Gates still hates the Air Force

For a guy who spent some time in his youth wearing a blue suit, SecDef Gates has sure gone out of his way to make recent misleading statements about the Air Force:

Exhibit A:

The Military Requirement Is 243: Despite Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ announcement earlier this month that 187 F-22s is a sufficient inventory for the Air Force—and his claim that the service did not make a case for more—Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said yesterday that “243 is the military requirement” for the advanced fifth-generation fighter. Speaking at a National Aeronautic Association luncheon in Washington, D.C., Schwartz acknowledged that 243 Raptors would have been a “moderate-risk” inventory, while 381 F-22s, the long-standing requirement prior to this year, was a low-risk number. (Schwartz and Air Force Secretary Michael Donley articulated these points in an April 13 op-ed in the Washington Post.) During his talk, Schwartz elaborated on the decision to cap production at 187, saying that “nothing is free,” and that more F-22s would mean less of something else. “Our conclusion was and remains—Mike Donley and I—that more F-22s are unaffordable in the context of other things we must do,” said Schwartz (his emphasis). He declined to say whether the number 187 represents a “high-risk” fleet of F-22s, though, and when pressed, said “I gave you my answer.”

— John A. Tirpak, “Daily Report“, Air Force Association, April 17th, 2009.

[emphasis mine]

The only positive thing you can say is that at least General Norton Schwartz has learned from the example of his predecessors, and is not willing to publicly contradict the boss.  Even when the boss is contradicting what the general has previously said on the subject.

Exhibit B:

“While the military has made great strides in operating jointly over the last two decades, procurement remains overwhelmingly service-centric. The Combat Search and Rescue helicopter had major development and cost problems to be sure. What cemented my decision to cancel this program was the fact that we were on the verge of launching yet another single-service platform for a mission that in the real world is truly joint.

— Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, address to the Air War College at Maxwell-Gunter AFB, Alabama, April 15th, 2009.

When deployed as part of a unified combatant command, like CENTCOM, PACOM and so on, Air Force CSAR assets are, well, the definition of joint.  They are managed by the Joint Forces Air Component Commander, who has responsibility for all air assets—regardless of service branch—tasked to the AOR.  In other words if an Army, Navy or Marine pilot has to bail out, an appropriate CSAR asset—likely USAF—will be tasked to go find and retrieve that pilot.  It is not up to the Air Force to retrieve only Air Force pilots.  In fact the opposite is usually true; Navy CVBG CSAR assets typically stay tasked to their carrier battle group, whereas USAF’s CSAR assets get chucked into the JFACC pool.

This is not because the Navy doesn’t play jointly—it does.  But a CVBG needs its associated CSAR junk to travel with it, wherever it goes; whereas Air Force CSAR tends to live and work out of the same onshore bases where the combat missions get launched from.  And fortunately onshore bases tend not to get tasked to other geographic regions very much, as their maneuver capability depends largely on continental drift.  This means that Air Force CSAR birds can be available faster and have shorter travel time to an inshore site.  And, not coincidentally, they end up under the command of the JFACC; not exactly a single-service solution to a joint problem.  One is tempted to wonder which “real world” SecDef Gates is drawing his conclusions.

As for cost growth and development problems, CSAR-X had not been fully confirmed in its selection but the first-round pick was the Beoing HH-47.  A much-improved version of the old CH-47 Chinook airframe currently operated by the US Army, various SOCOM outfits, and a wad of allies such as Canada, Australia, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and so on.  I can’t imagine the teething problems for the HH-47 are much greater than, for example, Canada’s have been fielding the EH101/CH-149, or the as-yet-undelivered H-92/CH-148; brand new machines who had no predecessor design already in service.

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