Washington Watch

March 1, 2005

Battle for F/A-22 Heats Up

In the Quadrennial Defense Review, now under way, the Air Force will fight to get its top-priority F/A-22 fighter program restored to full strength, said Gen. John P. Jumper, Chief of Staff. The Fiscal 2006-11 defense program calls for halting production of the aircraft in 2008 at about 180 airplanes, 100 fewer than previously planned and 200 short of the service’s long-term requirement.

The budget cuts, approved by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in December, were pure cost-cutting moves, unattended by any strategic analysis or considerations.

There has been no strategic change that would alter the analysis that the Air Force needs 381 F/A-22s, Jumper said in a Jan. 12 telephone press conference.

“This was a budget drill,” he said, speaking from Tyndall AFB, Fla., where he had just qualified to pilot the F/A-22.

“I don’t think there’s any argument about the capability or even the need for the capability of the airplane,” Jumper maintained. “I think the argument’s going to be about the numbers.” He promised a “fresh look and an open mind” in the QDR, but also said that the Air Force has put forward its case for the F/A-22 many times, and each time it has stood up under great scrutiny.

“We’re going to just have to argue twice as vigorously” for the F/A-22 in the current QDR, Jumper said.

He noted that Air Force plans call for using only 381 F/A-22s to replace a grand total of 950 aircraft—750 F-15Cs, 150 or more F-15Es, and more than 50 F-117s.

The Air Force will not necessarily offer up something else to buy back the lost Raptors, Jumper said. In the QDR, every air dominance system will be “on the table,” and the choice will focus on what should be given to each system.

Everything in the DOD inventory that has to do with air dominance “would supposedly be available to adjust those balances, if that were required,” Jumper asserted. After the case is made, he said, the Air Force will “live with” whatever decision is made by Rumsfeld.

Jumper disputed the argument that the F/A-22 is a Cold War relic or excessively powerful. He noted that the aircraft was meant to counter the Russian-made Sukhoi Su-27 family of fighters, which is still in production and continues to improve. He noted that not all battles of the future will be against low-tech terrorist enemies.

“As long as there are Sukhoi airplanes being delivered around the world and being flown by air forces that have airspace … that could be contested, there’s always the possibility of the dogfight,” Jumper asserted. He argued that the Raptor will be able to defeat any anticipated threat for 30 years. He also said that, despite the many times in history when the days of the turning dogfight were declared over, “every time we say that, something happens to make it not come true.”

Jumper pointed out that, while the F/A-22 will be more effective and do more kinds of missions than the aircraft it replaces, the issue is “no longer how many airplanes it takes to kill targets. It shifts to how many things do you think you’re going to have to be doing around the world at one time.” The figure of 381 Raptors would allow USAF to put one squadron in each of its 10 Air and Space Expeditionary Forces and have enough left over for training and test.

Jumper acknowledged, however, that getting the F/A-22s (and the C-130Js, which were also cut) back into the budget will be an uphill fight.

“When the budget goes in with those kinds of numbers, it’s very hard to restore back to what you had before,” he admitted. The “new baseline” of 180 F/A-22s may “prejudice the decision” on the final total, he said.

As for the C-130J, he said the issue has to do with “renovating old airplanes and retiring older airplanes” and the economics of doing so.

In the QDR, “we are putting the airlift world on the table for the C-130J just like we’re putting the air dominance world on the table for the F/A-22,” said Jumper, adding, “It will be an analytical approach.”

Political Leaders Open Second Front

Lawmakers wasted no time trying to reverse the Raptor cuts and getting the similarly truncated C-130J program back to par, as separate communications from bipartisan Congressional groups and the governor of Georgia directly appealed to the White House to reconsider the moves.

Thirteen Georgia Congressmen and both Georgia Senators wrote a letter to White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., protesting the cuts. In the letter, dated Jan. 5, the legislators charged that the reductions to the F/A-22 and C-130J—both of which undergo final assembly in Georgia—are “ill-advised and untimely, given the operational shortfalls facing our military and the threats facing our nation.”

The group said the F-15C has been eclipsed as the world’s top fighter, and the only aircraft that can ensure air superiority is the F/A-22. The smaller fleet of Raptors the Department of Defense is considering “will result in an F/A-22 fleet too small to achieve the global air superiority requirements that our nation’s global presence requires.”

The group also said the current inventory of C-130E and H model transports is aging “at an alarming rate.” The members reminded Card that DOD itself put forward the C-130J program as a way to “mitigate risk” associated with the aging of the tactical airlift fleet.

Halting the acquisition of C-130Js, the group said, puts USAF’s airlift roadmap “in jeopardy.”

The group urged President Bush and DOD “to reconsider these ill-advised cuts that will negatively affect the future readiness and capability” of the Air Force and the US military. It also promised the cuts will receive “full debate and consideration” during the Congressional review of the Fiscal 2006 defense budget.

The letter was signed by nine Republicans—Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Sen. Johnny Isakson, Rep. Nathan Deal, Rep. Phil Gingrey, Rep. Jack Kingston, Rep. John Linder, Rep. Charles Norwood, Rep. Tom Price, and Rep. Lynn Westmoreland—and six Democratic Congressmen—John Barrow, Sanford D. Bishop Jr., John Lewis, Jim Marshall, Cynthia McKinney, and David Scott.

Writing in a Jan. 10 letter addressed to President Bush, Republican Governor Sonny Perdue, a former Air Force pilot, echoed many of the concerns raised by the Congressional group. Perdue added that, despite the cuts, “it is not clear that this proposal will generate significant cost savings to taxpayers.”

He also said the reductions would break the government’s multiyear contract on the C-130J, which “lowered procurement costs for new C-130Js by 10.5 percent” and would impose “added risk” for warfighters.

“As a businessman, it does not appear to me that the benefits of these cuts outweigh the costs and, together with Georgia’s Congressional delegation, I request that you reconsider DOD’s proposal,” Perdue concluded.

A third letter, signed by 24 members of the Senate—15 Republicans and nine Democrats—argued for restoration of the C-130J.

The Senators said the cut would create termination liability costs of up to $800 million and, consequently, would “end up costing the American taxpayer more than the cost of completing the multiyear contract for 62 aircraft and leave our military with far less capable tactical airlift.”

Among the signers were several members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Air Force, Navy Take Hits, Army Gets Boost

The bombshell defense budget decisions in late December would reduce or eliminate many key defense programs in an effort to offset the national budget deficit and fund the continuing war on terror and possibly to pay for a substantial increase in Army end strength.

The reductions were included in an Office of the Secretary of Defense program budget decision and presented to the services on Dec. 23, 2004. Collectively, the cuts total $30 billion, with the brunt of the cuts falling on the Air Force.

The F/A-22 is the single largest target of reduction, losing $10.5 billion of funding through Fiscal 2011, the end of the current future years defense program (FYDP). The next biggest loser was the C-130J program. The Air Force version of the tactical airlifter was terminated outright, while the Marine Corps version was cut by 20 aircraft overall, with a net loss of about $755 million over the FYDP. Per the PBD, through 2011, USAF had planned to purchase 51 C-130Js, with associated costs of $4.2 billion.

The Missile Defense Agency lost nearly $5 billion over the FYDP.

The Air Force’s E-10 airborne battle management project would lose $600 million, while the Transformational Satellite system being developed by USAF for all the services would be cut by $400 million.

Major increases for technology programs in the PBD included almost $600 million for the Space Based Radar program and $825 million for the Advanced Extremely High Frequency Satellite Communications System.

The Navy would yield $2.6 billion that it would have used to buy two of the new DD(X) destroyers. It would also give up nearly one billion dollars and terminate procurement of LPD-17 amphibious vessels in 2008. The Navy would lose $1.2 billion in funding due to the retirement—and nonreplacement—of the John F. Kennedy aircraft carrier and its air wing.

Three Virginia-class nuclear submarines and an associated $5.3 billion were cut, but the Navy got back $600 million to explore a new “undersea superiority system.” It likewise would give up 22 V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft for the Marine Corps, at a net reduction of $1.3 billion through the end of the FYDP.

The Marine Corps also surrenders 253 expeditionary fighting vehicles and delays the system’s initial operational capability by two years, at a cost of $1.5 billion.

The Army would get a boost of $25 billion—$5 billion a year beginning in Fiscal 2007 through the end of the FYDP—for its “modularity program” efforts, including the increase to its end strength. At the same time, the Army would see a reduction of $2.2 billion as it converts some uniformed military billets to civilian positions.

Also terminated was the Joint Common Missile, intended to equip both the Army and Marine Corps as a replacement for the Maverick missile and other munitions. The Army would give up about 2,100 of the missiles and associated development and procurement costs of almost $1 billion.

White House Sets New Space Access Goals

The White House endorsed the two-supplier approach for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle and stipulated that the US would, by 2010, establish an initial capability for short-notice launch of a satellite in the US Space Transportation Policy, released in January.

The new document marks the first major update of national space policy since 1994.

In the policy, the White House took note of the “significant downturn in the market for commercial launch services.” It said the market situation hurts industry’s prospects for recouping its investment in EELV technologies and “precludes industry from sustaining a robust industrial and technology base sufficient to meet all United States government needs.” It was an anticipated boom in the demand for commercial launch services in the early 1990s that led to the competitive, two-supplier structure of the EELV program in the first place. The predicted robust market never materialized.

Sustaining the two-supplier base for EELV would continue, said the White House document, until DOD, CIA, and NASA assure the President that it would be safe and reliable to go with just one at some point in the future.

Members of Congress and some Pentagon leaders have called for eliminating either Boeing or Lockheed Martin from the EELV program, since necking down to one supplier would save the considerable overhead costs of running two production lines below capacity. The cost of the EELV program leaped by 55 percent in 2004.

However, Peter B. Teets, acting Secretary of the Air Force and the Pentagon’s space program czar, balked at dropping one of the suppliers, worried that the US would be left with no ride to space if the sole producer ran into financial or technical problems.

Teets put retired Air Force Gen. Thomas S. Moorman Jr. to work last year on an analysis of the pros and cons of going with a single EELV company. Moorman’s report was expected to be completed this month.

The issue is to be resolved “not later than 2010,” the policy document stated. By then, the Pentagon, CIA, NASA, and other government agencies using space systems are to have coordinated a new plan for their long-term launch requirements, including manned space exploration. However, while the Pentagon currently funds most of the EELV program, NASA will have to pick up the tab if it wants to substantially modify the EELV vehicles, particularly if it needs a vehicle with “human rating.”

The timeline is shorter for developing “requirements, concept of operations, technology roadmaps, and investment strategy” for launch vehicles meant to get satellites to Earth orbit. The White House wants that plan in just two years.

NASA was also given a go-ahead for its space exploration mission to look into heavy-lift capabilities beyond the current capacity of the EELVs. The policy stipulated that NASA should look first at an EELV-derived system.

The White House enjoined any branch of government from barring a new domestic supplier from competing for government launch services but ruled out using any foreign launch vehicles unless it was part of an international exploration effort or in case there is no domestic alternative.

The policy also calls for NASA to start working with the Department of Energy on “space nuclear power and advanced propulsion technologies” for getting around the solar system.