Flying Colors for F/A-22
By all accounts, the F/A-22 fighter breezed through four-and-a-half months of exacting tests—its toughest yet. The Raptor demonstrated that it can handily beat today’s best fighters flown by today’s best crews.
The Air Force has classified the results of the F/A-22’s initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E), conducted at Nellis AFB, Nev., from late April through mid-September. However, USAF officials said nothing in the testing suggests the aircraft won’t perform any way other than brilliantly in real-world combat.
Gen. John P. Jumper, Air Force Chief of Staff, told Inside the Air Force in August that the IOT&E phase was progressing “with fewer lumps and bumps than I ever thought it would.” He added, “We’re very, very pleased with what we’ve seen so far.”
Air Force officials said the service probably would this fall provide an unclassified synopsis of the test results, after USAF completes all analysis.
The F/A-22 was required to prevail in five broad, live scenarios, each with a number of variations.
In the first, USAF measured the Raptor’s ability to spot, shoot, and destroy an F-16 in a “first look, first kill” test. In the second, two F/A-22s had to destroy a “high-value airborne asset” such as an E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft defended by four F-15s or F-16s. In the third, two F/A-22s had to protect a B-2 bomber against four F-15s or F-16s. In the fourth, four Raptors had to defend a high-value platform such as an AWACS against eight attacking F-15s or F-16s. In the last, four F/A-22s had to protect four F-117s against eight attacking F-15s or F-16s. Supporting aircraft included the Navy’s EA-6B Prowler airborne jamming aircraft.
Besides winning the engagements, the aircraft had to dodge ground-based air defenses. The Air Force said it flew 188 sorties with six F/A-22s during the evaluation.
The tests were run and “graded” by the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center, headquartered at Kirtland AFB, N.M. The testing looked at not only how effectively the aircraft met its mission but also its reliability, ability to surge, sortie generation rate, mission capable rate, and the number of shots required to destroy an enemy.
Based on the performance of those six F/A-22s, AFOTEC developed models simulating how an entire squadron would fare, and it then measured this performance against requirements. An Air Force spokesman said that the modeling simulates large group flying operations “in sufficient detail to provide accurate estimates of suitability parameters.”
In addition, AFOTEC interviewed pilots and maintainers, adding their views to the quantitative data. AFOTEC ultimately will decide whether the F/A-22 is suitable for Air Force use, the spokesman said.
“AFOTEC will determine if the aircraft met or did not meet the criteria [that Air Combat Command] set forth, using these data,” said the USAF spokesman.
The IOT&E tests did not look at the F/A-22’s ground attack capabilities. That mission element will be tested later, as additional munitions are certified for F/A-22 use. However, the first deployed F/A-22s will have the capability to drop the 1,000-pound version of the Joint Direct Attack Munition. The main ground attack weapon for the F/A-22 is to be the 250-pound Small Diameter Bomb (SDB). Each Raptor would have the capability to drop six SDBs.
The F/A-22 is slated to achieve initial operational capability by the end of 2005. Air Force officials said they are confident the Raptor will reach that milestone on time, but they cautioned that they might still see some last-minute technical surprises.
Transformation in a Time of War
Operational doctrine is being rewritten on the fly in Iraq and Afghanistan, and those operations are quickening the pace at which the US military evolves, according to the Pentagon’s transformation chief.
Retired Vice Adm. Arthur K. Cebrowski, director of the DOD Force Transformation Office, told reporters that the ongoing conflicts are forcing the services to do something they should have done long ago—be willing to count on each other.
Specifically, Cebrowski said he sees the Army as having a “purposeful reliance on other people,” notably the Air Force, and that the levels of “interdependency” among the services is rising sharply.
“There’s no doubt in my mind” that the Army has come to rely on airpower as an enabling element of its functions, particularly in the way that Special Forces work collaboratively with aircraft for close air support, Cebrowski asserted.
Some have claimed that the transformation efforts under way just before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have been slowed or stopped by the need to concentrate on the war on terrorism. Cebrowski, however, said the reverse is true.
“When people say the war is putting transformation on hold, that’s wrong. It’s actually accelerating transformation dramatically.”
Cebrowski said officers and troops are going to service schools fresh from the field, full of anecdotes on how things really work as opposed to how doctrine says they should work. The doctrine is being rewritten almost constantly. Because of the accelerated pace of information sharing, doctrine is being rewritten “on the fly … in the field,” he said.
One big lesson of the war is that “a more complex force almost always prevails over a less complex force,” said Cebrowski. By that he meant that the goal should be to obtain “overmatching complexity” rather than producing a more-massive force. He said this was at the heart of the Army’s push to become modular and function in smaller units.
Cebrowski also said the concepts that have been proved in the war are high-speed systems, persistent fires, persistent surveillance, and highly interdependent systems.
“These are the things you’ll see people continue to trumpet” in budget and force structure proposals, he said.
Cebrowski noted, too, that the three factors that drive today’s systems—performance, cost, and time to field—will shift in priority, with cost and timeliness trumping performance. Performance will be worked in over time, he said.
The future will bring dramatically new technology, Cebrowski said, but the US could come up short in the race to capitalize on new developments. The problem, he said, is the disturbing shortage of Ph.D. candidates in the critical technology areas that likely will yield the most important future combat systems. These areas, according to Cebrowski, are “nanotechnology, biotechnology, robotics, and energetics.”
Cebrowski also said the Pentagon is getting more interested in vertical takeoff systems, such as the short takeoff and landing version of the F-35, and “gyrocopters” that can lift large payloads and move them at more than 460 mph at an altitude of 35,000 feet. Vertical systems provide more distributed forces that don’t rely on established supply trains or airports, thereby reducing vulnerability and putting force directly where it’s needed, he said.
New Transports Taking Shape
Concepts for the next generation of airlifters already are taking shape, even as the Pentagon and the Air Force struggle to define the right numbers of C-17s, C-5s, and C-130Js to sustain the military airlift requirements for the midterm. (See “The Airlift Gap,” p. 34.)
Afghanistan and Iraq have underscored the need for a new tactical transport that would fulfill a variety of airlift and special operations roles, Air Force officials reported. The new aircraft—dubbed Advanced Mobility Concept, or AMC-X—would have about the same cargo capacity as a C-130 but be able to fly higher and faster, while operating from 2,000-foot runways. Moreover, the AMC-X would be stealthy.
“We’re talking about … airliner speed,” close to Mach 1, said Col. Marshall K. Sabol, Air Mobility Command’s deputy director of plans and programs. The C-130’s average speed is 345 mph.
AMC also wants an airplane that can fly at the altitudes used by airliners, with greater range and greater survivability, he said. Paramount for the new transport will be its ability to operate at austere locations and carry outsize cargo, said Sabol.
Moreover, the next tactical airlifter will have to be able to operate in blackout conditions at low level, perform paratrooper and equipment airdrop, operate in all weather, and be capable of accomplishing “autoland”—automatic, virtually hands-off landing, guided only by the runway and onboard navigation systems.
Such requirements are “not the future,” said Sabol, adding, “it’s where we operate” today.
AMC is also working with Air Force Research Labs and the Army to make sure that the tactical transport is compatible with the Army’s new Stryker vehicle. The Stryker was designed to be transportable on C-130s, but the vehicle’s weight has continued to grow.
Industry is being kept informed about the requirements for the AMC-X and has, in fact, begun developing some concepts. Boeing has a tilt-wing, tailless short takeoff aircraft, called the Super Frog, that can meet many of the notional requirements.
“We are … working with industry and the labs so that if and when we decide to build this thing, the contractors will know exactly what our requirements are,” Sabol said. He emphasized the participation of the Army, saying it’s “not just the Air Force and AMC driving this.” Proposals for the AMC-X have been briefed to the other services, which have expressed their support. Sabol said, “This one has wheels rolling in the right direction.”
The AMC-X is not yet included in the current Future Years Defense Program—the Pentagon’s six-year spending plan. However, Sabol, said it should be included within the next few years.
Further out will be two new strategic airlift aircraft: the C-X and the KC-X. The C-X is a notional next generation heavy-lift aircraft. AMC is discussing ideas with industry, Sabol said, and is especially interested in Boeing’s blended wing body (BWB) aircraft. The BWB resembles a fattened B-2 bomber-style flying wing. According to Boeing, the design lends itself to modularity. It has a common body, with potential for many different services and uses.
In fact, Boeing has proposed the BWB as not only a large-volume airlifter but a strategic refueling platform as well, able to boom-refuel three or more aircraft at once. It might also incorporate larger or smaller wings and fuselages that could be swapped out, depending on the mission.
AMC officials see the C-X/KC-X entering development by 2014. That would make the first ones available when the C-5 reaches the absolute limit of its potential life span, around 2030. Of the new types, the AMC-X is “probably getting a little more concrete than the other two,” Sabol said.
Space Acquisition Progressing
Improvements instituted about a year ago to the nation’s ailing space acquisition system are starting to have a positive effect, according to a blue-ribbon panel. It added that there is much left to do.
“We were quite pleased with the progress we observed,” said A. Thomas Young, chairman of the Task Force on Acquisition of National Security Space Programs. However, he said, many areas “still need some attention.” The task force in August released a “One Year Review” of its September 2003 study. (See “Washington Watch: The Problem With Space Programs,” November 2003, p. 12.)
Young said there has been a concerted movement to correct problems that started hampering the military space program in the 1990s but that many of the systems that are now experiencing repeated cost overruns and delays may always be hobbled by the “congenital defect” of having been started in that era. Young spoke with Pentagon reporters at an August discussion hosted by Peter B. Teets, undersecretary of the Air Force and DOD’s executive agent for space.
In the 1990s, Young said, cost replaced mission success as the driving force behind most space programs, and the military surrendered too much program oversight to contractors in an effort to save money. Optimistic projections about a booming commercial space market never materialized, and many programs were saddled with costs far higher than anticipated. Young said the troubles of the 1990s were “no one’s fault” but simply the collision of market vagaries and ideas that everyone thought would work but didn’t.
Young said the task force’s top finding remains that space programs need to be given more “management reserve” funding to deal with unexpected problems as they crop up.
According to Teets, fixing that problem has been a slow task because Congress is suspicious of authorizing funds for unspecified purposes. Young agreed, saying that lawmakers understand the issue, but have been reluctant to do anything to change the way business is done.
Teets also said that the process of reprogramming funds needs to change. “Reprogramming is a six-to-nine month process,” he said. Sometimes, extra funds must be found to correct a problem “by next week,” he explained.
Young noted that the cost to postpone a solution is usually triple what it would have been if the reprogramming action had moved quickly. If the space executive were allowed to shuffle funds between programs doing well to those with problems, Young said, “the probability of getting the space portfolio right is pretty high.”
“Space is different” from buying tanks or ships or airplanes, he explained, because of the limited number of items purchased, requirements that change to accommodate real-time needs, and the high-tech nature of the field. Space systems shouldn’t follow the rules set out for those other things, Young said.
According to Young, the Pentagon has made good progress in restraining requirements growth within space programs. However, he said that serving the needs of both the intelligence world and military warfighters continues to feed mission creep—the addition of unplanned capabilities.
There still is no mechanism—other than direct intervention by the Secretary of Defense and Director of Central Intelligence—to solve differences between the military and civil entities of the Intelligence Community. Such conflict resolution has to be done “further down” the chain of command, Young said.
Rising cost is being held in check through independent cost and program reviews, he noted. The fact that “mission success has replaced cost” as a primary program driver is a step in the right direction, he said.
However, Young believes that the government’s ability to manage space programs effectively remains seriously “eroded.” Development of a space cadre to manage space programs effectively is also slow.
Young said that there are simply “not enough experienced people in space acquisition.” In his view, when space programs fail, they do it in a catastrophic way, and it is almost always a human error that caused the problem.