Down-to-Earth Concerns About Tactical Air

April 1, 1985

The Air Force’s long-standing concern with readiness and sustainability is being broadened by the addition of a new criterion that is clearly destined to influence how and from whom the service buys what kinds of weapon systems.

Although the importance of reli­ability and maintainability (R&M) has obviously been understood for some time, its fundamental impact on the size and effectiveness of the forces that can fight on a sustained basis is just now raising a battle cry among operational users, acquisi­tion managers, and logisticians throughout the Air Force. (For more on R&M, see “Fourth Wheel on the Acquisition Wagon,” March ’85 issue, p. 121)

The Air Force Association’s national symposium entitled “Tactical Air Warfare—Status and Pros­pects,” held in Orlando. Fla., January 17-18, 1985, served to under­score USAF’s determination to change R&M from a public-rela­tions buzzword to a way of life.

TAC Commander Gen. Jerome E O’Malley, the event’s co-host and keynote speaker, drove home this pivotal point: “In the Air Force to­day, we don’t have a spares or man­power problem; we have a reliability problem.” The time has come to treat R&M with the same priority as performance, he added.

The: Commander of Air Force Logistics Command, Gen. Earl T. O’Loughlin, announced that the Air Force had just decided to create an “R&M czar” and henceforth will treat this criterion on a par with cost, schedule, and performance factors in its acquisition decisions.

USAF’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Research, Development and Ac­quisition, Lt. Gen. Robert D. Russ, told the AFA meeting that the Air Force’s leadership has decided to give R&M an “institutional identity,” tied to operational factors, in the same way that we have institutionalized flying safety.” The problem, he explained, is that the Air Force and its industrial partners have seen the issue “as a big ‘M’ and a small ‘R,’ with the result that things break too often and need too much main­tenance.”

By way of a benchmark, he point­ed out that one in three of the service’s almost 500,000 enlisted people is assigned to aircraft mainte­nance, that the Air Force is forced to maintain a spare-parts inventory containing 835,000 different line items that in the aggregate are worth more than $40 billion, and that it takes between $5 billion and $6 bil­lion a year to replenish this congeries of spare parts.

Other symposium speakers pointed out that riding herd on the myriad of picayune line items included in the spares inventory to the extent necessary to prevent occasional “horror stories- about overpricing from cropping up would simply drive up too much the cost of doing business.

General Russ stressed that “if we fix the reliability problem, the others will go away,” adding, “We know how to do R&M. The F-15 requires about two-thirds of the maintenance time per flying hour of the F-4, and in the case of the F-16, the maintenance is down to one-third.”

If the Air Force succeeds in doubling the mean time between failure (MTBF) on the F-16’s engine and fire-control system, “this would allow us a cut in spare parts by forty-five percent and in maintenance personnel by forty percent. We would save more than $3 billion in spare parts alone.”

Since the first F-15s entered the operational inventory ten years ago, the mission-capable rate of this weapon system has been doubled, which equates in an operational sense to a correspondingly larger force, according to General Russ.

The F-15E dual-role fighter, slated to enter the inventory in about three years, is expected to have a mission-capable rate twenty percent better than that of the current F-15 models, he said.

In the case of the F-15’s inertial navigational system (INS), the MTBF is currently about 150 hours. The Air Force expects to score an almost tenfold improvement—a 1,400-hour MTBF—by going to a ring laser gyro navigation system that will cost less than a present-generation INS, he said.

By structuring the Alternate Fighter Engine program on a competitive basis that includes specific reliability and maintainability criteria, the Air Force was able to reduce life-cycle costs by between $2 billion and $3 billion in the first go-around, with an additional cut of $1 billion in the offing. These new engines, General Russ pointed out, “will go back to the depot once every eight years” as specified by industry warranties.

Exhorting industry to heed the Air Forces focus on R&M, he put the several hundred company executives attending the AFA meeting on notice that “if you want Air Force business, you better start worrying about R&M.” He said the Air Force was very disappointed with the reaction to a letter it sent to industry that was signed jointly by the Secretary and the Chief of Staff of the service. The letter asked forty-two top aerospace industry executives for a firm commitment to help solve the R&M problem. Only a handful of industry leaders bothered lo respond, according to General Russ.

The Importance of Joint Doctrine

While R&M clearly was the central theme in the symposium, speakers from the Air Force as the other services also broadly underscored the imperative of joint operations and doctrines. General O’Malley, seconded by the head of the US Army’s Training and Doctrine (TRADOC) Command, Gen. William R. Richardson, invoked President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s postulate of 1959 that “separate ground, sea, and air warfare is gone forever. If ever again we should be involved in war, we will fight in all elements, with all services, as a single concentrated effort.”

TAC and TRADOC recently agreed on a joint doctrine called J-SAK, for Joint-Second Echelon Attack. As General O’Malley pointed out, J-SAK assigns to relevant ground commanders the responsibility for nominating and prioritizing targets that have near-term effect on their scheme of maneuver. But in deference to “time-proven principles,” General O’Malley pointed out, “the air commander continues to maintain centralized control over all air assets.”

Although the Army’s “AirLand Battle” concept has not yet become joint Army-Air Force doctrine, the Air Force strongly endorses this approach and is working with TRADOC to make it joint doctrine, he said. General Richardson defined the AirLand Battle concept as a scheme for attacking the enemy throughout the full depth of his formations, including deep into his second echelon and beyond, in a thoroughly orchestrated fashion. Premised on increased use of maneuver warfare, combined arms operations, and offensive operations against the enemy’s flanks and rear, the AirLand Battle concept seeks to find and intercept the enemy’s reinforcements before they reach the forward line of troops (FLOT). The key requirements are obviously to find the enemy—even under night and adverse weather conditions—by means of a host of sensor systems that reach 150 kilometers or more into his second echelon and then to attack these targets by air as well as with missiles and long-range artillery.

No “Techno-Babble”

As General O’Malley pointed out, the Air Force is the principal tool for going after the enemy’s follow-on forces because of its ability to penetrate the Warsaw Pact’s sophisticated air defenses—the make-or-break feature of the AirLand Battle. Responding to recent claims by Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.) that AirLand Battle was merely a warmed-over version of attrition warfare masked by “techno-babble,” the TAC Commander acknowledged that Senator Hart and other members of the defense reformist movement in Congress tend to assume that manned aircraft are no longer able to penetrate heavily defended areas. He stressed that the Air Force is convinced that this is not so, given the service’s ability to roll back even the most sophisticated defenses.

USAFE Commander in Chief Gen. Charles L. Donnelly, Jr., told the AFA meeting that “our new combat and combat support systems now give us the capability to beat the air defense system at all altitudes. Recent Green Flag exercises have demonstrated how effective our air defense suppression can be, as has the Israelis’ success in beating the SAM threat in Lebanon.” He added that “we are going to upgrade our training and tactics to move toward a balance of penetration tactics that use all of our options, from the surface to as high as we can get.”

Relating these capabilities to the FOFA (follow-on forces attack concept, NATO’s plan for fighting the AirLand Battle), he said USAFE is coming up with the means for identifying the Warsaw Pact’s follow-on forces by developing a system to “combine, correlate, and display” battle information rapidly from a variety of sources. Central here is the “Joint Tactical Fusion-Limited Operational Capability for Europe,” or LOCE, test-bed that makes it possible to share the “near real-time ground situation picture among Air Force, Army, and NATO battlefield commanders.”

LOCE, he said, is tailor-made for the coordinated use of air and land forces operating in support of the FOFA concept and takes full advantage of such near real-time sensors as the TR-1 and its side-looking radar. When LOCE or full-fledged follow-on ground intelligence fusion systems are combined with the three-dimensional intelligence provided by the British Nimrods and the US and NATO AWACS aircraft, the result is “a very accurate and timely picture of the air-land battle.”

The Army, General Richardson stressed, needs organic systems that can “stop the second wave” in staggered fashion over a distance of up to 150 kilometers, meaning advanced artillery and rocket launchers with a range of up to forty kilometers, certain types of cruise missiles that can be launched from the MIAS (Multiple Launch Rocket System) and that can reach out about 100 kilometers from the FLOT, and cruise replacements for the Lance system that can go the full distance of around 150 kilometers.

Ruling out any interest on the part of the Army to take over operation of the Air Force’s A-10 aircraft, he did confirm that, in line with a request by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Army was looking at the possibility of transferring its Patriot air defense missiles to the Air Force. That service, General O’Malley said, “remains committed to the close fight and close air support [CAS] mission.”

In line with increasing concern by both services over rear area close air support and air base security. TAC and TRADOC are working on relevant joint doctrines and procedures. General O’Malley termed this a milestone undertaking, “the first to address rear area command and control of joint forces and [a formalization of] the Air Force’s commitment to provide close air support in … the rear battle area.”

Hardware Challenges

In his generally upbeat assessment of TAC’s combat capabilities—an aircraft inventory made up predominately (seventy percent) of modern A-10s, F-16s, and F-15s, sharp boosts in hilly supported wartime sortie rates, and marked increases in guided munitions stocks—General O’Malley acknowledged some serious trouble spots. For one, the advanced medium-range air-to-air missile (AMRAAM) “was supposed to be in the inventory next year—but it won’t be.”

Explaining that the program has already slipped twice, he said that “now we are beginning to question whether we will see AMRAAM at all.” If the program’s problems are not resolved soon, A.MRAAM “will be in deadly serious trouble.” There is no alternative to AMRAAM, and both the Air Force and the Navy need the new missile “beyond doubt,” according to the TAC Commander.

Trouble also cropped up in connection with the Advanced Tactical Fighter program, he told the AFA meeting, adding that “we are about five years behind in getting on with ATF.” Even under the most optimistic threat assumptions for the 1990s, we must expect the Soviets to bring into their operational inventory aircraft that can “seriously challenge the F-15,” he pointed out.

In setting the requirements for ATF, the Air Force leaned toward conservative goals that are well within industry’s ability to meet. ATF, General O’Malley said, isn’t “stealthy-stealthy, it isn’t superfast, and we haven’t picked off the knees of the curve.” The requirement for supersonic speed without use of afterburner, does not tax the state of the art unduly, he suggested.

General Russ added that the Air Force delayed submission of a decision memorandum—tantamount to a request for program go-ahead—to the Defense Systems Acquisition Review Council (DSARC) last December for a variety of reasons. He expressed optimism that eventually the program “will go, don’t worry. ATF is a big step, and we owe it to the American people to give it our best thinking.”

He expressed the personal opinion that ATF will be equipped with a gun, although probably not a new design, since “our current Gatling gun is okay. We don’t need all new gadgets on ATF.”

Generals O’Malley and Russ were guardedly optimistic concerning the Low-Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night (LANTIRN) system, especially so far as the system’s navigation pod is concerned. The targeting pod, previously the source of some problems, is now in better shape, after the Air Force eased off on some of the tougher performance requirements, according to the TAC Commander.

General O’Malley added that TAC had not yet decided whether or not LANTIRN could be used on single-seat F-16s, but “we know darn well that it is indispensable” for the F-15E. The R&M trails of LANTIRN could prove crucial because “if it takes three C-141s’ worth of support equipment [to maintain] the system, then even I—possibly one of its strongest advocates right now—[would] get flutters of the heart,” he said.

General O’Malley, seconded by Vice Adm. Robert F. Dunn, Commander of the US Atlantic Fleet’s Naval Air Forces, rejected the notion of some defense analysts that “the tactical recce [reconnaissance mission] is dead—that it can be done from space, or from high-flying platforms, or from soon-to-be-designed [systems].”

He suggested that the national systems that could theoretically perform some tactical recce are overloaded by too many other requirements. The Navy, Admiral Dunn stressed, simply can’t rely on space or other external sensors, but requires a dedicated recce aircraft.

The Air Force, General O’Malley pointed out, is not yet far enough along “to know if the recce mission can be done with pods carried by either standard F-15s or F-16s or will require a dedicated two-seater aircraft.”

AFA’s next national tactical air warfare symposium is scheduled for January 30-31, 1986, again in Orlando, Fla.