Washington Watch

July 1, 2004

Rumsfeld Delays Tanker Decision

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has postponed until November any decisions about going ahead with a new aerial refueling aircraft program, the Pentagon announced on May 25.

Rumsfeld based his decision on a report from the Defense Science Board’s Aerial Refueling Task Force, which said that corrosion on the Air Force’s 44-year-old KC-135E tankers can be managed and poses no immediate threat to safety or operational capability.

As to the escalating cost of fixing the tankers—one of the Air Force’s main reasons to undertake recapitalization—the Pentagon said that “operating and maintenance cost growth on the tanker fleet may not be as large as earlier estimates.”

Based purely on the metric of airframe fatigue life, the DSB said, the KC-135s could be viable until 2040. The board emphasized that the Air Force has a robust corrosion control program in place and has managed to decrease the number of hours the tankers must spend in depot. The task force believes that the costs to maintain the KC-135s will rise but not as steeply as the Air Force projected earlier.

However, the DSB acknowledged that depot maintenance costs per hour on the KC-135E fleet have doubled in the last eight years and that deferring recapitalization merely pushes the block obsolescence problem to the future.

The DSB also said that the whole issue would benefit from the results of a Mobility Capability Study, now under way by the Pentagon’s program analysis and evaluation shop, and from an ongoing Air Force analysis of alternatives on aerial refueling options. Rumsfeld ordered that both studies proceed quickly and be wrapped up by November.

A Pentagon spokesman urged reporters not to assume that the tanker deal Congress approved last fall—leasing 20 Boeing 767s and buying 80 more—is dead.

“The deal that currently exists could be considered a reasonable option,” Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita told reporters.

Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Rumsfeld has “made the appropriate decision to return to square one and take a new look at the tanker issue from the ground up.”

However, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chief opponent of the tanker deal, said the Air Force should be excluded from participating in the studies, since, in McCain’s view, the service cannot be objective in evaluating the issue. Both the Air Force and Rand, which McCain says is beholden to the Air Force because it receives millions in contracts from the service each year, “should be disqualified from the process.”

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he supports looking at alternatives “beyond the first 100 KC-767 aircraft.” However, Hunter said, “we need to move ahead quickly with the first 100 KC-767s before further jeopardizing our refueling capabilities.”

The House committee has inserted $95 million for the replacement of refueling aircraft in its version of the Fiscal 2005 defense authorization bill. This action “expresses strong bipartisan opposition to further delays” in the tanker program, Hunter said. Because it will take 10 years to deliver the first 100 aircraft—and there are more than 500 KC-135s—“we need to begin this process early in Fiscal Year 2005,” Hunter said.

Trumping the F-15

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper has said for years that USAF pilots flying the latest Russian-made fighters can beat USAF pilots flying the service’s F-15. Now, it seems that Indian Air Force pilots can, too.

That was one of the eye-opening outcomes of Cope India 2004, held earlier this year. It showed that a current Russian fighter flown by well-trained Indian pilots can best a front-line USAF fighter.

More to the point, it was graphic evidence that USAF can ill afford any more delay in bringing the F/A-22 into service.

The 3rd Wing, stationed at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, took its F-15Cs to India for a few rounds of dissimilar air combat training. Those F-15Cs are the best equipped in the Air Force, featuring new long-range, high-resolution radars. When the exercise was over, the Indian Air Force pilots had triumphed in many of the engagements.

Details of the exercise remain classified, according to an Air Force spokesperson. However, industry and service officials report that the Indian pilots flying Su-30MKs and the American pilots in their F-15s were able to spot each other on radar at about the same time. The Indian pilots frequently took the first simulated shots and won a number of dogfights.

Another suprise was the quality of training the Indian pilots received. USAF fighter pilots log about 250 flight hours a year. The Indian fighter pilots said they’ve been getting as many as 300 flying hours per year and that the majority of those hours was spent in full-up combat training.

In most USAF aerial combat training, the service has “dumbed down” adversarial equipment and training to simulate what it believed to be the level of the enemy competence. The Indian Air Force aircrews, on the other hand, practice at full capability against their best fighter aircraft and pilots.

Cope India proved that older aircraft, such as MiG-21s, upgraded with sophisticated new avionics and missiles, can pose a formidable challenge.

Air Force officials noted that in nearly every exercise, the 3rd Wing aircrews were outnumbered, usually 2-to-1. That would be typical in many combat situations. The Air Force expects to deploy a limited number of fighters on short notice to austere fields.

For the USAF pilots to achieve air superiority over the IAF pilots, they would have needed a stealthy fighter—to deny the adversary a first-shot advantage—as well as a longer-range radar and the ability to coordinate data from a variety of offboard sensors. Those qualities reside in the F/A-22, which is expected to enter operational service next year.

The Air Force is also reportedly rethinking whether it will continue to dumb down adversaries in air combat training exercises, given the quality of the pilots encountered during Cope India.

Army and Navy in Space

The Army and Navy are doing their part in military space, the Air Force’s top space official said.

In 2001, when DOD named Air Force as executive agent for space, some officials were concerned that the service would end up shouldering the responsibility for the entire space program.

The fear was that the other services would continue to demand space services but leave it to the Air Force to develop, manage, and pay for them.

That hasn’t happened, according to Peter B. Teets, who is undersecretary of the Air Force as well as overseer of all military space activities and director of the National Reconnaissance Office. He said that the level of Army and Navy investment in military space programs is about the same as before the 2001 shift in responsibility.

“I think it’s a really healthy situation,” Teets told Air Force Magazine. “The Army and Navy are both active participants, they both want to have strong [space] cadres, they both know how much they use space, and they want to have knowledgeable people in their own services aware of what’s going on in the space world.”

Teets said the Army “is very involved and engaged” in developing space capabilities to enhance blue force tracking, the term used to describe processes used to identify and locate friendly troops. The Army, which is working with Air Force Space Command and the NRO on blue force tracking initiatives, is also “very actively engaged in … the capability that can come from our transformational communications system,” he added.

The Navy also maintains high involvement in space, Teets said. It has just published a new space policy that “shows very clearly that the Navy wants to stay engaged, involved, interested,” he emphasized. He added that the Navy wants to develop a space cadre, both on the uniformed and civilian sides.

The Naval Research Lab is “still very much engaged” in designing systems for space and contributing to the NRO’s advanced systems and technology directorate, Teets noted.

In addition, the Navy is “currently acquiring a next generation, narrow-band [communications] system called the Mobile User Objective System,” which will be “on the order of a $5 billion program,” Teets said. “That’s a very significant element of our military communications architecture.”

The Navy’s space contribution “is vitally important, and we welcome it,” he said.

Nevertheless, becoming executive agent brought the Air Force some new space responsibilities which it didn’t have to fund before. One was a ground-based space radar called the Navy Fence, which watches satellites and other objects in orbit.

“The transfer of the Navy Fence over to the Air Force obviously increased the amount of Air Force expenditures,” Teets observed. It costs more than $30 million a year to maintain the Fence, and an upgrade program of more than $300 million was in the works when the Air Force acquired the system. The Air Force is considering whether to maintain the system or shift its functions to a new, satellite-based system. (See “Securing the Space Arena,” p. 30.)

UAVs Come of Age

Unmanned aerial vehicles have made great strides in the past few years, and the time has come for DOD to stop treating them like technology experiments and integrate them throughout the force. So says the Defense Science Board in a recently released report.

The DSB declared that UAVs over the last few years “have at last come of age,” registering operational triumphs and a markedly reduced accident rate. It urged the Pentagon to “accelerate the introduction of UAVs into the force structure” at all levels by increasing funding priority for UAVs.

The report, titled “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles,” was completed in February and released in April. It was prepared by a task force chaired by retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Kenneth R. Israel, former head of the Defense Airborne Reconnaissance Office, and Robert F. Nesbit, a senior vice president at Mitre Corp.

The task force emphasized expanding “integration” and “interdependence” of UAVs, rather than pursuing the present course of simply deconflicting disparate systems.

The DSB wants to see joint use of proven systems, such as USAF’s Predator and Global Hawk UAVs, rather than development of similar aircraft “specifically tailored” to a particular service’s requirements. It also wants the services to cooperate on the development of new UAVs and share the data they yield.

To foster such efforts, the task force recommended that DOD create an interoperability “advocate” post. This person would advise the undersecretary for acquisition, technology, and logistics on how one service’s existing UAV program could satisfy another service’s emerging requirements.

For instance, DSB suggested that the Navy buy Global Hawks until it can field its Broad Area Maritime Surveillance unmanned aerial vehicle and that USAF and the Navy join forces to develop a next generation common high-altitude endurance UAV. It said that the Navy and Marine Corps should quickly acquire and field the vertical takeoff Fire Scout UAV, which provides inland gunnery spotting for a naval task force.

The DSB noted that 10 types of drones were used in Operation Iraqi Freedom, but they couldn’t communicate with each other. They are also vulnerable to shoulder-fired missiles and artillery and would benefit from more stealth, so they could operate safely deeper within enemy territory. Longer-dwell UAVs that offer persistence over an area are also a key requirement, the DSB said.

The Pentagon also needs to embed UAVs into its concepts of operation at all levels, rather than treating the systems like an experimental adjunct to intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance systems. The DSB recommended that US Joint Forces Command take the lead in writing new doctrine that embraces UAVs and pushes for more cross-service utilization.

The DSB suggested that small, independent fighting units should have dedicated UAVs that are controlled not from a world away but by personnel within the unit. It urged the Army and Marines to equip more units with small, look-over-the-hill UAVs like the Marine Corps Dragon Eye and special operations forces Pointer. The benefits derived from UAVs are so great that the DSB called for the Army to take any drones now in storage, spend some money to upgrade them if necessary, and get them out to the field as quickly as possible.

The task force recommended, too, that DOD take steps to prevent the gold-plating—putting too many requirements on a single vehicle—that has led to high cost and program cancellations. The DSB suggested that the Defense Secretary should set stiff rules to restrict new UAVs to “well-defined” unit costs that could only be exceeded with the specific permission of the service Secretary.

The panel also suggested that work be stepped up to address the bandwidth shortages problem, since the services will be using so many UAVs that they will need a bigger chunk of the spectrum in which to control them.

S&T Needs Earlier Commitment

The military services don’t put enough emphasis on transitioning science and technology (S&T) projects into usable fighting systems, according to the Pentagon’s inspector general. The IG wants to make procurement commitments earlier for advanced technology projects.

That, according to a response to the report by Sue C. Payton, deputy undersecretary for advanced systems and concepts, is not the right approach.

Payton maintained that it would be wrong to insist that all S&T projects yield a fielded system because such projects “may not be technically mature enough for a commitment to further develop and procure.” She added that the Pentagon must “demonstrate them to decide which technology to pursue.”

In its report, the IG looked at how efficiently the military services set goals for S&T projects, get potential end-users involved in them, and get a useful system out the other end.

According to IG auditor Mary L. Ugone, success in transitioning a system to the battlefield isn’t taken into account when programs are evaluated for their usefulness, and the financial guidance on which programs are assessed for priority doesn’t emphasize technology transition.

“Those conditions exist because … the military departments’ research officials believe that different standards exist among projects funded with advanced technology development resources,” stated the IG report. “As a result, advanced technology development-funded projects were not sufficiently coordinated to ensure that successful technology would transition to the next development or acquisition stage.”

At the heart of the report was the basic contention that the Pentagon must change its approach to S&T procurement decisions.

However, Payton maintained that the present research, development, test, and evaluation cycle, with its five progressive budget activities, provides “a logical progression of the RDT&E effort prior to acquisition.” The IG wants to introduce a procurement commitment into budget activity three (advanced technology development). Currently that commitment is found in the next level, budget activity four.

At the third level, said Payton, demonstrations “compare and contrast competing technologies” before a service commits to “a specific acquisition program.” Once a technology demonstrates the necessary “maturity for further commitment,” it may move into level four.

To require the commitment at budget activity three, said Payton, would “lead to [fewer] systems being evaluated, increased risk, and less than optimal solutions for the acquisition community.”

Payton concluded, “DUSD AS&C nonconcurs with all recommendations in the report as written because they would require redefinition of budget activity three.”

The IG responded that Payton’s comments were “nonresponsive to the report and do not address the recommendations.” And, the IG said, it had the comptroller on its side.