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Thread: Existential Question: The Air Force?

  1. #1
    Council Member Adam L's Avatar
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    Default Existential Question: The Air Force?

    Given our frequent discussions of the Air Force's role, structure and capabilities, I thought it would be a good idea to have an open forum on these issues.

    Here are the issues: What should the Air Force look like? How should it be structured? Should it be split up? Should some of its capabilities/duties be ceded to or shared with other Services? What aircraft should it acquire or develop? What aircraft should be retired? Should enlisted men be allowed to be pilots? (Any similar or related issues are welcome.)


    The possibility of making these changes a reality is not an issue in this thread, nor whether the Air Force should paint faces on the sides of its aircraft in order to win “hearts and minds.“

    Adam L
    Last edited by Adam L; 12-27-2008 at 02:56 PM.

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    Council Member Fuchs's Avatar
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    Should some of its capabilities/duties be ceded to or shared with other Services?
    The present situation is afaik that

    - the USAF doesn't have good own EW/SEAD assets for penetration of enemy airspace since they gave up the F-4G/F-16C combo wild weasels. They relied instead for years on USN assets (Growlers in the near future) and on the use of AGM-88 (and its modifications) by fighter-bombers.

    - the USN doesn't have a good midair refueling capacity for long range missions and relies on USAF KC's. The USN is afaik even retiring dedicated refueling aircraft and will depend on KCs and buddy/buddy refueling in the future.

    - the USN doesn't have a good carrier-based ASW/MPA capability any more and will need to co-operate with P-8's for long-range ASW/MPA in a few years.

    - USAF / USN / USMC share the fighter-bomber mission, even when enough land bases are available.

    --------------------------------

    Imagine a blank sheet. There was no Cold War. The U.S. forces were not particularly large but developed the same equipment. The U.S. government does not seek conflicts nor does it promote them.
    The idea to justify defense expenditures with alliance obligations fr Asian allies is widely being considered ridiculous as long as these allies spend less % GDP on deterrence than the USA does. Have a look at the inventories of other wealthy nations. And at potential adversaries' inventories. Remember the air power capabilities of the allies.

    Now think about realistic air power requirements.

    I think a fleet of 500 Super Hornets/Growlers, a hundred C-17's, a bit more than a hundred large specialty planes and two large CVs would be considered as a normal and appropriate air power inventory (till 2025) in this case.

    The world isn't that sane, of course.

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    Council Member Adam L's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fuchs View Post
    Imagine a blank sheet. There was no Cold War. The U.S. forces were not particularly large but developed the same equipment. The U.S. government does not seek conflicts nor does it promote them.
    The idea to justify defense expenditures with alliance obligations fr Asian allies is widely being considered ridiculous as long as these allies spend less % GDP on deterrence than the USA does. Have a look at the inventories of other wealthy nations. And at potential adversaries' inventories. Remember the air power capabilities of the allies.

    Now think about realistic air power requirements.

    I think a fleet of 500 Super Hornets/Growlers, a hundred C-17's, a bit more than a hundred large specialty planes and two large CVs would be considered as a normal and appropriate air power inventory (till 2025) in this case.

    The world isn't that sane, of course.
    Yes, the world isn't that sane. Tragically, the world is and has always been lacking in sanity. (My condolences to all of us. LOL!)

    The scenario is a little vague, but it is very optimistic! Sadly, I have to deal with a lot of people who not only think the world is sane, but that it is it resembles this scenario and has an optimistic outlook.

    If the world were that nice, maybe that would do. Still, I think that 500 Super Hornet/Growlers, a hundred C17's and a hundred or so specialty planes would just not cut it assuming the US still maintained sizable ground forces.

    Even in a stable world, a compliment of aircraft numerous enough to survive a large scale war will probably be necessary given how much time is required to design, develop and/or construct new/replacement aircraft.

    Adam L
    Last edited by Adam L; 12-28-2008 at 02:48 AM.

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    Well, to me this topic is beating a dead horse on this forum.

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    Council Member Adam L's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Entropy View Post
    Well, to me this topic is beating a dead horse on this forum.

    We have been beating this horse on a few dozen threads for the last year. Unfortunately, the horse doesn't seem to ever die. What I want to do is kill this damn beast or at least pacify it. We have discussions about the AF role in CAS, COIN, etc. but never have it all in one place where it an be hashed out. Perhaps then all this discussion can lead to some “comprehensive” opinions and perhaps even some resolution on this issue. (I am not suggesting we will actually change anything, rather that we either all agree, which would be unlikely, or have divided into several camps supporting well founded and constructed viewpoints.) This may seem a little far reaching and a little redundant, but I think it would be interesting.


    How about this for a revised thread topic: What is your vision of what the AF should look like and why?


    Adam L

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fuchs View Post
    - the USAF doesn't have good own EW/SEAD assets for penetration of enemy airspace since they gave up the F-4G/F-16C combo wild weasels. They relied instead for years on USN assets (Growlers in the near future) and on the use of AGM-88 (and its modifications) by fighter-bombers.
    I have never understood the USAF's relative neglect of SEAD in comparison with their focus on air-to-air combat, especially as the threat to aircraft has been increasingly from the ground.

    - the USN doesn't have a good midair refueling capacity for long range missions and relies on USAF KC's. The USN is afaik even retiring dedicated refueling aircraft and will depend on KCs and buddy/buddy refueling in the future.
    Seems to me the refueling capability is better done by large tankers from shore than from the carrier - you can only launch so much off a carrier and does a dedicated carrier-based tanker really offer much more than buddy stores? Availability of strips is of course a caveat, but it's not like the tankers are short on gas. KC-130's can range 1000nm with a healthy amount to offload; I'm sure the larger tankers can do better.

    - the USN doesn't have a good carrier-based ASW/MPA capability any more and will need to co-operate with P-8's for long-range ASW/MPA in a few years.
    Insisting on carrier-based fixed-wing ASW seems like a step back to Cold War worst-case scenario of carrier self-sufficiency than a step forward. A land-based ASW/MPA offers so much more in loiter and range. Or were you suggesting these as examples of successful consolidations of particular missions?

    - USAF / USN / USMC share the fighter-bomber mission, even when enough land bases are available.
    And when they aren't? It seems like you are pining for an American version of the Brits' Joint Force Harrier (single command for their Harriers, deployable from land bases and carriers alike). Unless we shrink to that size, I don't see the cost savings. Conversely, we don't have to train all our fighter-bombers on carrier ops, which the 500 Hornet plan would require.

    As for the original question, it's hard to pin down an answer without defining the desired role and function of the AF and what the rest of the force looks like. If the other services retain their current roles and functions, it's hard to argue with each service operating aircraft to support its particular role, and putting forward anything more than incremental changes.

    If, as you posit, we can do with 500 Hornets, 100 C-17's, 2 CV's, etc, then you implicitly define the AF as a provider of support functions (CAS, airlift, ISR). What happens to intercontinental strike (conventional and nuclear - avoiding the use of the term strategic)? While this is SmallWJ, this strikes me as heading away from the vision of "balance" that Sec. Gates has laid out.

    How about this for a revised thread topic: What is your vision of what the AF should look like and why?
    I'd go bigger and tackle the roles of the AF before hashing out structural issues.
    Last edited by mmx1; 12-28-2008 at 07:24 AM.

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    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Adam L View Post
    Here are the issues: What should the Air Force look like? How should it be structured? Should it be split up? Should some of its capabilities/duties be ceded to or shared with other Services? What aircraft should it acquire or develop? What aircraft should be retired? Should enlisted men be allowed to be pilots? (Any similar or related issues are welcome.)
    Actually this has the bones of some good questions. IMO, the primary task of an Air Force is make the air useable/safe for all air activities that aid in creating operational success.

    The biggest problem is sustaining those activities that make for success, as well as sustaining those things that mean you can exploit success.

    ...and that's not as obvious as it sounds, and even if it is, it probably needs saying.
    Infinity Journal "I don't care if this works in practice. I want to see it work in theory!"

    - The job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
    - If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
    Sir Gerald Templer, foreword to the "Conduct of Anti-Terrorist Operations in Malaya," 1958 Edition

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    Council Member Adam L's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mmx1 View Post
    I'd go bigger and tackle the roles of the AF before hashing out structural issues.
    Sorry, I did not phrase the topic as clearly as I thought.

    How about this for a re-revised thread topic: What is your vision of:
    1) the role the AF should take?
    2) the capabilities and, from this, what equipment that it must maintain?
    3) how it should be structured? (This includes its possible division and/or abolition.)

    Adam L

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