Growing up some thirty years ago in Shreveport, La., right across the river from Barksdale AFB, Edward C. “Pete” Aldridge, Jr., learned, as he puts it, to “look up” to the US Air Force and the leaders who made it great. The Shreveport teenager’s admiration begot a dream—some time, in some form, to join the Air Force team. In August 1981, that dream came true when he joined the “team” as Under Secretary of the Air Force. Over the intervening five years, Mr. Aldridge became one of the most respected and longest-tenured occupants of that office.
His outstanding performance was not lost on the Defense Department’s leadership and the White House. On April 7, following the resignation of Russell A. Rourke for weighty personal reasons, President Reagan named Mr. Aldridge the seventeenth and newest Secretary of the Air Force, making him the civilian head of the service that he had first learned to admire three decades ago. At this writing, Senate confirmation of his new assignment is pending.
The prospect of leading what he calls the greatest Air Force in the world puts a king-size lump in the throat of this normally unflappable, erstwhile aerospace engineer and defense analyst: “It is almost more than this person can endure.” Pete Aldridge seems tailor-made for the high office that he has just assumed. He holds a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering from Texas A&M and a master of science degree, also in aeronautical engineering, from Georgia Tech.
For a number of years following his professional schooling, he held engineering and, eventually, management slots in the aerospace industry. For five years thereafter, he served as a Defense Department systems analyst and as an advisor to the US SALT I team in Helsinki and Vienna. After a year as senior manager with an aerospace company, he was named a senior management associate in the White House Office of Management and Budget. Next came two years as a senior OSD executive charged with oversight of strategic programs and then an assignment as principal advisor to the Secretary of Defense in the field of planning and program evaluation of US military forces and force structure. During the Carter era, Mr. Aldridge served as a vice president in a respected think tank responsible for a range of defense planning and analysis functions. The incoming Reagan Administration quickly picked him for the job of Air Force Under Secretary.
The Priorities Are Right
In an interview with this writer, the new head of the Department of the Air Force posed a rhetorical question: “What is Pete Aldridge going to do about the priorities [of the Air Force that have evolved over the past five years of the Reagan Administration]?” The answer, he said, “is nothing. The priorities are right, the Air Force is on a roll, and I don’t see any reason to change the winning game plan that we came up with.” The top priority that he inherited from his predecessors and the one that he views above all others as sacrosanct is “people. Keeping quality people certainly will always be at the top of my list. You can have the greatest, fanciest aircraft in the world, but if you don’t have quality people to maintain them and fly them, they won’t do you much good.”
Ranking right behind this imperative, in Secretary Aldridge’s view, are “readiness and sustainability.”
The fact that he sees no intrinsic need for reordering either general or mission-area priorities doesn’t mean there won’t be adjustments, he emphasized. Two factors that come into play here involve pending drastic budget cuts, on the one hand, and structural changes that are likely to ensue from the Administration’s implementation of the findings of the Blue Ribbon (Packard) Commission on Defense Management, Secretary Aldridge acknowledged.
In the first instance, he harbors few illusions. Maintaining the rate of budget growth experienced by the Air Force over the past five years is not in the cards that are being dealt by Congress. “At best, we might be able to sustain a very limited real growth, and it’s going to be tougher to get the military manpower to man our forces,” he warns. But there is a mitigating factor: “We are starting from a solid base, [because over] the past five years, we were able to take our budget from $42 billion to about $100 billion.”
Concomitantly, over the past five years, USAF’s flying hours shot up by twenty-two percent, aircraft mission-capable rates by forty-four percent, sorties per pilot by fifteen percent, air-to-air capability by sixty-five percent, strategic airlift capability by twenty-five percent, and “force-multiplier” space programs by a staggering 384 percent. The contention by congressional malcontents that the $1 trillion that the country has spent on national security over the past five years has bought nothing is, he asserted, “garbage.”
The “down side” of freezing defense spending is that “the threat hasn’t gone away, and that is what should set our requirements, not how much money” the country is willing to spend on defense, he points out. It follows that some tough choices lie ahead. “The programs that we started over the past few years in anticipation of continued high growth [are in for] close scrutiny.” As a consequence, “Sick programs are not long for this world.” A case in point is PLSS, the precision location strike system (see “In Focus . . . ” p. 24 of this issue).
Any program that has “the slightest degree of problem” in terms of cost, schedule, or performance or that lacks a rock-solid base in terms of requirements will be looked at closely and critically and may be headed for the chopping block, he emphasizes.
The Impact of the Packard Report
The impact of the President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on the current structure of the Air Force, while not fully sorted out, is likely to be significant, Secretary Aldridge suggests: “It is clear, if you put Packard [meaning the provisions of the Commission] against the current structure of our program management, that there will have to be some changes.” The Defense Department and the Air Force are looking at the alternatives for adapting current resource allocation and program management functions to the matrix drawn up by the Presidential Commission. For the time being, however, “we don’t know yet what the changes should be.”
What, in the Pentagon’s view, does seem clear, however, is that the management functions ought to be carried out on two distinct tracks, he. suggested. The resource allocation function flows from the President to the Secretary of Defense and then to the service Secretaries, with the basic objective of fitting essential programs into a given budget and then funding them. The program management function starts where the resource allocation task leaves off. The Packard Commission’s matrix notwithstanding, “somehow we will have to continue to manage the resource allocation process,
and somehow we will have to manage our programs.”
Secretary Aldridge suggested that the Packard Commission’s recommendations in areas affecting military organization and command structure—in the main, the call to broaden the authority of the unified commanders—require no drastic changes on the part of the Air Force. The reason is that the Air Force already “does an excellent job of supporting the CINCs.”
The Packard Commission, he added, might have overlooked some of the cooperative measures already undertaken by the Air Force in terms of CINC support, with the result that “we are in better shape than the Commission gives us credit for.” He pointed out that the Air Force’s four-star general officers, several of whom serve as CINCs, participate fully and actively from start to finish in the development of the program objective memorandum (POM) that in effect is the Air Force’s five-year plan. He stressed that this participation extends from the early stages of the POM process—when requirements are juxtaposed with the budget bogeys and “disconnects,” meaning critical omissions, are resolved—to the stage when adjustments necessitated by cuts are made and then all the way to formulation of the complete document that is delivered to OSD. The Air Force component commanders, he stressed, also “are doing an excellent job” in supporting their CINCs. As a result, Secretary Aldridge sees no compelling need for major adjustments in the way the Air Force operates in the joint-service arena.
A Partial Move to Prototyping
One of the first tangible effects on the Air Force of the White House’s decision to implement the Packard Commission recommendations involved the Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) program, according to Secretary Aldridge. The Commission found that in the case of such critically important weapon systems as a new air-superiority fighter, the need for maximum performance dictates the introduction of truly state-of-the-art technology. The reason is that the “benefits of the new technology offset the concomitant risks.” The Packard Commission suggested further that the only consistently reliable means for gauging the trade-off between risks and benefits is by building prototypes that “embody the new technology.”
Based on this guidance, the Air Force decided to “make the Advanced Tactical Fighter a model program for implementing the recommendations of the Packard Commission,” Secretary Aldridge emphasized. This means prototyping—or “fly-before-buy”–of competing aircraft to demonstrate key technologies as well as “our ability to maintain cost control,” he added.
Other factors that persuaded the Air Force to change the ATF program to a prototype format include the unprecedented degree of integration associated with this weapon system: “This is going to be the most integrated aircraft ever built in terms of engines, airframe, avionics, structure, and aerodynamics” and thus justifies a “head-to-head flyoff.” The approach will be similar to that taken with the YF-16 and YF-17. The engine/airframe integration of these competing prototypes was evaluated in the 1970s.
The restructuring of the ATF program is scheduled to lead to the award of two contracts that require both competitive flying and ground avionics prototypes. The flyoff of the two competitive flying prototypes is to get under way in 1990, which will put the ATF into the air two years earlier than previously planned.
But the fly-before-buy decision on ATF does not signal a wholesale shift of Air Force development programs toward the prototype approach, Secretary Aldridge cautioned. In the case of some other programs, “dual-sourcing” will be applied, he suggested. In yet other instances, the “very good lessons” learned from the B-1 program, such as baselining and multiyear procurement, will serve as the paradigm, he said. This might apply in some measure to the ATB (advanced technology, or “Stealth,” bomber) program, he hinted.
The Importance of Revolutionary Technologies
While the new Secretary plans, in general, to follow the policies and management philosophies developed and honed by his immediate predecessors in concert with the military heads of the Air Force, he won’t rule out “changes in what football coaches call ‘tendencies.’ My tendencies might lean more toward revolutionary, rather than evolutionary, approaches to weapon systems or concepts.” He explained that he might “tend to decide in favor of [approaches] that exploit the advantages of [advanced] technology by taking a great leap forward.” In terms of specifics, he cited in this context his support of “ATB, ATF, SDI, the National Aerospace Plane, the C-17, and technologies coming out of [Gen. Lawrence A.] Skantze’s Project Forecast II” high-technology roadmap.
He cautioned, however, that he planned to apply his preference for highly leveraged technologies selectively: “Out of a hundred decisions, I might do that seventy percent of the time, but in the other thirty percent, that might not make sense.” He is fully aware that decisions in favor of long-term revolutionary performance gains can take their toll in short-term force structure. By going for the quantum leap embodied by ATF, for instance, the consequences in the current budget environment might well be that “we can’t build as many F-15s and F-16s [as we wanted because we have] to pay for the longer-term investment.” Given a choice between fixing up existing weapon systems by grafting on evolutionary improvements or taking the step toward revolutionary gain, “I will probably tend to support a smaller force, but a much more capable one that [gives us] all the force multipliers we need.”
In this context, he cited the importance of looking for technologies that beget massive performance gains, such as the combination of stealth and autonomous standoff weapons: “Technology now supports a broader role for standoff weapons. It’s ridiculous to put man in a threatening environment when there is a smart [unmanned] weapon that can do the job effectively.” Remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs), he suggested, “have a place in our Air Force. We ought to be pushing them with a certain amount of vigor.”
Similarly, Secretary Aldridge came down four-square in favor of advanced spacelaunch systems, especially the National Aerospace Plane (NASP). In his view, the best long-term solution to the challenge of spacelaunch economics is NASP, a derivative of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s “Copper Canyon” program, as “opposed to the Transatmospheric Vehicle,” or TAV, approach, a technically less-ambitious concept: “I support the long leap forward” over TAV promised by NASP.
The Imperative of Assured Access to Space
Because of his intimate involvement with oversight of space operations, Secretary Aldridge is extremely concerned over the current, simultaneous stand-down of both the Space Shuttle and Titan 34D. It is imperative, he avers, that the US build up its “spacelaunch posture to a [level] that is greater than what existed before the accidents.” He inveighed against “ever again letting ourselves get into a situation where for eighteen months we don’t have a way to get into space with a major portion of our launch force.” As the new Secretary of the Air Force, he promised to “push for a launch posture that is more robust, more flexible, and more capable than what we had” before the tragic loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger and its crew in January and of a Titan 34D in April of this year.
This restoration and buildup of the national space-launch capabilities should and will be undertaken “very cautiously,” he said, adding that there is a “difference between the Shuttle that has people on top compared to Titan.” While there were two Titan failures in a row, they were the first in eighteen years involving launches of this system from Vandenberg AFB, Calif. One of the failures involved the launch vehicle’s solid-rocket motor, the first accident of this type in the history of the Titan system. The other failure—in August of last year—was totally unrelated and involved the Titan’s liquid-fuel engine.
These two unrelated failures, Secretary Aldridge explained, do not indicate “any design flaws,” but suggest the need to look for procedural and quality problems: “We probably should have been checking a little more thoroughly.” Nevertheless, there are no fundamental reasons to doubt that the Titan 34D is “a very reliable system [whose overall] reliability, in fact, is about ninety-six percent.”
With the Shuttle Orbiter fleet down to three vehicles—of which only two are capable of accommodating the heavier DoD payloads—”we simply don’t have enough capacity and [as a result] will be backlogging payloads to a point where we are going to have thirty or so Shuttle rides before we can start up again.” This backlog, he predicted, will have to be worked off in part with expendable launch vehicles (ELVs). In addition, Secretary Aldridge supports acquisition of a replacement Orbiter. This need is made especially compelling, he said, because if one of the two existing Orbiters that can handle the heavier DoD payloads were to stand down, “we would really be in deep trouble.” He considers it essential that “we rebuild our Shuttle fleet to a point where we won’t have to worry too much if one Orbiter is down.”
The fundamental, long-term lesson from the current launch paralysis is “that we can’t allow ourselves to depend on a single spacelaunch system” and instead must commit to a mixed-fleet concept. As the decision time draws nearer on the joint NASA/DoD Space Transportation Architecture Study (or STAS, which limns US spacelaunch requirements beyond 1995), “we need to look at both manned systems to replace the Shuttle and unmanned systems to replace our CELVs,” meaning complementary expendable launch vehicles of the Titan 3413-7 type that possess a Shuttle-bay-equivalent payload capability. Key objectives of the STAS include creation of a mixed fleet of launch vehicles to increase flexibility and “robustness” and to bring about an order-of-magnitude decrease in the cost of delivering payloads into space.
Principal STAS candidates include an unmanned heavy-lift launch vehicle (HLLV) capable of taking between 150,000 and 300,000 pounds of cargo into orbit and the NASP, which would have the potential for routine spacelaunch from horizontal takeoff. The manned and unmanned systems should be built of “separate components” to preclude the risk of simultaneous stand-downs, Secretary Aldridge stressed.
Current launch vehicle stand-downs notwithstanding, “the US space program is still healthy. We have more than 125 satellites working in orbit. Our space program is still unsurpassed by any other nation, and I believe we will get over the current small setback.” The military space function, he asserted, “is growing. The reason is that we have finally begun to realize the potential that space can offer the military commander in the air and on the ground.”
The SICBM Riddle
One of the key issues facing the new civilian head of the Air Force is the debate in Congress and within the Administration about the ICBM force mix, especially the requirement for 100 Peacekeepers (MX) and the nature of the proposed new Small ICBM. The Air Force’s position, he emphasized, is to support the President’s program, which for the time being, at least, “envisions the SICBM as a single-warhead system.” He added, however, that, in his view, the SICBM should be larger than the congressionally-mandated 30,000-pound ceiling, “because the system will have to live for twenty years or more.”
Because of imponderable factors—such as changes brought on by the threat or by arms control—”we need the flexibility to adapt.” This need for flexibility, he said, might include “rationales for MIRVing the SICBM, so long as the missile’s [mobility and hence its] survivability” are not unduly impaired. If Congress were to deny deployment of the second fifty Peacekeepers permanently—thereby creating the need for the SICBM to make up the resultant deficit of 500 warheads, for instance—”then we might need a MIRVed small missile.” The Air Force, therefore, the new Secretary said, “will look realistically at what it takes to make a good-sized missile mobile without [running the risk of] debonding its solid-rocket” motors.
He added that the Air Force will complete its in-depth technical investigation of various design options for the SICBM later this year, in time for the go-ahead decision on the program by the Defense Systems Acquisition Review Council (DSARC) scheduled for December of this year. “We have no argument with MIRVing the SICBM, if that becomes necessary. . . but we need to prove out” before the DSARC all the consequences associated with significant size increases, he said.