Scoping the Technology Baseline

Dec. 1, 1982
Washington, D.C., Nov. 2 As budgetary realities force the Air Force and the Defense Department to adjust the pace and scope of weapons programs in progress to an unavoidable budget crunch, the challenge of sustaining long-term advanced technology efforts—whose distant payoff may not be totally clear—becomes larger than lifesize.

Solving the dilemma of meeting today’s pressing and obvious operational needs without depleting the technological reservoir of tomorrow ranks as the key task of Lt. Gen. Lawrence A. Skantze, the Air Force’s new Deputy Chief of Staff for Research, Development and Acquisition.

By the time the FY ’85 program objective memorandum (POM) goes into effect, he told this writer, “we ought to be able to define the scope and size” of the Air Force’s technology base programs. Warning that the temptation to engage in “fire fighting,” meaning to respond to near-term imperatives on an ad hoc basis, is “overwhelming,” he stressed that there is an equally compelling need to develop the discipline and mechanism to “look ahead.”

He cited two examples in the latter category: Reexamination of the “aerospace plane” concept espoused and subsequently dropped in the 1960s, and the proposition that airborne laser weapon systems could have significant military utility.

In the case of the former, he said, the advantages of taking off and landing horizontally at a variety of airfields are self-evident. So is the fact that ramjet-propelled aerodynamic vehicles might succeed in getting up to extremely high altitudes and speeds while capitalizing on the economics of air-breathing flight before they “boomerang into space.” Generally, the aerospace plane uses “ambient” air to boost itself to the edge of the stratosphere, rather than loft both the propellant and “oxydizer” that rockets require.

Tentative evidence from initial Air Force studies suggests that a “reasonable degree of confidence” exists that such a vehicle can be put into operation over the long term. These reviews of the aerospace plane’s technological feasibility, General Skantze said, are “generic” in character and not based on any assumptions about specific operational needs.

A similar, tentative technology challenge pivots on tailored feasibility demonstrations of airborne laser weapons, General Skantze suggested. “Here we need to ask the question, ‘Given that an airborne laser system works, what can we do with it?’ The initial answer seems to center on two primary candidate missions, anti-SLBM (sea-launched ballistic missiles) and antisatellite.”

The objective in the case of anti-SLBM launcher in the boost phase, before separation of the individual multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle (MIRVs) can occur. Yet to be demonstrated is the practical feasibility of keeping a sufficient number of airborne laser platforms on patrol to provide the required coverage of Soviet SLBM launch areas.

Turning to the Advanced Technology Fighter (ATF), a less futuristic, long-term technology challenge facing the Air Force, General Skantze said that full-scale development of such a system should be initiated by FY ’87 to allow for initial operational capability (IOC) by FY ’93. Assuming ultimate congressional approval of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s “mark” to allocate about $23 million in FY ’83 for the program, General Skantze said the Air Force’s initial ATF effort will concentrate on “engine definition.”

Two Air Force research efforts—the engine model derivative program and the gas generator program—he said, have already shown clearly that “we know how to build engines with considerably fewer parts and that weigh less” than the current generation of high-performance powerplants. The ATF’s engine will be marked, therefore, by significant improvements in durability, reliability, and increased efficiency.

He added that “new superalloys and composite materials can tolerate higher temperatures and reduce our dependence on critical strategic materials. Digital electronic engine controls will also improve reliability and allow unrestricted throttle movement with stall-free operation. Up to fifty percent fewer parts, forty percent less supersonic fuel consumption, and twenty-five percent higher thrust-to-weight engine performance will combine to lower engine life cycle costs by twenty to thirty percent.”

The Air Force approaches ATF from the premise that the F-15 and F-16, although based on old technology, are first-rate performers, and that the new design will need to incorporate a range of technological advances that in combination can “make a significant difference,” according to General Skantze.

Features that should be considered essential, he said, include:

• Short takeoff and landing to reduce dependency on runways and increase deployment flexibility.

• Greater aircraft agility to increase survivability and enhance engagement options.

• Increased speed and altitude envelopes to improve survivability and deny potential enemy sanctuaries.

• Reduced aircraft radar, infrared, radio frequency, and visual signatures to delay detection.

• Increased range and payload capabilities to increase both deployment and employment options.

• Better vehicle and weapons integration to minimize the penalty that current designs pay to deliver munitions to desired targets.

• Lastly, improved systems reliability to reduce support costs and increase readiness and sustainability.

To sort out various promising technologies and blend them into an integrated concept will take another year or more, he said. Several current demonstration programs are likely to funnel information into the ATF concept formulation, General Skantze said. Included here are two programs of long standing—the Advanced Fighter Technology Integration (AFTI) and HiMAT, for High Maneuverability Advanced Technology, involving RPVs as test beds.

A relatively new program, the X-19A Forward Swept Wing project that is slated for initial flight testing early in FY ’84, could become a major player in the ATF design. This program is carried out jointly by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Air Force, and NASA. Analytical evidence suggests that a forward swept wing (FSW) tactical fighter could be as much as twenty-five to thirty percent lighter than an equivalent aft swept design.

Whatever the ultimate nature of the ATF airframe, according to General Skantze, the design will take advantage of new materials to lower weight and reduce drag by means of advanced airfoil shapes. Metal matrix and graphite epoxy composites as well as powdered and “super plastic” formed aluminum materials may well turn out to be the stuff that ATF will be made of, he suggested.

Aerodynamically, the airframe could benefit significantly from improvements in high light, reduced supersonic drag, and increased control power. Potential concepts include close coupled canards, cortex lift devices, and active variable camber. The payoff would be reduced takeoff and landing speeds, improved maneuverability agility, and more efficient supersonic operation.

Multimode, digital flight control technology should simplify further integration of the aircraft’s flight, propulsion, and fire-control systems. Such technologies can take full advantage of the aircraft’s unprecedented maneuvering flexibility and automated weapons delivery.

ATF’s STOL retirement causes USAF to develop and flight-test several associated technologies. These include two-dimensional thrust vectoring and reversing engine nozzles, integrated flight and propulsion controls, high lift devices, rough/soft field landing gear, and refined pilot displays and controls to reduce the pilot’s work load in the STOL mode to safe, manageable levels.

ATF, General Skantze predicted, will capitalize on recent major advances in avionics technology where the only limiting factors appear to be “our imagination.” Key objectives here are extensive cockpit automation and integration using advanced higher order computer languages, very large scale and very high speed integrated circuits (VLSI and VHSIC), and the fusion of the information flow from various sensors with flexible, multifunction displays and wide field of view head-up displays (HUDS).

There is even the possibility of providing ATF with what he termed a “gold watch” feature—the use of voice command for some pilot functions. The Phase II test program of the AFTI F-16 project includes a voice command demonstrator that is showing promise of operational utility.

In order to nail down promising technology options for ATF’s concept formulation, the Air Force is working with eight prime contractors on what General Skantze terms a “freewheeling” approach where both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions are being considered.

For the short term, General Skantze is determined to get maximum return form the Air Force’s investment in the F-15 and F-16 by developing dual-role derivatives. For that purpose the Air Force will run a comparative evaluation of the F-16E (XL) and F-15E. These aircraft will be looked at from an analytical point of view as well as in terms of flying quality and weapons delivery capability.

The intent is to have Air Force Systems Command and TAC run the comparative evaluation and then examine various levels of upgrading for both aircraft types. The end result, he said, could be that one aircraft is picked for the long-range interdictor mission (tailored for the interdiction of the Warsaw Pact’s rear echelons), transforming the aircraft in effect into a dual fighter, while the other is earmarked for some “lesser upgrading.”

Modifications of the aircraft center on the air-to-ground role, especially the incorporation of LANTIRN for night and under-the-weather missions, according to General Skantze. Other options include an improved radar system, additional weapons carriage, the imaging infrared (I2R) Maverick, laser-guided bombs, and a standoff attack weapon, a short-range (ten to fifteen miles) low-altitude munition dispenser.

Some time next summer, the Air Force plans to decide which aircraft is to be upgraded for the dual-role mission and what upgrades are to be performed on the other aircraft. Originally, the plan called for the acquisition of 400 interdictors, but the Air Force, at this time, is undecided about the required number, according to General Skantze.

The upgrading of the F-15 or F-16 to the dual-role or “E” model configuration is not linked to the Air Force’s plan to acquire an alternate engine for its fighter force. This January the Air Force will issues a request for proposal (RFP) for an alternate engine to the F100 powering both the F-15 and F-16, General Skantze explained. The competing alternate design is GE’s F101.

The reasoning behind the Air Force’s decision to set up a second production line, according to General Skantze, is “that we don’t want to confine ourselves to a sole sources position and do want to maintain the industrial base at a broader level.” The intention at this time is to pick representative block buys of either the F-15 or F-16 and equip those aircraft, beginning in 1985, with the alternate engine.

One of the most pressing problems that concerns General Skantze is the low annual buy rate of Air Force fighters: “Buying at a rate of about 160 aircraft a year does not offset aging and attrition factors, to say nothing of building up the force. In the outyears of the Five-Year Defense Plan, we get to a buy rate of between 270 and 280 aircraft a year, which begins to solve the problem. It is essential to sustain this place, and that will be tough in light of the investments in strategic systems that we need.”

Washington Observations

• The Air Force’s 1984 POM (Program Objective Memorandum) puts considerable stress on expeditious development and acquisition of an advanced, compact, extended-range SRAM, also called the Advanced Strategic Missile System. While some of the proposed design’s performance features remain tentative, the missile is to have a range of about 100 miles on the deck and several hundred when flown in a semiballistic mode.

The current inventory of SRAMS—with a range of about thirty miles and 100 miles respectively—is aging and developing reliability problems. Some of the motor cases are cracking, and the system is not nuclear-hardened. SAC, therefore, requested development of a follow-on design rather than reopen the production line of a system based on obsolescent technology.

The advanced SRAM is meant to augment both the B-1B and the Advanced Technology (Stealth) bomber. In the case of the B-1B, the aircraft can penetrate on the deck, pop up for a quick look by its ALQ-161 sensor for hostile radars, and launch an advanced SRAM against these targets. The effect is a “smart” nuclear weapon of considerable reach.

With about thirty percent of the Soviet target base falling into the category of imprecisely located targets, the importance of an extended-range SRAM carried by the B-1B or ATB can’t be overstressed. It would be possible, for instance, to attack and destroy reliably with a B-1B/advanced SRAM combination the dozen or so highly mobile divisions (each with 320 main battle tanks) the Soviets maintain along the Sino-Soviet border. The prospect of the vast Chinese Army then having unimpeded access to all of Siberia is probably sufficiently grim to put the Soviet Politburo into a catatonic state.

• Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy Richard N. Perle recently disclosed that the Israeli Air Force, during the conflict with Syrian forces in Lebanon, lost an aircraft carrying highly sensitive Israeli-developed ECM equipment. The Israelis, determined not to let the equipment fall into enemy hands, mounted a strike to destroy totally the downed aircraft on the ground. By the time the Israelis arrived over the target, there were “already Russians on the ground pulling out pieces” of the downed aircraft. As a result, the Israelis “got the Russians” as well as the downed aircraft, he said.

Other sources told this column that, according to reliable intelligence information, eleven Soviets were killed in the Israeli raid.

• As part of the Air Force’s “declaration of war on cost overruns,” a major program review identified labor settlement as one cause of cost growth. According to USAF’s Assistant Vice Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Hans H. Driessnack, “It is not our business to tell industry how much to pay their employees, but it is our business to tell them how much we are willing to pay for their products.” An in-depth Air Force analysis of the labor contracts of fourteen major defense contractors led to the “obvious conclusion … that aerospace workers are well paid and their wages are increasing faster than inflation.”

The Air Force analysis found further that “aerospace labor rates are significantly higher than the Bureau of Labor Statistics average manufacturing rates, the rates for durable goods manufacturers, and local wage rates. Our analysis of cost growth in Air Force weapon systems acquisition reveals practices that may have contributed to the inflationary spiral in the aerospace industry.”

The Air Force made its concern over labor cost growth known to chief executive officers of major contractors. Air Force Secretary Verne Orr issued instructions to “make every effort to see that we do not pay negotiated wage settlements to our weapon producers that are greater than the amounts that the federal government decides are adequate for its own employees and recipients.”

• The Air Force, according to Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Dr. Richard D. DeLauer, is studying a new generation of space vehicles under a program called “Advanced Military Spaceflight Capability” that emphasizes such requirements as “on-demand launch, use of conventional airfields, [and] military mission capability.”

As the military use of space becomes more essential, he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “the requirement for a more responsive launch capability has become more critical. Quick reaction launch, survivable launch, and reusable aerodynamic space vehicles are examples of concepts which have been proposed to meet this need.” NASA and the Defense Department are already investigating launch vehicle concepts to supplement the Shuttle over the near term, he reported.

One concept under consideration is the so-called “Big Dumb Booster,” or SRB-X, that uses one or three solid rocket boosters, plus upper stages, to orbit up to 100,000 pounds, or almost twice the Shuttle’s payload.

Another concept, he told Congress, is the “In-Line” launcher concept that uses a module with one or two main engines placed under the Shuttle’s external tank. These concepts are attractive, according to Dr. DeLauer, “because they would permit operation of a mixed system, but not always require the Shuttle Orbiters which may not be able to meet the future demands for space and transportation.”

Turning to “areas of major uncertainty in our ability to predict with confidence” the utility of space-based laser weapons, he defended DoD’s laser program. DoD’s approach is “designed to permit an informed decision in FY ’87 on the military utility, cost-effectiveness, and development prospects for near term [1990s] space-based chemical laser weapons. It includes Air Force efforts to address overall system and utility issues, to include survivability, total system architecture [surveillance and command and control], and the Soviet ability to harden potential targets. It also includes plans to pursue [development] of technology for short wavelength lasers, which are less mature than chemical lasers, but show promising advantages which may be realizable further in the future.”

• Air Force experts believe that there could be significant spinoff from the joint DARPA/Navy Blue-Green laser communications system that is developing the means to communicate from space with submarines at operational depths. These experts suggest that this space-based system might provide global coverage, survivability, and flexibility in both tactical and strategic operations of the Air Force as well as of the Navy.

One promising application might be linkage of AWACS to space-based command control and communications systems, especially when the E-3As have to operate under cloud cover.

• The General Accounting Office’s propensity for playing fast and loose with the facts when the objective is to derogate the Defense Department and its components reached new heights in a report of September 29 that accused DoD and the Air Force of improper lobbying in behalf of the C-5B.

The Department, through Deputy Secretary of Defense Frank C. Carlucci III, shot back with the statement that the GAO report “contains numerous factual mistakes and erroneous interpretations of federal statues. It is our firm conviction that neither the Office of the Secretary of Defense nor the Air Force engaged in any improper or illegal lobbying activity.”

DoD’s official comment asserted further that “the factual errors and incorrect legal conclusions contained in the report might have been prevented if the GAO had not violated its own standards and procedures in denying DoD the opportunity to comment on a draft report before the final report was released to Congress and the media.”