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January 14, 2022 | International, Aerospace, Naval, Land, C4ISR, Security

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  • Bombers, fighters and tankers unite: Will the Air Force rebuild composite wings to fight near-peer foes?

    September 19, 2018 | International, Aerospace

    Bombers, fighters and tankers unite: Will the Air Force rebuild composite wings to fight near-peer foes?

    By: Kyle Rempfer The Air Force has spent the past few years gearing up for a near-peer fight against adversaries with high-end air forces that match their own. While new doctrines and technologies occupy much of the planning for such a shift, another type of preparation is needed: reorganizing wings and squadrons. One possibility on the table is a return to composite wings. In the early 1990s, the Air Force organized the 366th Fighter Wing out of Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, into the service’s premier “air intervention” composite wing. For roughly a decade, the wing flew fighters, bombers and tankers with the goal of meeting the challenges of a post-Cold War world order — where conflict could arrive anywhere, anytime. “They were ready to pack up and go fight as a unified team,” Lt. Gen. Mark Kelly, commander of 12th Air Force, told a crowd of Air Force leaders Monday at the 2018 Air, Space and Cyber Conference in Washington, D.C. “But that was disbanded, and part of it came down to money," Kelly said. "The cost per flying hour of trying to sustain the small-fleet dynamics there didn’t look great on spreadsheets.” But Kelly argues that financial assessment was faulty. The quality of the training airmen were getting was being compared to the day-to-day operations at other bases around the Air Force. In reality, it was more comparable to the day-to-day training at Red Flag — a two-week, advanced air combat training exercise still held several times a year in Nevada and Alaska. “Frankly, the training they were getting compared more to Red Flag daily ops," Kelly said. “And that would be a good problem to have and a good construct to be able to build.” The Air Force is rethinking how it constructs wings and squadrons, as well as how it deploys airmen, as it shifts to better align with the 2018 National Defense Strategy, according to Kelly. As it stands, “airmen only come together to fight at the line of scrimmage," Kelly said. For instance, before airmen arrive at a forward base to fight against insurgents in Afghanistan, they may have a unified command at the squadron level, but a unified command at the wing level is severely lacking. Additionally, airmen preparing to deploy today benefit from a surplus of “spin-up" time. They know when their unit is scheduled to deploy and have the luxury of training to meet that challenge well in advance. “That’s a luxury that we cannot rely on in great power competition,” Kelly said. Organizing some aircraft and airmen into composite wings could provide the training and deployment structure necessary for fights against modern militaries, Kelly said. The composite wing concept was heavily pushed in 1991 by then Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Merrill McPeak, according to his biography on the Defense Department’s website. McPeak wanted to organize wings by their mission-set, not aircraft type. According to his “air intervention” doctrine, a wing deploying for a near-peer fight should have all the aircraft and airmen it needs to accomplish its mission with limited, or possibly no, outside support. This meant one wing could potentially operate electronic warfare aircraft for the suppression of enemy air defenses, bombers to lay waste to enemy fortifications, fighters to engage in air-to-air combat, and tankers to refuel them all. After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, however, the old composite squadron idea was mostly discarded. The 366th Fighter Wing was restored to fly F-16Js, and the consolidation of the Air Force’s KC-135 and B-1 forces led to the reallocation of the wing’s bombers and tankers to McConnell AFB, Kansas, and Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, according to Mountain Home’s website. But composite wings, and the idea of sustainable fights with more or less autonomous Air Force commanders, is back in vogue. Funding was one of the biggest challenges to composite wings back in the day, but the reasons for that unit structure are better appreciated now as concerns about China and Russia preoccupy defense planners. To fuel a restructuring, steady funding will be key, according to Kelly. He projected the Air Force’s shift to great power competition will continue to be a focus of the defense budget into 2021 and 2022. But regardless of the funds Congress ultimately appropriates for the Air Force in the coming years, restructuring for a near-peer fight needs to happen, Kelly said. “This has to happen regardless of if we have the force we have today with only one more airman, or the force we need with tens of thousands more airmen," he added. https://www.airforcetimes.com/news/your-air-force/2018/09/18/bombers-fighters-and-tankers-unite-will-the-air-force-rebuild-composite-wings-to-fight-near-peer-foes

  • US and UK navies prepare to sign agreement to merge future tech work

    October 22, 2020 | International, Naval

    US and UK navies prepare to sign agreement to merge future tech work

    David B. Larter and Andrew Chuter  WASHINGTON – The U.S. Navy and British Royal Navy are preparing to more closely align their futures in a whole host of warfare areas, the U.S. chief of naval operations announced Tuesday. The U.S. Navy’s chief of naval operations and First Sea Lord Adm. Tony Radakin intend to “sign a future integrated warfighting statement of intent that sets a cooperative vision for interchangeablty,” CNO Adm. Mike Gilday announced at the virtual Atlantic Future Forum, being held on board the RN’s new aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth. “We will synchronize pioneering capabilities, strengthen operating concepts and focus our collective efforts to deliver combined sea power together. By organizing our cooperation on carrier strike, underwater superiority, navy and marine integration and doubling down on future war fighting like unmanned and artificial intelligence, we will remain on the leading edge of great power competition.” It is unclear what the specifics of the statement of intent will be, but the U.S. and Royal navies have been focusing heavily in recent years on aligning its capabilities to be useful to each other in combined maritime operations. The message from both navies is that this will continue into the future. Throughout the Royal Navy’s effort to get the Queen Elizabeth ready for deployment, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps have been working closely with the service, training British pilots on the F-35B and getting the ship certified to operate them. The Marine Corps' Fighter Attack Squadron 211 embarked on Queen Elizabeth earlier this month during the ship’s group exercise ahead of a deployment next year. The Marines will also mix in with Royal Air Force F-35Bs during the QE’s 2021 deployment. In remarks at the forum, Radkin echoed Gilday’s remarks, saying the two forces needed to continue to work to align efforts. “Throughout our careers we have had a drive for interoperability with allies,” Radkin said. "But increasingly it feels to us that bar has to be raised. … The obvious example is the U.S. Marine jets on board the QE carrier. That is an obvious example of interchangeability. “So, we are trying to drive a new standard. Partly to drive all of us to strengthen our interoperability but to go even higher and recognize that interchangeability is going to be an even stronger feature in the future.” Radkin said the services would focus on four areas to grow this “interchangeability”: undersea warfare; carrier operations; aligning the efforts of the U.S. Marine Corps and Navy to become a cohesive fighting unit; and on advanced warfighting programs such as artificial intelligence and cyber. The United Kingdom is in the middle of an integrated defense review, initiated after Boris Johnson was elected prime minster. It was interrupted during the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak but appears to be running again. The review could have sweeping impacts on the British defense budget, but it is unclear where the budget ax will fall. When the review was announced, however, the government promised a “radical reassessment” of Britain’s place in the world. https://www.defensenews.com/naval/2020/10/20/the-us-and-uk-navies-prepare-to-sign-agreement-to-merge-their-tech-futures/

  • Boeing’s new F-15X may replace an aging fleet of F-15C/D Eagles

    July 31, 2018 | International, Aerospace

    Boeing’s new F-15X may replace an aging fleet of F-15C/D Eagles

    By: Kyle Rempfer  The Air Force’s fleet of F-15 C and D Eagle fighters are aging faster than F-35 joint strike fighters are being fielded, a gap in the transition that some think needs to be filled. And even when more F-35s have been fielded, F-15s could still fill a tactical role to help the Air Force carry out its mission. Boeing’s new, single-seat F-15X design may be the Air Force’s answer to that issue. Very little has been made known about the F-15X initiative, which was first reported by Defense One, and the Air Force’s Pentagon officials could not provide comment on it, only telling Air Force Times that “there is no acquisition program” with respect to the new platform. But multiple media outlets still reported this week that the F-15X was being pitched to the Air Force by Boeing. Alternatively, some reports state that the Air Force first solicited Boeing for the new fighter. Regardless, the possibility of a new platform to replace aging the fourth-generation F-15 fighters could alleviate the strain put on F-22 Raptors and make up for the F-35s slow roll-out. Created during the Cold War, the more than 40-year-old F-15 has been the U.S. Air Force’s primary air-to-air fighter jet for decades. The aircraft has been known for its range of operational roles, however, to include close-air support in the Global War on Terrorism. Dan Grazier, the Jack Shanahan Military Fellow at the Project On Government Oversight, writes extensively on military procurement, to include the F-35 acquisition. He said that while he can’t comment on the specific designs of the F-15X, it is generally better to develop weapon systems from “an evolutionary approach.”   “Whenever the military possesses a proven basic design like the F-15, the Pentagon should focus its efforts on maintaining and improving it until the state of technology changes to the point where the basic design is no longer viable,” Grazier told Air Force Times. “Until that happens, there is no reason to continually reinvent the wheel. If it is possible to incorporate improved technology into a design that has already been bought and paid for, then it only makes financial and common sense to do so.” “There will doubtless be arguments made that the unit flyaway costs of the F-15X and F-35 will be roughly comparable," he said. "When you factor in the development costs of both into the program unit average cost, I bet the F-15X will be much less expensive.” While the F-35 is a supposed to be a multi-role aircraft — capable of a stealth mode, as well as an air-to-ground combat mode once air dominance is achieved — it has been questioned whether the F-35 can outperform an F-15 in an air-to-air dogfight, or an A-10 Warthog in close-air support missions. As to what the F-15X includes that separates it from older F-15s, not too much is definitively known. Citing sources close to the initiative, The War Zone reported the most extensive breakdown so far. The F-15X reportedly came out of an Air Force inquiry to Boeing and Lockheed Martin about fielding an aircraft that could easily transition into the service’s existing air combat infrastructure, specifically to help counter the Air Force’s shrinking force. There were some caveats to the solicitation: it needs to be cost-effective, low-risk and not considered an alternative to the larger F-35 procurement program, The War Zone reported. It seems those requirements were met, based on the reported features. The F-15X armament would be designed for a mixed air-to-air and air-ground-role, including “eight air-to-air missiles and 28 Small Diameter Bombs (SDBs), or up to seven 2,000-pound bombs and eight air-to-air missiles," according to The War Zone. The F-15X would allegedly be very affordable, as well. The aircraft reportedly costs roughly $27,000 per hour to fly. Meanwhile, the F-35A costs more than $40,000 an hour to fly, according to The War Zone. Finally, The War Zone said the F-15X will have a 20,000-hour service life, meaning it could be flying for several more decades. Still, Boeing officials have not outright confirmed they were pitching the F-15X. “We see the marketplace expanding internationally and it’s creating opportunities then to go back and talk to the U.S. Air Force about what might be future upgrades or even potentially future acquisitions of the F-15 aircraft,” Gene Cunningham, vice president of global sales of Defense, Space & Security, told DefenseOne. The Air Force has been considering retiring its F-15 Eagles for some time. In March 2016, service officials said they were considering a retirement for the more than 230 F-15 C and D fighters, and replacing them with F-16 Fighting Falcons. Speaking before the Senate Armed Services air land forces subcommittee in April, Lt. Gen. Jerry Harris, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements, said the service was still looking at options for the F-15 fleet. “There’s nothing off the table,” Harris said. “We’re looking at, as we bring F-35s in, can we grow our capacity rather than just replace one-for-one? If we can’t do that, what’s our least-capable asset to retire, based on the value that it would provide for us?” https://www.airforcetimes.com/news/your-air-force/2018/07/30/boeings-new-f-15x-may-replace-an-aging-fleet-of-f-15cd-eagles/

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