Chair Force Engineer

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

If I was in charge of Force-Shaping

As many people are painfully aware, the Air Force is currently undergoing a process called "Force Shaping." This is a polite way of saying that 40,000 personnel will be cut so we can buy more airplanes. The only people not spared the axe will be the pilots.

Thinking about the problem rationally, this is the approach that I would take towards force-shaping and "recapitalization of the fleet" if I were General for a Day.

1) Make fighter pilots the primary target of force-shaping. Let's think about it. How many fighters are in Jihad Joe's Air Force? Zero. The F-22 is irrelevant in the current World War, and fighter-type planes are only needed for close air support of the ground-pounders. The Air Force needs less manned fighters and hence less men to fly those fighters.

2) Cancel further F-22 production and dramatically reduce the size of the F-35 buy. Again, this ties in with #1. While we may someday have to fight a "peer" who can match our air superiority, we will also have time to develop unmanned aerial vehicles that will fulfill the roles of the F-22 and F-35. Perhaps fighter UAV's won't be as lethal as the F-22, but they can be built cheaply and make up for their deficiencies by having strength in numbers.

3) Buy aerial systems that are actually relevant in the current World War. We really need C-17 cargo planes because we've been flying the current fleet extensively to meet the Air Force's transportation and humanitarian missions. We can never have too many Predator and Reaper UAV's, either. These drones have proven themselves repeatedly in their ability to provide reconnaissance as well as picking off high-value targets.

4) Delay the large order of tanker aircraft until the 787 is mature. Back in the70's-80's, the Air Force made a penny-wise, pound-foolish decision to re-engine some KC-135's with TF33 engines while waiting for the newer and more expensive CFM56 engines. The TF33-powered KC-135E has less capability and a higher lifecycle cost than the CFM56-powered KC-135R.

We are headed down the same path with the 767 and A330 tanker programs. The Air Force will be buying an outdated airframe when a more fuel-efficient one is just around the corner in the form of the 787. In this case, waiting a few more years and spending a little bit more will give us a more capable airplane with a lower lifecycle cost.