,” he said. “At some point, we have to start thinking about replacing them. ”

There have been a multitude of initiatives—studies driven by the Pentagon, Congress, and the Air Force—that have attempted to answer a host of “fairly specific questions,” said Goldfein, about threats and capabilities that will emerge in various windows from now through 2050. Various options presented in those studies ranged from aircraft and hypersonics to directed energy, stealth, munitions and network-centric operations.

The summit made some apples to apples comparisons about needs, capabilities, and timing. For instance, one of the driving factors for any long-range strike capability, said Goldfein, is the ability “to penetrate to survive.” He was talking about potential adversary air defenses that likely will feature new surface-to-air missiles. Although new SAMs may proliferate more slowly than previously expected, he noted, they will become more widespread and numerous in the coming years.

Goldfein expects the summit to trigger a new analysis of alternatives, one that will be focused on near-term operational utility.

The Air Force leadership wants very much to say, “Here’s a path” to the next long-range strike capability, Goldfein said. “We’ve studied this to death. ”

Plans called for an announcement soon.

Not Hypersonic—Yet

In the near future, the Air Force is not likely to pursue hypersonics for a long-range strike platform, said Gen. T. Michael Moseley, Air Force vice chief of staff.

Speaking at a defense conference in January, Moseley said the Air Force should not fixate on an exoatmospheric hypersonic craft today because the technology is not yet mature and won’t be anytime soon. He specifically noted that much more work needs to be done on finding vehicle “skin” materials that can withstand the high-altitude, high-temperature rigors of the mission.

Moseley believes that research should continue into hypersonic technology and that it will eventually be useful. However, he told attendees at the precision strike conference hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association, he is skeptical about following the course posed by some industry officials, who urge betting big on near-term use of the technology. Moseley doubts that a huge infusion of money will suddenly advance the state of the art.

Instead, Moseley said, he would like to see incremental upgrades of existing fighters and bombers, along with improvements in stealth and electronic warfare. He’d also like to see development of a complementary portfolio of assets, such as unmanned combat aerial vehicles and new standoff weapons.

The biggest payoff in strike systems in the last few years, he said, has been in giving attack assets “persistence over the target,” rather than additional speed.

New Multisensor Aircraft in Danger

The Air Force has been fighting hard since early December to keep intact its E-10 Multisensor Command and Control Aircraft project, despite budgetary pressures and outright opposition from key Pentagon officials.

In the budget wars, the E-10 is squaring off against the Space Based Radar. The E-10, which is to be based on the Boeing 767 airframe, is intended to eventually replace the E-8 Joint STARS ground radar airplane, E-3 AWACS air battle control aircraft, and the RC-135 Rivet Joint signals intelligence airplane.

The chief E-10 opponent seems to be Stephen A. Cambone, undersecretary of defense for intelligence. Cambone has questioned the pace of the project and whether USAF has proper authority to pursue it.

Cambone also thinks it might duplicate the capability to be provided by the Space Based Radar. The primary function of both systems will be to perform the ground moving target mission now carried out by Joint STARS.

The Air Force has argued that the $5.3 billion E-10 will have ground resolution 12 times better than what will be seen in early versions of the $7 billion SBR and that it will be available sooner. Moreover, the E-10 will be able to stay in the battle area indefinitely, while the SBR—expected to be a low Earth orbit system—initially will have only a brief capability over any one area. It will take a large constellation of SBR satellites before the system can provide nonstop coverage.

The trump card for the Air Force, however, is the E-10’s power to spot and track low-flying cruise missiles, which some defense analysts consider an emerging threat soon to be on a par with weapons of mass destruction. The SBR will lack the resolution to play much of a role in cruise missile detection or tracking.

Cambone wants the SBR as a cornerstone of what he has called “universal situational awareness” and prefers the satellite because it requires no forward-based “footprint” overseas. He has also complained to acting Pentagon acquisition chief Michael W. Wynne that the Air Force has exceeded its authority to develop the airplane. The project started out as simply a radar upgrade for the Joint STARS.

Cambone’s case was recently bolstered by Dov S. Zakheim, the Pentagon’s comptroller and top budget official, who told reporters in December that he doesn’t expect cruise missile defense to become a big-ticket program or concern for some time.

Cruise missiles in the hands of terrorists, said Zakheim, would assume the ability to “seize a ship, configure it with a cruise missile, … target the missile, … [and] put in the right mapping information to hit the US,” a scenario which he says strains credibility just now.

The E-10 project’s chief proponent is Gen. John P. Jumper, USAF Chief of Staff. Jumper has championed the effort since announcing it in February 2001. He sees it as a way to build greater battlefield awareness and better information networks, as well as a mobile air operations center that could go anywhere in the world.

Most of the E-10 work has been divided up between Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon. A contract to develop the last piece of the project—the battle management system—is expected to be awarded this spring.