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Ozair
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Sun Aug 18, 2019 11:02 pm

Another study released on the capability of the US Military to fight and win a near-peer conflict in the Indo pacific area. The United States Studies Centre’s mission is the following,
The United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney is a university-based research centre, dedicated to the rigorous analysis of American foreign policy, economics, politics and culture.


I don’t think anyone is in doubt on the issues facing the US Military in conducting a near-peer conflict in the region. The lack of real investment over the last 25 years has left the current force aging and costly to maintain. The question is whether the US can either spend the amount required to bridge the current capability gap or if eventually they will withdraw from the indo-pacific region and return to a more isolationist policy likely to the determinant of long term allies in the region.


AVERTING CRISIS: AMERICAN STRATEGY, MILITARY SPENDING AND COLLECTIVE DEFENCE IN THE INDO-PACIFIC

Executive Summary headings
America no longer enjoys military primacy in the Indo-Pacific and its capacity to uphold a favourable balance of power is increasingly uncertain.

Over the next decade, the US defence budget is unlikely to meet the needs of the National Defense Strategy owing to a combination of political, fiscal and internal pressures.

A strategy of collective defence is fast becoming necessary as a way of offsetting shortfalls in America’s regional military power and holding the line against rising Chinese strength.

...

https://www.ussc.edu.au/analysis/averti ... do-pacific

The full report can be downloaded here
https://united-states-studies-centre.s3 ... acific.pdf

To make it relevant to this thread some of the air based recommendations and findings include,

Air power is a critical component of the conventional balance of power in the Indo-Pacific. For America to deter opportunistic aggression by the Chinese military, the US Air Force and carrier air wings of the Navy must be able to project combat power across the vast geographic distances that characterise the regional security environment. This requires bombers, fighters, aerial refuelling aircraft, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms to operate effectively during times of crisis. Beijing’s establishment of sophisticated anti-air and area-denial capabilities, however, means that American air power must develop new ways to surveil, strike and survive in a highly-contested region, and, by extension, hold the elements that comprise China’s anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) network at risk. Unfortunately, the technological advantages that America developed in the 1970s and 1980s — such as stealth technology and precision strike weapons — are inadequate against Chinese systems that can threaten US aircraft at significant distances. Compounding this challenge is the fact that force development, particularly in the 2000s, did not produce the amount or kind of Air Force and Navy aviation platforms that are likely to be required for conventional deterrence in the Indo-Pacific today. Looking to the 2030s, changes will need to be made to the size, composition and capabilities of America’s air power fleet in order to maintain a favourable balance of power in the region.


On basing and hardened infrastructure in the region,
According to some analyses, coordinated attacks by PLA ballistic and cruise missiles on American air bases could destroy “up to 70 per cent” of their aircraft in the opening stages of a conflict. Others have described the damage to runways, maintenance facilities and associated infrastructure that would prevent their use for over a week in certain combat conditions. As air bases close to potential areas of conflict, such as the Taiwan Strait, have come under threat, mastering the vast distances of the Pacific Ocean has become a greater factor in America’s ability to efficiently project military power. Only two air bases — both on Okinawa in the Ryukyu Islands archipelago — are located within the 1,000km unrefuelled range of US tactical fighters from the Taiwan Strait. For American land-based air forces to reach the Strait, they would have to operate at longer ranges and rely on vulnerable air-to-air refuelling “that would substantially reduce the sortie generation rate and on-station time of the aircraft employed”

One way to offset this growing challenge is to selectively harden runways, aircraft shelters and other supporting regional infrastructure. As the threat to US basing has grown, military leaders and defence strategists have repeatedly testified on the need to invest in military construction and the hardening of facilities. But the United States has lagged in building resiliency across its bases in the Indo-Pacific. According to a 2014 estimate, the US military had only 207 hardened aircraft shelters across four bases in the Western Pacific, with most located in South Korea — an increase of just 2.5 per cent over the previous 12 years. The Air Force has 15 hardened shelters at Kadena Air Force Base on Okinawa; all other bases are either unhardened or shared with allies and partners that may not allow access to their facilities during a US-China conflict. If a major conflict broke out today, the Air Force could operate up to 190 aircraft from Kadena, the vast majority of which would be “parked in the open”. By comparison, between 2000 and 2012, China — which has 39 air bases within 800km range of Taipei — grew its hardened aircraft shelters from 92 to 312, representing an increase of nearly 240 per cent


Lots more in the article.

While the article is critical of US Military forces and overall political will it is important to note that China, the perceived main threat in the area, will have its own issues (economic, military, climate change, domestic unrest and just feeding their population) over the projected timeframes.
 
texl1649
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Mon Aug 19, 2019 5:40 pm

The US really is energy independent at this point, and as such needs to pull out of the Middle East, let Europe fend for itself now (prop up Britain vs. Germany/Russia/Turkey), and focus on more of an alliance with Australia, Japan, Philippines (long term), and yes S. Korea. It will take sustained decades long investment, trade relationships and strategy to counter China’s goals.
 
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kc135topboom
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Tue Aug 20, 2019 12:14 am

The USAF just took delivery of the last rewinged A-10, so they should stay until at least 2035, or so. Replacing the A-10 with the F-35 has been discussed to death. The A-10 is loved by the Grunts and the F-35 just doesn't have the capabilities to compete with the A-10 down in the mud.

The KC-46, and Boeing, have a long way to go before they can even replace the retired T-41A/B/C (Cessna-172), let alone the KC-10 or KC-135. Before the USAF retires the KC-10s they should look at removing the air refueling mission and just make it a long range trash hauler. That supplements the C-17 and the C-5. Let the KC-135 soldier on as the primary tanker until the KC-46 can find its way around the flight line.


The FT-X is a good idea. But the first uses of it should be in USAF, USN, and USMC Aggressor Squadrons, then move on to homeland defense. But the FT-X should be a single seater to allow for aggressor type avionics, a weapons system, and more fuel. Since the Boeing TX is air refuelable, the FT-X should keep this capability. The current requirement for the T-X is just 351 airplanes. a FT-X would more than double that number for US forces alone.

Bases in Oz should be built on existing and active RAAF bases, not at some retired RAAF base out in the outback. It is far cheaper to expand the RAAF base than rebuild an abandoned one. USAF deployments to Oz currently go to RAAF Bases anyway, so they already have much of the infrastructure.

Bombers? Yeah, despite the capabilities the Bone has (ability to go fast is good), it has no nuclear delivery capability. So retire it and go with the only game in town, the B-21. Keep the B-2 longer than currently planned, and when the combined fleet of B-2As and B-21As reaches 40-50 active airframes, begin retiring the B-52H, don't waste money reengining it.

The current fleet of F-15s and F-16s is getting up to collecting social security age (for airplanes). Replace all F-15s and F-16s with a mix of new build F-15NGs, and F-16NG, and the F-35.
 
texl1649
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Tue Aug 20, 2019 12:48 am

Thx KC-top boom. Wish you’d post more again! Good feedback. Agree on bases in Oz. Disagree on some of the other stuff, but not enough to nitpick.
 
Ozair
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Tue Aug 20, 2019 2:51 am

kc135topboom wrote:
The USAF just took delivery of the last rewinged A-10, so they should stay until at least 2035, or so. Replacing the A-10 with the F-35 has been discussed to death. The A-10 is loved by the Grunts and the F-35 just doesn't have the capabilities to compete with the A-10 down in the mud.

Yes the A-10 is planned to fly until the mid 2030s but it will be replaced by the F-35 in due time. The issue with the A-10 remains that it cannot operate in the threat environments expected in the indo pacific region, nor does it have the range or speed to operate there. If the USAF intends that to be the primary threat region for development of its capability then the A-10 is the odd man out.

kc135topboom wrote:
The FT-X is a good idea. But the first uses of it should be in USAF, USN, and USMC Aggressor Squadrons, then move on to homeland defense.

That is the intent, the study states they should increase production to get it to the training units faster and by so doing free up later production for the F/T-X.

kc135topboom wrote:
Bases in Oz should be built on existing and active RAAF bases, not at some retired RAAF base out in the outback. It is far cheaper to expand the RAAF base than rebuild an abandoned one. USAF deployments to Oz currently go to RAAF Bases anyway, so they already have much of the infrastructure.

The study identifies the need for 24 bombers and 18 tanker aircraft to be based at each of four bases. Right now both RAAF Darwin and RAAF Tindal could not hold that number of aircraft, let alone double that to accommodate the number required by the USAF to win a conflict.

The RAAF base bases are functioning bases, just do not have the built up infrastructure to handle large numbers of aircraft. It would probably be cheaper to build on those bare non day to day operational sites than on existing in use bases.
An image of Scherger in Northern Queensland. It just needs hardened shelters and other defensive measures.

Image

Dispersed basing also spreads the US firepower across multiple bases, ensuring that one base being attacked and rendered inactive for a period of time doesn’t eliminate all the long range bombers/tankers in the region.

kc135topboom wrote:
Bombers? Yeah, despite the capabilities the Bone has (ability to go fast is good), it has no nuclear delivery capability. So retire it and go with the only game in town, the B-21. Keep the B-2 longer than currently planned, and when the combined fleet of B-2As and B-21As reaches 40-50 active airframes, begin retiring the B-52H, don't waste money reengining it.

The equation changes if you introduce the nuclear aspect. A china scenario with nuclear weapons is very much a one sided conflict, both sides lose but the US has such overwhelming overmatch on nuclear weapon stocks that China ceases to exist. The study is based on a conventional conflict and I think we can keep the discussion to that aspect.

The study advocates for not replacing the B-1s until there are sufficient B-21 numbers but acquiring enough B-21s to replace them and then some. The B-52s are handy today due to their long range and large weapons capability. Plugging 20 JASSM into the battlespace from each B-52 really changes the dynamics of a conflict as well as increases the ability for other airframes to operate within the IADS zones.

kc135topboom wrote:
The current fleet of F-15s and F-16s is getting up to collecting social security age (for airplanes). Replace all F-15s and F-16s with a mix of new build F-15NGs, and F-16NG, and the F-35.

The study again advocates for acquiring the F-15EX to replace all current in service F-15s but doesn’t talk about the F-16 in any form. An F-16NG would be a non-starter for the US especially with the F-35 hitting its current production targets. It provides no additional capability and the USAF has enough F-16s for the missions they need it to fulfil.
 
Ozair
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Wed Aug 28, 2019 2:06 am

Esper doesn’t mention any specific countries but the article talks about improvements to existing facilities in Thailand, something in Singapore (which would likely be quite expensive or have a limited ability to take many additional aircraft, moving back to the Philippines and perhaps even operating out of Vietnam (which would be a significant change). All the above are better options for fighter aircraft basing closer to the region.

For the southern region where bombers and tankers would likely be based the article mentions basing in Micronesia would be a good option to prevent expanding Chinese influence as well as further facilities in PNG.

Clearly though pacific basing is now being taken seriously which is a good thing both for US forces and for regional economies.

Esper calls for new basing investments in the Pacific

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper today called for expanding base locations in the Pacific while continuing regular freedom of navigation operations in the region, as part of a broader attempt to stymie China’s influence.

Esper, speaking at the Naval War College, called the Indo-Pacific theater “our priority theater,” as the department continues its shift towards an era of great power competition.

“Many of you spent most of your career fighting irregular warfare or engaging with it,” Esper told the audience. “But times have changed.”

In the Pacific, “allies and partners want us to lead… but to do that we must also be present in the region,” Esper said. “Not everywhere, but we have to be in the key locations. This means looking at how we expand our basing locations, investing more time and resources into certain regions we haven’t been to in the past.”

...

https://www.defensenews.com/pentagon/20 ... e-pacific/
 
Ozair
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Wed Nov 13, 2019 9:17 pm

Anyone like to take a guess at what platforms will be in the firing line for the FY2021 budget?

US Air Force plans platform cuts for FY 2021 budget request

Key Points
1. The US Air Force is planning platform cuts in its FY 2021 budget to free up money for modernisation
2. The service wants to free up money to prepare for near-peer competition and move away from platforms that were more valuable during previous combat in uncontested airspace

The US Air Force (USAF) will propose retiring platforms as part of its fiscal year 2021 (FY 2021) budget request to free up funding for important modernisation efforts.

Will Roper, USAF assistant secretary for acquisition, technology, and logistics (AT&L), said on 12 November that the service is assessing which systems have value 5-10 years into the future and which ones will be increasingly applicable to only counter terrorist or low threat environments. The USAF is transitioning to future warfare in contested environments against near-peer nations such as China or Russia and away from battle in uncontested airspace over Afghanistan and Iraq.

Roper said the FY 2021 budget will focus on digital transformation, getting enterprise cloud computing across the USAF, and connecting the development environment among service coding hubs such as Kessel Run and Kobayashi Maru. The USAF, he said, wants to connect these facilities to a combat cloud so it can write code and deploy it at the pace its operators need.

The USAF continues to promote its new strategy of prioritising connecting platforms and operators instead of building world-class weapon systems. In addition to cloud computing, Roper said the service wants software defined radios and networks at the tactical edge so it can respond quickly to new threats. The USAF also wants to create internet-type effects, which Roper said is completely different from the USAF's current model of building dominant platforms that enemies cannot shoot down.

...

https://www.janes.com/article/92527/us- ... et-request

The obvious candidates for me are the B-1B, KC-10 and F-15C fleets and the controversial selection is the E-8 JSTARS. I think the A-10 will continue on at least for the next five years or so even though it is limited to low threat environments. If the USAF is smart they will wait until McSally likely loses her senate race in 2020 to retire the A-10 as she has bene an outspoken critic of the retirement for a number of years.
 
texl1649
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Wed Nov 13, 2019 10:13 pm

With the new wing sets the A-10 doesn’t really cost a ton to operate in the grand USAF budget scheme of things. The others I totally agree on, Ozair.

The B-1 has to be the closest to ‘doesn’t have a mission at this point’ as well. Non-stealthy long range bomber flying large bomb loads subsonically doesn’t seem like a very good fit at this point, especially with the B-52 re-engine in the mix, and B-21 coming onboard. Plus, the things just haven’t ever really worked right. The F-15C fleet the USAF is trying to get replaced but being an election year who knows on the EX.
 
Ozair
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Fri Feb 21, 2020 1:19 am

This is a significant improvement for Tindal, which previously was essentially just a fighter base, into a very large facility to support large aircraft and especially US bombers. Will be interesting to see how this impacts the local area but given the very large and advanced training areas in Northern Australia no surprise this investment is being made.

It also plays into this thread about strengthening the Pacific region and improving basing options. Would be good to see some subsequent announcements from the US side on additional infrastructure around the region.

NT RAAF base set for $1.1 billion upgrade

The Morrison government will spend $1.1 billion upgrading the NT's Tindal airbase to accelerate the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter rollout and boost military ties with the United States.

The improvements will include major runway extensions, fuel stockpiles and engineering to support large aircraft, like US Air Force B-52 strategic bombers and RAAF KC-30 air-to-air refuellers.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will announce the upgrades at the base near Katherine on Friday, with the funding expected to deliver a potent air combat capability.

"It will be integral to our alliance with the United States, and increase the reach of Air Force capabilities in the Indo-Pacific," he said in a statement.

...

https://www.portnews.com.au/story/66417 ... e/?cs=9397
 
Ozair
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Mon Feb 24, 2020 8:57 pm

A short video with Gen Charles Brown on where he sees the future of airbase defence in the Pacific area. While he likes THAAD and Patriot he acknowledges the cost curve is simply too great to use an expensive interceptor to shoot down a comparatively low cost cruise missile. Additionally the logistics of moving those units into location on top of his other logistical needs would be significant. DEW is his preference and he is keen to focus first on airbase defence before they really look at airborne based lasers.

How to defend Pacific air bases?

https://www.defensenews.com/newsletters ... kly-extra/
 
texl1649
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Mon Feb 24, 2020 10:20 pm

We are a long ways from a deployed directed energy system that can protect an airfield from something like a hypersonic strike/swarm. Israel doesn’t even have that for their urban areas. I’d be nervous to be living around such a system, frankly; it’s a lot of power to trust your computers to not erroneously direct.
 
DigitalSea
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Mon Feb 24, 2020 11:06 pm

texl1649 wrote:
We are a long ways from a deployed directed energy system that can protect an airfield from something like a hypersonic strike/swarm. Israel doesn’t even have that for their urban areas. I’d be nervous to be living around such a system, frankly; it’s a lot of power to trust your computers to not erroneously direct.


We have no choice - as our competition grows, so will our appetite for risk in order to stay ahead.
 
SuperiorPilotMe
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Tue Feb 25, 2020 7:08 pm

Dutchy wrote:

- Acquire an F-15NG variant to replace all existing F-15C/D/E aircraft in the USAF inventory at a rate of approximately 24 per year.
It feels like a step back, why would you invest in this option, especially, if you want 15sq of F/T-X. Perhaps more F-35's.


If it was the “F-15CX” I would agree, but with the “EX” not nearly as much as you think. There’s a very significant bomber capability gap between StratAir and TacAir right now, especially given how hard Mud Hens have been used. EXs would be a great interim filler until a better solution is found (whether a new stealth TacAir platform of some type, or even B-21). By the time that “interim solution” is up those EXs might be pretty well worn anyway.

What’s more puzzling is the whole T-X saga. For years the Air Force debated if we even needed a next gen trainer, if upgraded T-38s (which were upgraded to C standard not long ago at all) and especially ground trainers might be a sufficient future. Then in 2017-2018 we suddenly needed a new trainer, which after a microscopic timeframe was awarded to Boeing. Along with a tanker drone bid (itself also dubious) and a helicopter bid. And now advocating F/T-X in a dubious role with extant platforms available (Cessna Caravans, drones or an extensive fleet of F-16s).

I’m sure this coinciding with the inauguration of a President explicitly “pro-1%” and simply loves corruption has nothing to do with this. Then again, it’s not like it would be different with another contractor. I just find the apparent Trump-Boeing love affair curious.
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Ozair
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Thu Mar 12, 2020 9:15 pm

No surprise to any of us that the USAF bomber force is shrinking and in a reasonably poor state of readiness. Not sure there is much to be done about this in the near term as it is a result of the low funding through the 90s and 2000s and takes years to remedy.

As the article intimates, given the workload the Bomber fleet has undergone over the last 20 years there is every chance that even the B-52s, as they move through a modernisation, will be unsustainable due to unforeseen corrosion issues and any modernisation reduces an already small fleet. An option could be to pump a lot of money into theB-1 fleet and bring it back up but the clear preference is to push along the B-21 given it and the B-2 are the only platforms now/expected to be capable of surviving in a high threat environment.

America’s bomber force is too small and getting smaller

America’s bomber force is now in crisis. In the Air Force’s fiscal 2021 budget request, one-third of the B-1 fleet is set for retirement, B-2 survivability modernization is canceled and the new B-21 is at least a decade away from contributing significantly to the bomber force. The venerable B-52 requires new engines and other upgrades to be effective. The number of bombers are at their lowest ever, but demand for bombers increases every year, particularly in the vast and most-stressed region of the Indo-Pacific. Bombers are the preferred weapon system there because of their long range and huge payload capacity.

At the end of the Cold War in 1989 and just prior to the Gulf War in 1990, America had over 400 bombers. After these proposed cuts, there will be only 140.

This decline is curious in light of recent Air Force declarations and testimony before Congress. In the document “The Air Force We Need,” Air Force leaders insisted last fall they need five more bomber squadrons — about 65 more bombers. Just last month, the Air Force chief of staff testified that the need is for “200 bombers, of which 145 would be B-21s.” These numbers have been validated by think tanks such as MITRE Corp., the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, Rand, and the Mitchell Institute.

...

https://www.defensenews.com/opinion/com ... g-smaller/
 
SuperiorPilotMe
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Thu Mar 12, 2020 10:11 pm

This incidentally is why the F-15EX is a great buy, it could pick up alot of the slack in the interim.
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Ozair
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Thu Mar 12, 2020 11:51 pm

SuperiorPilotMe wrote:
This incidentally is why the F-15EX is a great buy, it could pick up alot of the slack in the interim.

I don’t think the USAF considers the F-15EX in any way a strategic aircraft or even suboptimal replacement for a bomber, the payload range difference is just too great. Additionally the EX is intended to move to ANG units operating the C in an A2A role and it will be many years before enough pilots rotate through a dedicated EX A2G training syllabus. The F-15EX thread also illustrates how an F-15 can potentially load one of the developmental hypersonic weapons while a single B-52 can carry many (probably ten to twelve).
 
SuperiorPilotMe
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Fri Mar 13, 2020 2:22 am

Ozair wrote:
I don’t think the USAF considers the F-15EX in any way a strategic aircraft or even suboptimal replacement for a bomber, the payload range difference is just too great.


That’s very true but as far as interim bomb trucks go there aren’t alot of alternatives. Besides most if not all sorties are tactical in nature anyway, it’ll help a little save the actual strategic metal.
Stop the stupids!- Claus Kellerman
 
ThePointblank
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Fri Mar 13, 2020 3:34 am

SuperiorPilotMe wrote:
Ozair wrote:
I don’t think the USAF considers the F-15EX in any way a strategic aircraft or even suboptimal replacement for a bomber, the payload range difference is just too great.


That’s very true but as far as interim bomb trucks go there aren’t alot of alternatives. Besides most if not all sorties are tactical in nature anyway, it’ll help a little save the actual strategic metal.

The squadrons the F-15EX are going to are all air superiority squadrons tasked with CONUS defence.

These squadrons and their bases neither have the support infrastructure to support an air to ground mission, nor the training infrastructure and ranges to support continuous pilot training for air to ground. And there's no money in the budget set aside to acquire said infrastructure and training facilities to do so.
 
SuperiorPilotMe
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Fri Mar 13, 2020 11:55 pm

True, but that doesn’t exclude future production for frontline squadrons (likely rotating Mud Hens out, if that happens) or pushed out of air superiority squadrons by F-35s to attack squadrons in the NG. Either way it’s Gen 4 legacy fighters, F-35s or B-21s for your bombing roles, or shore up existing types, and all of those represent extremely serious, what-its-like-being-in-America-right-now-running-like-decapitated-chickens-trying-to-face-CORVID19-level compromises right now, at least for the time being.

But putting EXs into the front lines until F-35s displace them is *some* solution. Remember just because current EX production is earmarked for the NG squads doesn’t mean it’s somehow physically impossible to make more for frontline squadrons.

And just to be clear I am *not* a Boeing fanboy. The moderator staff here understands that well, and few other things.
Stop the stupids!- Claus Kellerman
 
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kc135topboom
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Thu Mar 19, 2020 12:27 am

The VTANG is transitioning from thier F-16C/Ds to the F-35A right now, the first ANG squadron to do so. They will change missions from A2A to A2G, leaving the only A2A squadron in New England to the MAANG F-15C/Ds. So the MAANG should transition to the new F-15EX at sometime soon.

With the NHANG getting KC-46As, the RIANG already equipped with the C-130J-30, New England will have the world's most modern Air Force. The MEANG will still fly the KC-135R while the CTANG flies the C-130H.
 
Ozair
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Thu Mar 19, 2020 2:30 am

kc135topboom wrote:
The VTANG is transitioning from thier F-16C/Ds to the F-35A right now, the first ANG squadron to do so. They will change missions from A2A to A2G, leaving the only A2A squadron in New England to the MAANG F-15C/Ds. So the MAANG should transition to the new F-15EX at sometime soon.

Not sure why you think the VTANG only do A2A. The 134th conducted multiple deployments to Iraq as part of OIF with the sole purpose being CAS. They are a multi-role unit and will continue to be a multi-role unit now they are transitioning for the F-35.
 
Ozair
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Tue May 05, 2020 11:22 am

Some commentary on the US Bomber force and its need to be sustained and increased, as has been published in other articles recently. Is this indirect lobbying to increase the B-21 fleet number or just general observations of how bad the state of the US Bomber fleet is and how much is needed if the pivot to the Pacific is real?

America must build bomber capacity to compete in the Pacific

...

Tough choices are needed to rebalance the Air Force toward longer range and more payload to compete in the Pacific. To do so, the Air Force will need to retain and modernize as much of the legacy bomber force as possible, as well as ramp up production rates for the B-21. To employ these platforms effectively, it should continue efforts to expand its operational and basing flexibility. It should also pursue weapons that maximize use of bomber weapons bay volume instead of relying upon weapons optimized for fighters.

...

https://www.defensenews.com/opinion/com ... e-pacific/
 
texl1649
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Tue May 05, 2020 7:56 pm

I dunno, sometimes I think 'branch' folks get stuck into a mode of thinking aligned with how they were trained decades ago, and that's how I read that piece, ozair. Yes, we have to pivot to asia-pacific, but really, what scenario involves waves/hundreds of manned USAF bombers of any type attacking Chinese facilities? I can't really see one short of a nuclear war, and in such a situation I don't think...we really want to build up for a MAD defensive manned capability; we have the ICBM's.

In reality I think the pivot to Aipac makes the USN more critical, but they need to shift their thinking akin to how they needed to do so prior to WW2; then it was away from dreadnoughts/battleships, and now it's away from supercarriers. Regardless it will result in a de-emphasis in USAF capabilities relative to the older postures.

Selling B-21's and other high-end gear to Australia/Taiwan/Japan etc. makes a ton of sense, but I otherwise disagree with his commentary.
 
Ozair
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Wed May 06, 2020 1:56 am

texl1649 wrote:
I dunno, sometimes I think 'branch' folks get stuck into a mode of thinking aligned with how they were trained decades ago, and that's how I read that piece, ozair. Yes, we have to pivot to asia-pacific, but really, what scenario involves waves/hundreds of manned USAF bombers of any type attacking Chinese facilities? I can't really see one short of a nuclear war, and in such a situation I don't think...we really want to build up for a MAD defensive manned capability; we have the ICBM's.

So without taking this too off tangent I don't think China considers themselves to ever be capable of winning a nuclear war with the US. From what is on this wiki page, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/China_and ... estruction they haven't developed their nuclear forces into more than a token deterrence. From that I assume they consider any future conflict to be primarily conventional in nature. China's aims, at least for the next ten to twenty years, appears to be total control out to the second island chain and perhaps strong influence out to the third island chain. In that context then, in response to Chinese military aggression in that region, whether it is a Spratly islands land grab, retake Taiwan, a push to control some territory or, wild assertion, attempt to take the Philippines, US Bombers launching large numbers of cruise missiles, both anti-ship and land based against for example naval facilities, in a mostly naval conflict would be very influential. It comes down again to the principals of airpower, being more flexible than naval based assets, allows concentration of force, surprise, sustainable etc.

texl1649 wrote:
In reality I think the pivot to Aipac makes the USN more critical, but they need to shift their thinking akin to how they needed to do so prior to WW2; then it was away from dreadnoughts/battleships, and now it's away from supercarriers. Regardless it will result in a de-emphasis in USAF capabilities relative to the older postures.

And the USN is moving that way with its work on unmanned vessels,

The head of the U.S. Navy’s Fleet Forces Command has ordered the service’s surface force to develop a concept of operations for both the large and medium unmanned surface vessels in development, according to a Dec. 19 message seen by Defense News.

https://www.defensenews.com/naval/2020/ ... ned-ships/

The Navy’s 355-ship force-level goal is the result of a Force Structure Assessment (FSA) conducted by the Navy in 2016. A new FSA, referred to as the Integrated Naval FSA (INFSA), is to be published sometime during the spring of 2020. Statements from Department of the Navy (DON) officials suggest that the INFSA could result in a once-in-a-generation change in the Navy’s fleet architecture, meaning the mix of ships that make up the Navy. DON officials suggest that the INFSA could shift the fleet to a more distributed architecture that includes a reduced proportion of larger ships, an increased proportion of smaller ships, and a newly created category of large unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) and large unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs). Such a change in fleet architecture could alter the mix of ships to be procured for the Navy and the distribution of Navy shipbuilding work among the nation’s shipyards.

https://fas.org/sgp/crs/weapons/RL32665.pdf (well worth a read in full)

Even with those force structure goals the USN is going to need USAF support for any future conflict and long range large payload bombers with precision weapons seem a great choice. As strong a supporter of the F-35 as I am I would consider a reduction in that buy to increase the bomber force as a reasonably wise investment (but would of course rather see other existing jets retired before the USAF made that decision).

texl1649 wrote:
Selling B-21's and other high-end gear to Australia/Taiwan/Japan etc. makes a ton of sense,

I think I have said in the past Australia is a, albeit remote, possibility for the B-21 but I cannot see Japan or South Korea going that way and especially not Taiwan. I'd like to see how the invasion of Taiwan goes 15 years from now with a host of Directed Energy weapons for air defence on the island. It is probably an easy sell given it would be used for defensive purposes and would likely significantly reduce the cruise missile threat and keep their key installations in operation.

texl1649 wrote:
but I otherwise disagree with his commentary.

I don't agree with a lot of the articles I post but generating discussion and seeing others points of view is the intent, hence I appreciate the reply and your thoughts.
 
JayinKitsap
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Wed May 06, 2020 9:00 am

Ozair - the new frigate awarded to the FREMM design frigate is a big piece of the smaller ship piece. It has a healthy amount of armament, but more importantly it can produce 12 MW of power, which is huge. It could be the first platform for directed energy weapons.
 
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Wed May 06, 2020 10:38 am

JayinKitsap wrote:
Ozair - the new frigate awarded to the FREMM design frigate is a big piece of the smaller ship piece. It has a healthy amount of armament, but more importantly it can produce 12 MW of power, which is huge. It could be the first platform for directed energy weapons.

I was disappointed with that award or more precisely with the candidates and the requirements. I would have loved to have seen double the vertical launch cells, or at least a larger number of smaller cells dedicated to ESSM for better self and fleet protection. I'm not sure the FFG(X) will have that much excess power, the EASR will require some significant power generation and often it isn't so much about the power generation as the cooling capacity.

I would love to see a DEW on the FFG(X) though, would go a long way to improving both self protection and close in defence.
 
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Wed May 06, 2020 2:54 pm

I do appreciate the article Ozair but I respectfully disagree that large quantities of B-21's (which are really not 'strategic bombers' in the sense, as they are more akin to FB-111's in ability, but high altitude and stealthy) will assist in any conflict with China. It's going to be powered by 2 fighter jet engines, and weigh about the same as an FB-111. It's probably going to have an unrefueled range around what the B-2 has; 5000-6000 miles.

https://www.rand.org/blog/2019/12/b-21- ... y-not.html

To me, for both the RAAF and USAF it would make more sense to focus on the arsenal plane ideas discussed here;

https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/austr ... ks-bomber/

One option could be an ‘arsenal plane’—a large aircraft, possibly a converted commercial airliner or military transport like the C-17, that can carry a lot of ordnance. It’s simply a bomb truck, but for long-range stand-off munitions. The US actually has one already in the B-52, which can launch long-range stand-off weapons against defended targets and deliver mass ordnance directly on undefended ones. There’s a reason why the US is keeping the B-52 after it retires the much younger B-1 and B-2 fleets. But nobody seems to be working on converting an airliner to a bomber, and in any conflict we’d want our C-17s doing their airlift role.

There’s also a conceptual problem with the arsenal plane for our purposes. Since it isn’t stealthy, it needs to operate in tandem with an aircraft like the F-35. The fighter would operate far ahead of the arsenal plane which carried a large magazine of long-range munitions to be cued by the F-35’s sensors. So, in practice, it wouldn’t provide any greater range than the F-35, which gets us back to where we started.

That leaves a potential unmanned aircraft. The role we’re looking at is one that UAVs would be well suited to fill. Yet, strangely, efforts to develop a long-range strike UAV have been fitful and there is nothing on the market. For example, the US Navy started a program for an unmanned surveillance and strike aircraft and both Boeing and Northrop Grumman developed designs with varying degrees of stealth. But the Pentagon then decided the role of the aircraft would primarily be air-to-air refuelling.


While the phases of KC-x, y, and z have been revised endlessly, and the USAF is now focused on a new big stealthy tanker, less stealth and more multi-mode long range stand off weapons abilities to me is what is really needed, whether under the auspices of the USAF or USN. It would also then, perhaps, be an efficient long term option for a derivative to replace the C-17 and C-5 fleets, which will be essentially exhausted in 20-30 years. Getting 'rid of' B-52's or buying lot's of expensive B-21's seems wasteful.
 
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Wed May 06, 2020 3:22 pm

I think we are just in the 'honeymoon phase' of what the B-21 will wind up being. I'd posted this in the main B-21 thread;

The FB-111 was, after all (in perhaps a bit of irony) a supplemental type developed due to USAF concerns about B-52’s wearing out (cracks/fatigue)...and was retired when the B-1B made it un-needed (again, the irony is palpable). A 120,000 lb MTOW and 35K lb ordinance payload is probably, if I am guessing right, in the range of what this aircraft could deliver based on the renderings (that’s what the FB-111A spec’d out at).


https://theaviationist.com/2020/01/31/l ... -released/

The aviationist site is apparently down now but it's still true that this is their basic conclusions from the images released in January by USAF: "Single truck MLG’s, this looks more akin to an FB-111 size delivery platform than a B-1, let alone a B-52."

Given the budget constraints defense budgets will face over the next 5 years (post covid), ramping up more B-21 purchases in lieu of adding longevity and abilities to the B-52 stand off force, while working to procure something akin to a long term arsenal plane/tanker seems very risky.
 
JayinKitsap
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Wed May 06, 2020 3:47 pm

Ozair and Texl1649- We might disagree on things, but at least the Military threads there is discussion and debate in a reasonably civil manner. I thank both of you for your excellent comments.

I think the USN saw the MQ-25 as solving a vital need, but also putting the toe in the water with unmanned carrier operations. A tanker today, loyal wing man tomorrow, stealth fighter in the future. Best to have successes. But we need multiple successes.

Ozair, at least the frigate looks like a winner verses the disaster of the LCS series and the DDG1000.

We are at the beginning of autonomous ships, subs, tankers, fighters, bombers, reconnaissance, helicopters, and vehicles. At the same time our military has not updated their existing equipment for decades and we are now playing catch up. On tankers, the KC-46 is finally going to update about 1/3 of the the fleet. But shouldn't we also do a stealthier tanker UAV as a big part of the tanker capacity. The loyal wing man concept looks promising as UAVs.
 
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Thu May 07, 2020 9:44 pm

Another commentary piece on the USAF bomber fleet, this time focused around the concept of BTF and how it will improve overall management of the Bomber fleet.

Balance the operations tempo of the small and aging bomber fleet

...

The bomber task force approach, also known as BTF, offers a tailored support package of personnel and aircraft to enable combatant commanders’ objectives. The scalable nature of a BTF increases the number of possible operating locations due to its smaller and more agile footprint, which equates to greater flexibility for the distribution of bombers across all geographic combatant commands. The inherent flexibility of a BTF complicates potential adversaries’ decision calculus by projecting combat power from a variety of locations.

...

The B-1’s limited return has reduced the operational tempo on the B-2 and B-52 communities, which were bearing the load of combatant commander taskings. Careful balancing of the operations tempo in the small and aging bomber fleet is critical as the U.S. Air Force acquires the B-21 Raider and transitions to a B-52 and B-21 fleet. Long-range standoff platforms are fundamental to America’s lead in the air throughout the 21st century, and they are foundational to our ability to project power and defend the nation.

...

https://www.defensenews.com/opinion/com ... ber-fleet/
 
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Thu Jun 25, 2020 12:53 am

The Mitchell institute has released a discussion paper regarding the number of bombers required with a recommendation for a significant increase in the number of B-21s acquired. The rationale is that not only are targets out of reach of the most numerous stand-off weapons in the USAF inventory but the types of targets expected to be struck are not overly compatible with stand-off weapons. Additionally the cost of stand-off weapons is significantly greater over the long term than operating penetrating bombers with cheaper and easier to manufacture munitions.

Long-Range Strike: Resetting the Balance of Stand-in and Stand-off Forces

...

The conclusion reached after the analysis conducted for this paper is that new B-21 squadrons should consist of 16 B-21s per unit. In cognizance with the force sizing construct outlined in the above paper, 10 squadrons of B-21s will be required to accommodate the national defense strategy amounting to 160 combat coded B-21s. Adding the nominal 25 percent for training and an additional 20 percent for attrition reserve and backup aircraft inventory amounts to an objective force level of 240 B-21s. Therefore, given the USAF’s long-range penetrating strike shortfall, its future bomber force should consist of 76 B-52s and 240 or more B-21s for a total of at least 316 bombers. This total force is consistent with other independent bomber requirement studies that used different force sizing methodologies and is also approximately 25 percent less than the 411 bombers the Air Force had in its inventory near the end of the Cold War, an era where the United States was challenged by a single great power competitor.

...

https://www.mitchellaerospacepower.org/ ... off-Forces

An image from the study.
Image

There are multiple other graphics and analysis in the paper that highlights the cost benefit of manned penetrating bombers over stand-off, something that is consistent with previous studies by Rand and other defence think tanks in the context of long or near peer conflicts.
 
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Thu Jun 25, 2020 12:49 pm

Ok, well, it is a quite thorough article and I don’t doubt the expertise of the author, but question a few things; (a) the Mitchell Inst. is a part of the Air Force Association leading to a lot of bias in favor of present USAF priorities, (b) the author is actually a retired bomber pilot, naturally in favor of his former career’s utility and investment needs, and (c) it is overly dismissive without any documentation of the stand off platform (arsenal plane etc) by comparing it to a handful of acquisition issues. Namely, the KC-46 and P-8 development process/costs.

This is a bit absurd as it neglects the total cost of ‘recent’ strategic bomber programs, such as the B-2 and B-1, namely. Both had short production runs/extended development cycles with tremendous cost growth and maintainability issues. The B-2 cost an absolute fortune per unit and then doesn’t have the range to do much actual penetrating of enemy air defenses without a fleet of tankers. The same will, likely, be true of the B-21.

Additionally, no even cursory discussion is made as to the putative long range strike capabilities of the B-21. Sure, many pages discuss future threat environments, but an FB-111 size/capability is not a real strategic bomber. In truth, for reasons stated elsewhere/above, it is very likely to be an essentially tactical bomber, by classical definitions. Also, there have been zero discussions I’ve seen debating re-starting C-17 production as an arsenal plane. A stand off platform to shove JASSM weapons from 550 miles out wouldn’t actually likely cost more than the penetrating stealth imagined new affordable strategic bomber using JDAM’s; this is the biggest real flaw in the analysis. He assumes a $400 million cost per copy on the dismissed standoff platform, but really no widebody around costs that much.

Finally, the standoff platform launching real future munitions would afford operational flexibility a penetrating manned platform has no chance of doing; there is vastly less risk of a downed/killed/captured pilot/crew. The likelihood it would be strategically useful to future leadership as such would be...inordinately greater. Again, that point is missed entirely. We’ve had stealth aircraft shot down already (F-117), and leadership is highly wary of launching them into places such as Iran precisely because the strategic risk of an unlikely event is...great.
 
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Thu Jun 25, 2020 8:29 pm

Ozair wrote:
texl1649 wrote:
I dunno, sometimes I think 'branch' folks get stuck into a mode of thinking aligned with how they were trained decades ago, and that's how I read that piece, ozair. Yes, we have to pivot to asia-pacific, but really, what scenario involves waves/hundreds of manned USAF bombers of any type attacking Chinese facilities? I can't really see one short of a nuclear war, and in such a situation I don't think...we really want to build up for a MAD defensive manned capability; we have the ICBM's.

So without taking this too off tangent I don't think China considers themselves to ever be capable of winning a nuclear war with the US. From what is on this wiki page, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/China_and ... estruction they haven't developed their nuclear forces into more than a token deterrence. From that I assume they consider any future conflict to be primarily conventional in nature. China's aims, at least for the next ten to twenty years, appears to be total control out to the second island chain and perhaps strong influence out to the third island chain.


China probably understands the concept of deterrence. Is the US ready to lose its ten biggest cities and dozens of millions of citizens to defend some Pacific islands that don't belong to it in any case ?

When Obama talked about pivoting to Asia, it was about trade, not war...
New Technology is the name we give to stuff that doesn't work yet. Douglas Adams
 
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Thu Jun 25, 2020 9:36 pm

Aesma wrote:
China probably understands the concept of deterrence. Is the US ready to lose its ten biggest cities and dozens of millions of citizens to defend some Pacific islands that don't belong to it in any case ?

The reverse of that is whether China is willing to lose it all? A nuclear attack from China on the US (whether an island or aircraft carrier or coastal city) would result in China ceasing to exist as a nation. Doesn’t justify the use of weapons by either nor implies that either understands the concept of deterrence any better than the other.


Aesma wrote:
When Obama talked about pivoting to Asia, it was about trade, not war...

Pretty easy to search and find that the above is not an accurate statement…

Our strategy will have to keep accounting for and adapting to the rapid and dramatic shifts playing out across Asia. With this in mind, our work will proceed along six key lines of action: strengthening bilateral security alliances; deepening our working relationships with emerging powers, including with China; engaging with regional multilateral institutions; expanding trade and investment; forging a broad-based military presence; and advancing democracy and human rights.

https://foreignpolicy.com/2011/10/11/am ... c-century/
 
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Thu Jun 25, 2020 10:10 pm

texl1649 wrote:
Ok, well, it is a quite thorough article and I don’t doubt the expertise of the author, but question a few things; (a) the Mitchell Inst. is a part of the Air Force Association leading to a lot of bias in favor of present USAF priorities, (b) the author is actually a retired bomber pilot, naturally in favor of his former career’s utility and investment needs, and (c) it is overly dismissive without any documentation of the stand off platform (arsenal plane etc) by comparing it to a handful of acquisition issues. Namely, the KC-46 and P-8 development process/costs.

The arsenal aircraft option as the article suggest likely has two platform options, a military transport derivative or a commercial airliner derivative. With the discussion in the German MPA thread on the cost and time required to modify an A320 for MPA work the estimates in the paper seem pretty reasonable to me.

texl1649 wrote:
This is a bit absurd as it neglects the total cost of ‘recent’ strategic bomber programs, such as the B-2 and B-1, namely. Both had short production runs/extended development cycles with tremendous cost growth and maintainability issues. The B-2 cost an absolute fortune per unit and then doesn’t have the range to do much actual penetrating of enemy air defenses without a fleet of tankers. The same will, likely, be true of the B-21.

I think the key is that the paper suggests increasing production of a known design to take it above the sustainable curve. If the USAF did acquire the ~260 suggested the aircraft becomes significantly easier to sustain. With only 20 B-2s and 100 B-1s built they never reached the critical sustainable number of airframes and have suffered for it.

texl1649 wrote:
Additionally, no even cursory discussion is made as to the putative long range strike capabilities of the B-21. Sure, many pages discuss future threat environments, but an FB-111 size/capability is not a real strategic bomber. In truth, for reasons stated elsewhere/above, it is very likely to be an essentially tactical bomber, by classical definitions. Also, there have been zero discussions I’ve seen debating re-starting C-17 production as an arsenal plane.


I still haven’t seen enough analysis to suggest the B-21 will be similar in range and operation to an FB-111. It is being designed and built with the Pacific theatre in mind and I expect will perform that role well.

Arsenal plane discussions have been going on for a long time and, while the C-17 is not specifically mentioned in most, it also wasn’t ruled out and suggestions on using C-17s have appeared in media such as below even after production halted.
As first seen in DARPA “system of systems” promotion released last year, the video depicts an aircraft with an eight-engine Boeing B-52 bomber wing with the body of a Lockheed-Martin C-130 turboprop. The secretary’s outtake shows the aircraft launching a barrage of networked Raytheon Small Diameter Bomb II glide bombs at mobile enemy radar warning and air defense targets.
This aircraft mash-up is relevant, because the Pentagon has not revealed whether its arsenal plane will be a re-purposed B-52 or a smaller cargo airplane like the C-130, or perhaps faster types like the C-17 or B-1B.

https://sofrep.com/fightersweep/usaf-ar ... symposium/

texl1649 wrote:
A stand off platform to shove JASSM weapons from 550 miles out wouldn’t actually likely cost more than the penetrating stealth imagined new affordable strategic bomber using JDAM’s; this is the biggest real flaw in the analysis. He assumes a $400 million cost per copy on the dismissed standoff platform, but really no widebody around costs that much.

It is less above the platform cost in the end (a B-21 is going to clearly cost more to acquire and sustain than an arsenal plane) and more about the weapon cost and ability to hit the expected target set. A JASSM just isn’t a cost effective weapon when you have the number of targets expected in a near peer conflict. It, and other cruise missiles hypersonic or not, aren’t a good fit for some targets either.

texl1649 wrote:
Finally, the standoff platform launching real future munitions would afford operational flexibility a penetrating manned platform has no chance of doing; there is vastly less risk of a downed/killed/captured pilot/crew. The likelihood it would be strategically useful to future leadership as such would be...inordinately greater. Again, that point is missed entirely.

The paper is not suggesting it is one or the other, it is about the ratio. The B-52s will remain in the inventory as a long range stand-off munition launcher for at least the next 30 years. The key is that a B-21 could do that role at a pinch, albeit with likely less munitions, while a stand-off platform will never be able to penetrate and hit the mobile and hardened targets that are the real priorities in a near-peer conflict.

texl1649 wrote:
We’ve had stealth aircraft shot down already (F-117), and leadership is highly wary of launching them into places such as Iran precisely because the strategic risk of an unlikely event is...great.

The study is talking about great power conflicts. At that point it isn’t about losing an airframe, it is about winning the war and the risk appetite changes significantly.
 
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Fri Jun 26, 2020 12:47 pm

Ozair wrote:
texl1649 wrote:
Ok, well, it is a quite thorough article and I don’t doubt the expertise of the author, but question a few things; (a) the Mitchell Inst. is a part of the Air Force Association leading to a lot of bias in favor of present USAF priorities, (b) the author is actually a retired bomber pilot, naturally in favor of his former career’s utility and investment needs, and (c) it is overly dismissive without any documentation of the stand off platform (arsenal plane etc) by comparing it to a handful of acquisition issues. Namely, the KC-46 and P-8 development process/costs.

The arsenal aircraft option as the article suggest likely has two platform options, a military transport derivative or a commercial airliner derivative. With the discussion in the German MPA thread on the cost and time required to modify an A320 for MPA work the estimates in the paper seem pretty reasonable to me.

texl1649 wrote:
This is a bit absurd as it neglects the total cost of ‘recent’ strategic bomber programs, such as the B-2 and B-1, namely. Both had short production runs/extended development cycles with tremendous cost growth and maintainability issues. The B-2 cost an absolute fortune per unit and then doesn’t have the range to do much actual penetrating of enemy air defenses without a fleet of tankers. The same will, likely, be true of the B-21.

I think the key is that the paper suggests increasing production of a known design to take it above the sustainable curve. If the USAF did acquire the ~260 suggested the aircraft becomes significantly easier to sustain. With only 20 B-2s and 100 B-1s built they never reached the critical sustainable number of airframes and have suffered for it.

texl1649 wrote:
Additionally, no even cursory discussion is made as to the putative long range strike capabilities of the B-21. Sure, many pages discuss future threat environments, but an FB-111 size/capability is not a real strategic bomber. In truth, for reasons stated elsewhere/above, it is very likely to be an essentially tactical bomber, by classical definitions. Also, there have been zero discussions I’ve seen debating re-starting C-17 production as an arsenal plane.


I still haven’t seen enough analysis to suggest the B-21 will be similar in range and operation to an FB-111. It is being designed and built with the Pacific theatre in mind and I expect will perform that role well.

Arsenal plane discussions have been going on for a long time and, while the C-17 is not specifically mentioned in most, it also wasn’t ruled out and suggestions on using C-17s have appeared in media such as below even after production halted.
As first seen in DARPA “system of systems” promotion released last year, the video depicts an aircraft with an eight-engine Boeing B-52 bomber wing with the body of a Lockheed-Martin C-130 turboprop. The secretary’s outtake shows the aircraft launching a barrage of networked Raytheon Small Diameter Bomb II glide bombs at mobile enemy radar warning and air defense targets.
This aircraft mash-up is relevant, because the Pentagon has not revealed whether its arsenal plane will be a re-purposed B-52 or a smaller cargo airplane like the C-130, or perhaps faster types like the C-17 or B-1B.

https://sofrep.com/fightersweep/usaf-ar ... symposium/

Ok, 1st, my point was bias. The AFA coming out in favor of buying hundreds more than planned F-22’s in 1995, or F-35’s in 2012, or F-21’s in 2020 is just a group of the most recent USAF retirees supporting the branch’s current procurement priority. It’s, essentially, propaganda by another name/means, is all my first point really is attempting to assert.

The cost comparisons seem inapt to me for a commercial derivative precisely because they are not being compared to an off the shelf procurement alternative, unlike the German MPA one. We don’t know the capabilities (payload, range) or cost per unit (status quo or by tripling procurement) of the B-21. It’s almost a certainty costs, and development problems will be great based on every other previous stealth aircraft deployed to date. Sure, the KC-46 program is also a trail of procurement tears, but it’s unfair to hold that against a notional arsenal plane and yet assume the B-21 is suddenly to be the first successful stealth program/strategic bomber since the B-52.

Cost comparisons vs. the P-8 and E-7 (with their civilian 737 costs) are also off base as they are, primarily after all, sensor suite aircraft where the bulk of the cost is the huge network of sensors/computing power inside. An arsenal plane would basically be a cargo plane (let’s just take a 777-9), with a big cargo door and then some mechanism of launching/releasing the cargo in flight.

Now, the notional plane wouldn’t obviously resemble a C-130 with a B-52 wing, but perhaps the Boeing 747 dreamlifter provides an illustration of what could be done, with a widebody transport (not needing a pressurized cargo hold). Sure, a low wing commercial jet has...disadvantages vs. a high wing one as such, but an unpressurized large bay can be developed relatively quickly, apparently, then it is ‘just’ a matter of creating an in flight deployment system (as opposed to integrating a huge sensor suite as with the P-8). Finally, their own footnote to Rogoway’s piece is a good counter-argument, but, being from 2014 misses the fact that new 747’s are...not feasible for a new program today.

https://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/why-b ... 1605150371

You are correct the focus of the paper is near-peer adversaries only. I just think that a focus on total force needs would necessarily not orient 30 year procurement around an all out war with China/Russia (which seems horrible to even consider), but the likelihood of conflicts/options being needed against second and third tier opponents. Even those, of course, are often getting very good air defense systems today. My suspicion, which I certainly accept you are free to disagree with, is that the design details again for the B-21 hint that it is again to be a short legged (fighter engine powered) Northrop flying wing, not well suited for manned attacks against foes such as Iran from distant bases.

The cost for stand off weapons is high, but the long term costs for manned, short range, stealthy platforms in the hundreds of copies has been...prohibitive as far back as USAF records (or anyone else’s) go. After all, we have 15 B-2’s (with a range of around 6,000 miles unrefueled), when 132 were originally planned, and we’ve wound up spending several billion dollars upgrading the handful built just over the past 12 years. It’s simply unreasonable to assume (it was not addressed at all), a similar experience would/will not be found with the same contractor, same branch, same plan form aircraft, similar mission, in the B-21.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the article though, appreciate posting it!
 
Ozair
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Re: Study of U.S. Air Force aircraft inventories

Mon Jun 29, 2020 11:18 pm

texl1649 wrote:
The cost comparisons seem inapt to me for a commercial derivative precisely because they are not being compared to an off the shelf procurement alternative, unlike the German MPA one. We don’t know the capabilities (payload, range) or cost per unit (status quo or by tripling procurement) of the B-21. It’s almost a certainty costs, and development problems will be great based on every other previous stealth aircraft deployed to date. Sure, the KC-46 program is also a trail of procurement tears, but it’s unfair to hold that against a notional arsenal plane and yet assume the B-21 is suddenly to be the first successful stealth program/strategic bomber since the B-52.

Cost comparisons vs. the P-8 and E-7 (with their civilian 737 costs) are also off base as they are, primarily after all, sensor suite aircraft where the bulk of the cost is the huge network of sensors/computing power inside. An arsenal plane would basically be a cargo plane (let’s just take a 777-9), with a big cargo door and then some mechanism of launching/releasing the cargo in flight.

100% agree the cost for the B-21 is at this point in time very nebulous but I also consider the cost to create any type of arsenal plane equally nebulous. The difference is one is in production, has a sustainment trail being established and will be the mainstay of the USAF bomber fleet for the next 50 years. That doesn’t come without some long term benefits in operation and maintenance.

texl1649 wrote:
Now, the notional plane wouldn’t obviously resemble a C-130 with a B-52 wing, but perhaps the Boeing 747 dreamlifter provides an illustration of what could be done, with a widebody transport (not needing a pressurized cargo hold). Sure, a low wing commercial jet has...disadvantages vs. a high wing one as such, but an unpressurized large bay can be developed relatively quickly, apparently, then it is ‘just’ a matter of creating an in flight deployment system (as opposed to integrating a huge sensor suite as with the P-8). Finally, their own footnote to Rogoway’s piece is a good counter-argument, but, being from 2014 misses the fact that new 747’s are...not feasible for a new program today.

Looks at least like the USAF is going to have a look at what might be possible,

US Air Force requests ideas for arsenal plane to launch long-range missiles ‘en masse’
The US Air Force is looking for ideas for an aircraft prototype that would be able to launch long-range missiles en masse.
The service and the US secretary of defense’s Strategic Capabilities Office are partnering to survey the market for ideas and research technical maturity, feasibility and operational utility of using such an aircraft to launch weapons, says the USAF in a request for information notice posted online on 25 June. The Department of Defense says it prefers aircraft designs that could quickly enter experimentation and prototyping for rapid development and fielding.


https://www.flightglobal.com/fixed-wing ... 46.article

They are obviously after an in production or in service aircraft noting that the article does mention both the C-130 and C-17 as modifiable options but you would think an current airliner would be the preferred choice.

texl1649 wrote:
You are correct the focus of the paper is near-peer adversaries only. I just think that a focus on total force needs would necessarily not orient 30 year procurement around an all out war with China/Russia (which seems horrible to even consider), but the likelihood of conflicts/options being needed against second and third tier opponents. Even those, of course, are often getting very good air defense systems today. My suspicion, which I certainly accept you are free to disagree with, is that the design details again for the B-21 hint that it is again to be a short legged (fighter engine powered) Northrop flying wing, not well suited for manned attacks against foes such as Iran from distant bases.

If you are the USAF and have to risk assess your future force you can see why they are taking the steps they are. It is far easier to abuse the high end capability for low threat conflicts, as has been done in the Middle East for the last 19 years, compared to trying to build that capability up in the short time required should a near-peer conflict occur. The USAF, and the US Military in general, has for a long time had the requirement to fight two different conflicts at the same time. If the US Government changes the expectations placed on the US military then I can see a significant change in mission equipment and focus. At this point in time though that clearly doesn’t look likely…

texl1649 wrote:
The cost for stand off weapons is high, but the long term costs for manned, short range, stealthy platforms in the hundreds of copies has been...prohibitive as far back as USAF records (or anyone else’s) go.


The difference really is stark. Having high end platforms deliver comparatively cheap weapons remains far and away the most cost effective solution. This isn’t a new finding but has been supported by multiple studies from multiple think tanks over the last thirty years. The pay off occurs across a single conflict and then when you push those same airframes across multiple conflicts, whether high or low threat, you gain massive savings. Even then this ignores that cruise missiles of almost all types just aren’t great for a large number of the target set the USAF would need to target in a near –peer conflict.
texl1649 wrote:
After all, we have 15 B-2’s (with a range of around 6,000 miles unrefueled), when 132 were originally planned, and we’ve wound up spending several billion dollars upgrading the handful built just over the past 12 years. It’s simply unreasonable to assume (it was not addressed at all), a similar experience would/will not be found with the same contractor, same branch, same plan form aircraft, similar mission, in the B-21.


The B-2 probably isn’t a good example given it and other airframes suffered from the Cold War peace dividend. As with the F-35 where sustainment costs will likely drop as the airframe matures so to I expect the B-21 to have a similar benefit, especially if it gets past the 150 mark as the study proposes. The USAF understands better today the relationship between sustainment and fleet sizes and what it can afford going forward.

texl1649 wrote:
Don’t get me wrong, I like the article though, appreciate posting it!

Great and I appreciate your comments, thoughts and perspectives! This is not a right or wrong discussion but a consideration of proposals and what impact they have.

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