The Fighter Roadmap

June 1, 1984

About forty-three years ago, five men assigned to the War Plans Division of the Air Staff developed an ambitious aircraft procurement plan called AWPD-1 (Air War Plans Division). Completed in just seven days, AWPD-1 specified the procurement necessary to conduct a global war against the Axis powers. The first priority of the plan was to defeat the Luftwaffe and then to perform strategic and tactical strikes against industrial and military targets. To carry out the Allies’ strategy, the Plan called for some 63,000 operational aircraft and a total of 2,200,000 men and women. One of the Plan’s authors, Maj. Gen. Haywood S. “Possum” Hansell, Jr., called AWPD-1 “The Plan That Defeated Hitler.” (See General Hansell’s article on this plan in the July 1980 issue of Air Force Magazine, p. 106.)

More recently, the Air Force has developed another procurement plan, the Air Force Tactical Fighter Roadmap. While there may be more differences than similarities between AWPD-1 and the Roadmap, I think both plans point toward the same objective — articulation of a realistic procurement strategy that will produce the greatest possible combat capability in light of a large and increasingly belligerent threat.

The Tactical Roadmap is a natural outgrowth of two events. The first is the successful publication of other master plans (Munitions Acquisition Plan, Air Defense Master Plan, and Airlift Master Plan). These documents have been very useful in developing and articulation our procurement needs in those areas. In the tactical area, we’ve had a variety of planning tools to determine our force size, mix, and capabilities. The Tactical Fighter Roadmap now coalesces these various planning efforts into a unified whole.

Second, the rapid qualitative improvements to an already large Soviet force (some ninety US tactical fighter wing equivalents) and our continued fiscal constraints have required us to formulate logical, fiscally attainable procurement strategy.

The Current Force

Before developing a plan or procurement strategy, it is necessary first to understand the composition of our current force of thirty-six tactical fighter wings and how we plan to use that force in combat. Our air forces must be capable of performing a variety of missions. We must be able to attain air superiority to allow friendly ground forces to operate with a minimum of interference from hostile air attacks. Achieving air superiority requires that we be able to destroy opposing aircraft and airfields in hostile territory — offensive counterair. In addition, defense suppression is an essential component of our counterair mission.

Direct support of the ground commander is of paramount importance. These close-air-support missions support ground operations by attacking hostile targets in close proximity to friendly surface forces. Further, friendly tactical air must be able to locate and destroy enemy targets deeper in enemy territory. Consequently, interdiction missions are an important part of integrated air and land operations.

Performing these missions requires a mix of aircraft with a variety of capabilities. The F-15 is currently used in the all-weather air-to-air role with a limited secondary air-to-ground role. The F-16 is the swing fighter, being used in both the air-to-air and air-to-surface roles. The F-4 has moved to a predominantly air-to-ground role but retains residual air-to-air capability. The A-7 and A-10 are used for close air support with limited interdiction capabilities, and the F-111 is our only long-range, around-the-clock, interdiction aircraft. Of the six types of aircraft in our inventory, only tow, the F-15 and F-16, are still in production.

A major part of this force requires replacement due to ageing, and some need improved capabilities to meet a more sophisticated threat. As we turn to the aging issue, we need a context. Fighter aircraft are retired from service when they become technically obsolete or are no longer maintainable.

A brief review of some fighters since the Korean War will help to illustrate this point. Referring to the diagram on the next page, we note that the F-84F and F-86F were retired relatively early due to technical obsolescence. The trusty F-100 simply wore out, as did the F-105. The F-101 and F-104 became technically obsolete and had to be retired. Though they have served us well, F-4Cs and F-4Ds, procured predominantly during the Vietnam era, will have to be phased out of the inventory in the 1990s because of the increasing cost of maintaining these aircraft.

The point is that the useful life of our tactical aircraft varies with aircraft type. Technical obsolescence and the reliability and maintainability degradation that accompanies old age determine that useful life. The useful life is extended if an aircraft can be moved to a role that requires less performance with age. Such was the case with the F-4, which was moved to primarily air-to-surface missions when the more capable F-15 was introduced in the air-to-air role. The F-111, too, will remain in our inventory for some time. It is not routinely subjected to high G. Loads, flies longer but less frequent sorties, and still has excellent capabilities.

Based on an assessment of the current force, a specific procurement strategy has been outlined in the Tactical Fighter Roadmap. This strategy addresses our tactical fighter requirements from three perspectives:

n Procuring the required numbers of fighters to flesh out, modernize, and sustain a forty-TFW force plus our air defense force;

n Buying the needed mix of fighters to accomplish specialized and multirole missions; and

n Developing the quality improvements to enable fighters to accomplish demanding combat missions.

Procuring the Required Numbers

As pointed out earlier, our tactical air forces have sufficient aircraft to fully equip thirty-six equivalent wings with seventy-two combat-ready aircraft each. To flesh out modernize, and sustain our goal of a forty tactical fighter wing force, as well as equip our air defense forces, we need to procure 260-280 aircraft per year.

Unfortunately, recent fighter procurement rates (176, 159, and 180 in FYs ’82, ’83, and ’84 respectively) have not permitted needed growth while maintaining a capable force. As a result, our current force will average almost eleven years of age before increased production rates allow the average age to decrease and stabilize at about ten years.

If we don’t get increased production rates, the consequences are inevitable: We will have to accept a smaller force or an older and less-capable force that is more difficult to maintain.

Procuring the Desired Mix

While total numbers are important, procuring the correct mix of air-to-air and air-to-ground fighters to meet the theater commanders’ requirements is of equal importance. The fighter force mix must, therefore, provide a balance of specialized fighters for the many air-to-air or air-to-ground missions as well as multirole fighters that can be used in either mission role.

Though the correct fighter mix is difficult to define precisely, the competing requirements for flexibility (multirole aircraft) and specialized systems demand that a prudent mix be developed. On the one hand, we know that the theater commander needs a certain percentage of multirole aircraft to respond to the changing battlefield situation. On the other hand, due to the inherent difficulties of training aircrews for multiple missions and the increased capability afforded by the specialized aircraft, a certain percentage of our aircraft should be specialized for air-to-air or air-to-surface missions.

In light of these considerations, a composite perspective of experience and war plans indicates that at least forty percent of our forces should be multirole aircraft. Today, our some seventeen wings of multirole F-4s and F-16s make up thirty-four percent of the force. The F-15 presently fills the specialized air-to-air requirement while A-10s, A-7s and F-111s perform only air-to-surface missions.

Qualitative Improvements

Increasing capabilities are required to meet the critical and demanding mission requirement to operate deep in enemy territory, around the clock, and in any weather. Increased range and payload and better night/adverse weather capability are needed in both air-to-air and air-to-surface mission areas. Well look at the air-to-surface mission area first.

The centerpiece of our air-to-surface qualitative improvements is the dual-role fighter, or F-15E. We need the F-15E for two reasons. First, our present force of F-4s and F-16s hasn’t the range to attack long-range interdiction targets. This is particularly true in the Pacific and Southwest Asia theaters. The F-15E with three 610-gallon tanks and Conformal Fuel Tanks will better F-4 and F-16 range by about fifty percent.

Second, the dual-role fighter will also allow us to attack targets at night and in marginal weather conditions. This is important because Soviet doctrine places heavy emphasis on resupplying first-echelon troops and equipment at night. So long as we do not have a capability to attack Soviet targets at night and in adverse weather, the Warsaw Pact will enjoy a sanctuary for resupply and uninterrupted combat operations. Though the F-111 has an excellent nigh and all-weather capability and can reach the longer-range targets, we have only 200 of these aircraft in our tactical force today. That is not nearly enough.

To complement the limited number of F-111s, the air Force plans to procure 392 F-15Es (twelve combat-coded squadrons plus two training squadrons). While our tactical needs are much greater than 392 aircraft, it is a realistic goal considering mission requirements and fiscal constraints.

Another important tactical modernization program and an essential component of the dual-role fighter is LANTIRN — Low-Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night. LANTIRN provides terrain-avoidance navigation and attack under weather at night. Using its FLIR (forward-looking infrared), LANTIRN relies on its navigation pod for visual night navigation and improved visual target acquisition and identification. The targeting pod facilitates IR Maverick cuing and includes a laser designator for precision bombing. We plan to buy 720 pods for use on some of the F-16s and A-10s and on all of the F-15Es.

In the near term, our air-to-air qualitative improvements center on the AMRAAM (advanced medium-range air-to-air missile). With its active radar seeker, the AMRAAM possesses a launch-and-leave capability. Additionally, its high speed and long range afford the employing aircraft opportunities for multiple kills per engagement.

Another Roadmap feature is a follow-on to the F-16 — the F-16F —, which will possess an improved air-to-air capability and a significantly enhanced air-to-surface capability. Much as we evolved the F-4E from the F-4D and the D from the C, the F-16F will be a product improvement of the F-16C. While we really cannot, at this point, define the precise configuration of this aircraft, there are a variety of promising technologies in various stages of evaluation that may be incorporated in the F-16F.

One candidate is the Advanced Fighter Technology Integration (AFTI) program, which is presently exploring new flight-control systems, voice-commanded avionics, helmet-mounted sights, a dorsal fairing for increased avionics volume, as well as other technologies. In addition, the F-16EX — with its fuselage extension and cranked-arrow wing for longer range and increased payload — is promising. Since the modifications mentioned above are expected to increase aircraft weight and may impact its performance, we believe it prudent to plan for an increased-thrust derivative of the current engines for the F-16 and possibly F-15.

New Engines and Aircraft

Turning to the engine strategy that supports the fighter procurement strategy, the near-term goal is increased reliability and maintainability. We have run a competition between the Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-220 and the General Electric F110-GE-100 and have elected dual-sourcing to satisfy our F-16 and F-15 needs. We will also evaluate improvement programs for these two engines to ensure that they can compete in the 28,000- to 30,000-pound-thrust class. Such a derivative engine could be available in the late 1980s for the F-16F and for possible inclusion in the later F-15s. Finally, we will continue to develop the advanced engine for our next air-to-air fighter — the ATF.

The Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) will be needed in the 1990s to counter new Soviet aircraft that are anticipated in the middle of the next decade. Various capabilities are being considered for the ATF. To operate more effectively and survive in a hostile environment, we are looking at efficient supersonic performance, low signatures, high maneuverability, and advanced integrated avionic/armament. Carrying the battle to the enemy demands long-range capability. We are also exploring short takeoff and landing (STOL) to enhance our ability to cope with enemy attacks on friendly airfields. Sustainability and supportability will receive the same priority as performance. Finally, as in the case of all other fighters, as the aircraft ages, it will inevitably move to the air-to-surface role, so we must provide some inherent air-to-surface capabilities.

A Realistic Procurement Strategy

In summary, the Tactical Fighter Roadmap outlines the forces needed to achieve our military objectives and then proposes a realistic procurement strategy that recognizes existing fiscal constraints. With the fighter procurement profiles specified in the Roadmap, we can flesh out, modernize, and sustain a forty-TFW force at ten years’ average age and still modernize our air defense forces. We also develop a force with sufficient specialized and multirole aircraft to provide the theater commander the flexibility needed to respond to the changing battlefield situation. Lastly, the Roadmap proposes the necessary qualitative improvements to our air-to-air and air-to-surface systems.

I have summarized, in very general terms, the new Tactical Fighter Roadmap. During the coming months, the air Staff will be working with the Tactical Air Forces to refine the Roadmap to ensure that it produces the needed Tactical Fighter Force.

Prior to assuming his present duties as the Air Force’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Research, Development, and Acquisition, Lt. Gen. Robert D. Russ served as the Vice Commander of Tactical Air Command. A command pilot with more than 4,500 hours of flying time, including 242 combat missions in Southeast Asia, General Russ is a graduate of both the Air Command and Staff College and the National War College. Commissioned through the ROTC program, General Russ entered active duty in 1955 and has since held a variety of command and staff positions at wing, major command, and headquarters level.