- the entire concept is somewhat reminiscent of the WW2 pacific theater, save for the use of improvised forward bases. Truk and Rabaul look like good locations for combined Air Force / Navy bases.
It does feel very WW2 and the difficulty of distance hasn’t changed. As for the basing, Rabaul isn’t a good candidate, the Tavurvur volcano is simply too unstable for it to be a viable option. Chuuk also likely doesn’t have the space available to expand to the size the US would require, if the locals would even welcome it. I'd also be wary about what a rise in sea levels would do to some of these potential locations (similar to a lot of these spratly island outposts that may end up being well below sea level in the next 20 years).
- only 50 B-21 are expected to be delivered until the mid '30s. That seems like a very slow production rate, considering that there are over 150 bombers in the US inventory. The study acknowledges that the B-1 and B-52 can only attack with stand-off weapons. With this in mind, the high speed capability of the B-1 is obsolete and they will likely be the first to go. The range of the B-52 is invaluable in the pacific theater. I wonder if the B-21 has sufficient legs for the pacific.
I expect the B-21 production rate will be approx twelve a year but that will likely take a few years to get to that rate. IOC is currently meant to be 2025 (probably six aircraft with trained crews) but I don’t believe they will make that.
B-21 was designed with the pacific theatre in mind so I expect the range will be sufficient for what they want to do and agree the B-1s are likely the first to go but that has been the plan for awhile.
- the study notes that the recommended "rear bases" are too far away for fighters. This also means that multirole fighters are increasingly useless in a ground attack role, placing even more weight on bombers and/or aircraft carriers. Navy and Marine Fighters consume the bulk of the refueling capability despite their "mobile bases".
I don’t think the suggestion is that forward based fighters are useless, just that their basing is at greater risk of attack.
Forward bases are vulnerable, but rear bases may place fighters beyond their useful or even maximum operational radius. Assuming combat mission duration and radius is the same for all, fighters with larger weapons payloads offer greater combat power over time.
The Navy fighters also assume the bulk of the refuelling because their ranges are less than land based fighters especially when you factor in the reserve fuel required for carrier ops. The study also hasn't really mentioned the use of unamnned platforms, such as the loyal wingman concepts. Forward basing loyal wingman might do a lot to allievate the issues of long range fighter jets. Additionally a longer range F-35 is expected in the mid 2020s, likely pushing past 1100nm A2A combat radius, which will make a difference to basing and tanking requirements.
- the proposed T/F-X doesn't have the range for US homeland defence. Not if supersonic intercepts are expected. The F-16 can at least carry large external tanks but the T/F-X is not designed for that.
I expect the F/T-X would receive some modification, as well as be capable of carrying external tanks if required, for that role. I’d expect wing pylons for tanks and perhaps two AAMs. Even conformal tanks would be an option that would likely reduce drag. I haven't seen an actual F/T-X concept, is this available anywhere?
- regarding strategic transport, the fundamental problem seems to be the abuse of the C-17 for all sorts of intra- and inter-theater missions. I see four options:
1) Buy a smaller aircraft. This could be A400Ms to replace the C-17 on lighter tactical missions, or C-2s to do the same on strategic missions. Either choice would free up the C-17 fleet to focus on what it does best: Carry heavy loads over long distances into small airfields. Unlikely, since the US will not spend enough on foreign equipment to reach the minimum fleet size of 150 aircraft. Sadly, since the C-2 is optimised for pacific ranges.
As I have already indicated I don’t see this as viable and the study makes it clear it is better to acquire aircraft in larger numbers to reduce O&S costs. In that context then, at least a C-2 acquisition would make better sense given it uses essentially the same engine as the C-17 but I still don't think that makes sense.
2) Buy a commercial aircraft. 777F or 748F could take the job of hauling pallets and light vehicles so that the C-17 can focus on outsized loads and tactical missions. Unlikely, since the Air Force is incapable of operating civilian aircraft, or pallet loaders. Also can't carry enough fish. \s
The USAF already contracts commercial companies to move stuff for them. I still don’t see why they need this dedicated infrastructure themselves. How would they be able to retain the aircrew once they were trained as they would all likely flow direct to civilian jobs once their minimums were reached.
4) Develop a new jet to replace the C-5 (and possibly the C-17). Probably the most expensive option. I see zero benefit to develop a new C-17-sized jet, seeing how capable the C-17 already is. A new C-5-sized jet could replace the very old Galaxy and relieve the C-17 on heavy inter-theater missions. In a way, this would be similar to what a commercial transport offers, except that this new jet could also carry tanks and helicopters.
I doubt a new transport will be C-5 sized. I can see it being probably being sized between the two but closer to C-17, I just don’t think that size is now necessary. With a new aircraft you could probably get closer to the C-5 payload without the need for the same airframe size. If they go BWB then they also get some significant flight cost reduction but perhaps at the expense of maintenance.
Sorry for the long post ...
Love the long posts!