Washington Watch

June 1, 2005

F/A-22 Cleared for Full-Rate Takeoff

The F/A-22 passed one of its biggest program milestones in April when the Defense Acquisition Board authorized USAF to produce the aircraft at the planned full rate of 32 fighters per year, beginning in Fiscal 2006.

The decision essentially gave the Raptor a clean bill of programmatic health. It means that, when the F/A-22 is considered in the Quadrennial Defense Review, performance and programmatic issues should not be a factor.

The favorable full-rate production decision was contingent on several factors, including Air Force certification that the aircraft and manufacturer were ready to begin full production. Michael W. Wynne, then acting undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics as well as DAB chairman, had to approve the test and evaluation master plan, and USAF had to deliver a report to Congress stating how procurement would proceed.

The formal DAB decision certifies that the F/A-22 has resolved the outstanding questions regarding design, manufacturing, and field maintainability as noted by the DAB in a previous review. It also takes into account the fact that the F/A-22 passed with flying colors its initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) last year. The aircraft was rated as being far superior to and far more effective than the F-15, which it is supposed to replace.

Some testers complained that several maintainability issues still existed. However, Wynne, before the DAB, told Bloomberg news service that he didn’t see any “showstoppers” for the program. He added that maintainers would like the F/A-22 to be easier to fix, but “as time goes on, things will get better” in this area.

The Raptor program is still reeling from a Pentagon budgetary decision, taken in late December 2004, to limit production to about 180 aircraft and stop production in Fiscal 2008. The Air Force has noted that the action was purely a DOD budgetary move. USAF leaders said that no new analyses controverted the service’s stated need for 381 F/A-22s.

The UAV Skirmishes

The Air Force would like to be the Defense Department’s executive agent for unmanned aerial vehicles, but it’s an idea that doesn’t seem to fly with the other services.

In early spring, the Air Force began petitioning Pentagon leadership to consider letting the service become the UAV executive agent as part of a broader initiative for USAF to be a leader in providing intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance assets.

Lt. Gen. Ronald E. Keys, USAF deputy chief of staff for air and space operations, said at a March 9 Capitol Hill hearing that “there are discussions” under way regarding the proposal by USAF to take on UAV leadership. Keys was testifying before the tactical air and land forces panel of the House Armed Services Committee.

Supporters of the idea see the Air Force as already providing the bulk of ISR resources in the form of satellites and aircraft such as the U-2, E-8 Joint STARS, E-3 AWACS, RC-135 Rivet Joint, as well as Predator and Global Hawk UAVs. The Air Force is already the executive agent for space and in that capacity exerts considerable influence over space priorities and how space funds are allocated and spent. And Gen. T. Michael Moseley, USAF vice chief of staff, is co-chairing a Quadrennial Defense Review task force on enablers, including UAVs, with Stephen A. Cambone, undersecretary of defense for intelligence.

In late December, the Pentagon placed the Air Force in charge of the Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS), a program expected to see the development of at least two types of unmanned combat aircraft. (See “Toward an Unmanned Bomber,” p. 44.) This spring, USAF established the Air Force UAV Center of Excellence at Indian Springs AFAF, Nev., home of the Predator. The Air Force said it hopes the center will host participants from the other branches.

There are more than 750 UAVs from the various services operating in the Iraq theater, according to USAF Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper. The Air Force, as the air component of US Central Command, has the responsibility for managing what’s flying in theater and deconflicting all the aircraft in it, both manned and unmanned. Senior Air Force leaders view making USAF the UAV executive agent as a logical next step

.The other services, however, are not thrilled with the USAF proposition. They see UAVs as yielding potentially huge benefits for their operations—and in a way that is specifically tailored and rapidly responsive to their own needs for tactical reconnaissance, target spotting, and so forth.

The Army, Navy, and Marine Corps are worried that leaving executive agency to USAF would mean their own priorities for UAVs—as well as funding and rapid fielding of new technologies—would get bogged down. They don’t believe that USAF would fully understand the requirements of a ground forces squad leader or a ship captain.

DOD leaders also remain unconvinced by Air Force arguments. Dyke Weatherington, the deputy director of the Pentagon’s UAV Planning Task Force, told Inside the Pentagon in March that assigning such a responsibility to any individual service now would be premature. A higher priority, he told ITP, is nailing down the tasking and sharing of UAV data within CENTCOM. Even then, he said, UAVs vary so greatly in size—ranging from a palm’s width to the Global Hawk’s 116-foot wingspan—that it would be awkward to put one service in charge of all of them.

Small UAVs might get their own executive agent “because they … operate differently [and] have different capabilities” compared to their larger cousins. Putting a single authority in charge of all UAVs, Weatherington said, would be like “setting up an [executive agent] for all manned aircraft,” an extremely broad range of technology and capability.

The Army reportedly is preparing a counterproposal that would make that service the executive agent for small UAVs. Moreover, the Army is contemplating forays into tactical fixed-wing aircraft—for the delivery and supply of small numbers of troops—as well as combat UAVs that would employ rotors and either escort or replace today’s generation of attack helicopters.

The Chips Are Down

The flight of microchip designers and manufacturers to cheaper overseas venues is a crisis in the making for the Defense Department, and steps must be taken at once to stem the exodus, according to the Defense Science Board.

In a report—“High Performance Microchip Supply”—released in the spring, the DSB found reason to worry already about whether there is a trustworthy supply of microchips for the US military, which uses such devices in nearly all weapons.

“Because of the US military dependence on advanced technologies whose fabrication is progressively moving offshore, opportunities for adversaries to clandestinely manipulate technology used in US critical microelectronics applications are enormous and increasing,” the DSB stated.

Potential adversaries can “gain enormous asymmetric advantages that could possibly put US force projection at risk,” because they can get close to and possibly alter microchips bound for US weapon systems at nearly every stage of production, from design through delivery.

An enemy could tamper with a microchip, making it perform incorrectly, switch off at a crucial point, or actually act as a “Trojan horse,” either destroying weapon system processors or infecting connected systems with faults.

“Neither extensive electrical testing nor reverse engineering is capable of reliably detecting compromised microelectronics components,” the DSB asserted.

Tampering is merely one of the problems affecting the microchip supply, the DSB said. Because chip and wafer production is heavily dependent on economies of scale to be profitable, production facilities—called “foundries”—are increasingly only making microchips for which there is a huge commercial market. The Defense Department, though, often needs specialized chips of a particular design, and in relatively small quantities, particularly elements that have been radiation-hardened for use in nuclear environments. It may not find a supplier for such needs in the future if the “irresistible pressures” toward mass production continue.

Moreover, foundries are often concentrated in certain areas, usually in the Far East. The DSB noted that a 1999 earthquake in Taiwan—one of the biggest chip makers in the world—led to a stoppage in production there for a few weeks. A bigger earthquake “would have started a worldwide run on commercial wafer capacity that would have taken years to rectify. During such a time, DOD and its contractors would have little leverage to obtain needed fabrication services.”

Yet another concern is the fact that design talent tends to follow production. Design and fabrication tend to be co-located, the DSB found, and so an exodus of chip manufacturing also signals a chip-design brain drain. The US share of worldwide chip manufacturing by volume, which stood at about 42 percent four years ago, is down to about 33 percent today and is still falling. By the end of this year, the US will have only 16 of the world’s 59 chip foundries.

Collectively, all these problems represent “a major integrated circuit supply dilemma” which “threatens the security and integrity of classified and sensitive circuit design information, the superiority and correct functioning of electronic systems, system reliability, [and] continued supply of long-system-life and special technology components,” said DSB.

Accompanying the report was a raft of recommendations, calling on the Pentagon to take the lead, in concert with industry, to ensure the US maintains a long-term and assured supply of chips.

First, DSB said Washington must do everything it can to make the US an attractive design and production location. It said the US must get the World Trade Organization to vigorously enforce trade rules and “insure that intellectual property laws are fully enforced.” The government should increase investment in university research to make sure the US remains “an attractive and competitive location for the most talented students and faculty” in microelectronics.

The DSB chided the Pentagon for having “no overall vision of its future microelectronics components needs and how to deal with them.”

Costs To Replace War Equipment Mounting

It will cost the military services as much as $18 billion to replace equipment used up over the last few years in the war on terrorism, the Congressional Budget Office reported in April.

CBO Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin told lawmakers that the Army accounts for about 60 percent of the defensewide war attrition bill because Army vehicles and gear are most directly involved in day-to-day operations and suffer the most hard usage and combat losses.

CBO estimates the total bill to repair or replace equipment worn out in the war to be $8 billion per year.

For the Air Force, increased flying hours stemming from Operation Noble Eagle homeland defense missions, as well as sorties in the Iraq or Afghanistan theaters, account for up to $3.9 billion in unfunded costs.

CBO derives its estimate from the reduced years of service life each aircraft would experience due to increased operating tempo in the war. However, Holtz-Eakin explained that this approach “yields insight into the costs of replacing or rebuilding equipment but not into the costs of maintaining it,” which will also rise with the accelerated “aging” of the aircraft.

The B-1 bomber has seen the greatest spike in usage, with flying hours across the fleet up 47 percent on average. Gunships, transports, and aerial tankers all saw usage jump by more than 23 percent. By contrast, within the fighter fleet, only the F-16 and A-10 increased their normal operating tempo and that was by only about three percent.

Taken as a whole, the tanker and airlift fleets are paying the biggest price in reduced life expectancy, said Holtz-Eakin, adding that they “constitute about three-quarters of the estimate for wear on equipment.”

CBO calculated the depreciation based on a 30- to 40-year life expectancy for the various aircraft it considered. It also included some cost for substantial repair or overhaul of aircraft not replaced but still heavily used.

Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.), who chairs the House Armed Services Committee readiness panel, said reset—the term for repair or replacement of wartime losses—is “a priority and a must-pay bill.”