Surfing the Bow Wave

The Air Force’s modernization programs are well laid-out for the first of the next three five-year plans, but problems begin to arise in the “second and third” of those, Lt. Gen. Mike Holmes, USAF director of strategic planning. Holmes, who is to pin on a fourth star and take over Air Combat Command, said in a B-21 panel discussion at ASC16 that the second period is afflicted by a “bow wave” in which bills for many space, combat aircraft, and other modernization programs all come due at once. He suggested that USAF is looking at accelerating some “be?fore the bow wave,” and “we may pick out some for after.” One of those affected may be the replacement project for Global Strike Command’s aged missile field support helicopters. He acknowledged, though, that “there’s a bathtub out there we have to address” in fighters. Gen. Darryl Roberson, head of Air Education and Training Command, told reporters full operational capability for the T-X trainer has been stretched two years to 2034, for example. Holmes said USAF will try to avoid any reductions in the F-35 fighter, KC-46 tanker, and B-21 as they are the key programs in USAF modernization.