Archive for the ‘Air Force’ Category

The Richard Andres article Up in the Air addresses the challenges the U.S. Air Force is facing and the conditions that have led to its current state of affairs.

In effect, Andres suggests, the USAF has been so busy locked in on doing what it does that it’s lost its focus on what the nation most needs it to do.  The need-to-do job, the real purpose of the military is “to defend the global commons and the open international economic order by ensuring peace among the major powers.”

As have others, Andres also suggest that those who were looking out and looking ahead, including former SecAF Mike Wynn and CSAF General Buzz Mosley, were shown the door for speaking about reversing the USAF’s trend-line.

So what happened?  Well, there were several fundamental changes.

For example, with the end of the Cold War, the perceived value of the nuclear deterrence mission–a major piece of the Air Force–waned.

Also, at the end of the first Gulf War, a USAF-level decision that all future platforms would need to be stealthy and high-tech (and yes, expensive and manned) drove the USAF away from the sort of platforms that today’s effort would most need in a more low-tech battlespace.

An unrelenting ops tempo, when combined with the 90’s-era desire for a peace dividend meant procurement efforts like the next tanker, the KC-X were deferred or, like the F-22, drug-out, to their great detriment.

More recently, the USAF was slow to react to Secretary Gates’ desire to get more UAVs into the current fight, convincing (or reaffirming) many of a USAF stuck in a manned-fighter paradigm.

All along the way, other nations (think China) have been catching up as technology proliferates (think of Russian anti-air systems that may end up in Iran) and are robustly building out their anti-access capabilities.  The Navy may suffer greatly in this regard as well with the recent revelations regarding China’s DF 21 anti-ship missile.

Andres suggest several of the usual candidates-for-success when this topic is being discussed: having more integrated and coordinated air power by more effectively using Army, Navy, and Marine air assets and getting the new tanker buy underway, as it is the resource which provides longer-legs to all air assets, especially when we are “basing challenged.”

Speaking of basing, Andres advocates fewer European bases and using scarce political capital to acquire better access in the PACOM and CENTCOM AORs.

These are difficult to argue against and when I wrote on this general theme two years ago, I argued the Air Force has fallen because it often lacks vision and its leaders tend to be copies of those who have gone ahead of them. Andres wraps up with the similar thoughts.

The most profound challenge to the USAF may well be its own culture, and that is the sort of long-term turn that is very difficult for a command and control type of bureaucracy–like the Air Force– to make.


SAIC has delivered an infrared sensor for Air Force use that will be integrated into and hosted on the commercial SES-2 satellite.  The SES-2 satellite is being built by Orbital Sciences and will provide commercial communications services.

The short and medium wave infrared sensor gets a lower-cost ride to space than a dedicated IR satellite and could be on orbit as early as around this time in 2011.

Called CHIRP (the Commercially Hosted Infrared Payload), the sensor assembly will provide wide field-of-view persistent infrared capabilities.

When the sensor is on-orbit, it will have a secure, two-way communication channel to the Air Force through a standard commercial telecommunication transponder.

Former astronaut Buzz Aldrin supports many of the principles the administration has called for regarding NASA and he’s given some thought on how to move the nation forward in space.

Mr. Aldrin identifies a number of important ideas, but IMHO the three most important goals he calls for include 1) an increased presence and use of commercial space, 2) manned missions beyond low earth orbit, and 3) unlocking the economic/scientific promise of space.

Included in his proposal would be an Executive Order leading to a man-rated EELV.  Of course just such a gap-filler this has been considered (by many) and rejected (by NASA) in the past as not meeting their needs.

Now the needs have changed and massive programmatic whipsawing is occurring.  The challenge will be in generating administration, NASA, and Congressional enthusiasm for a man-rated EELV.

BTW, haven’t we pretty fully explored low earth orbit?

Somebody got some ‘splainin’ to do.

The WSJ reports $100 billion in defense cuts–about 90 percent in the years beyond FY12 for the purpose of getting the budget under better control.

Concurrently, $50 billion of current year non-defense spending is proposed.

Is it me?

Regarding the proposed cuts to the defense industry, a dilemma remains excess global capacity. That’s why Airbus is considering the USAF tanker deal anew.  But excess capacity almost by definitional means consolidation can (or should) be pursued in order to achieve greater efficiencies.

Then, consolidation leads to a loss of competition.  A loss of competition leads to higher costs.  That’s what happened with EELV, where dreamy assumptions melted in the face of global reality (that is, global reality versus global warming).

The traditional take is for governments, U.S. included, to subsidize industry.

Using the automotive industry, consider the relatively recent cash for clunkers and the GM and Chrysler bailouts.

from the Air Force Association on-line magazine:

“If it takes about 170 personnel today to operate one combat air patrol of MQ-1 or MQ-9 remotely piloted aircraft, how many are needed for a single high-flying RQ-4 Global Hawk CAP? Maj. Richard Johnson, Air Force spokesman for intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance issues, tells the Daily Report that the number is around 260 today, including some 160 imagery analysts.”

Wow.  I have seen the future and it is analysis.

The New York Times article on the X-37 contains two very weak assertions.

How about this one: “The craft’s payload bay is the size of a pickup truck bed, suggesting that it can not only expose experiments to the void of outer space but also deploy and retrieve small satellites.”  (emphasis added)

I guess you could assert that the shuttle has ‘retrieved’ a satellite regarding the repair missions with the Hubble.  I also suppose you could assert the X-37 could do such a mission as a space debris mitigation effort–a demonstration possibly–but even if it had the energy to maneuver to a spacecraft to retrieve it, how would it get it in the cargo bay?  How would the payload be secured for a return trip to earth, including an airplane-like landing?

The second assertion is the space weaponization thing.  It seems kind of analogous to when people have to explain that they are actually politically correct when accused of a PC-type crime.  Accordingly, the X-37 is associated with the phrase ‘space weaponization’ several times and it is denied several times.  The Times Online article Launch of secret US space ship masks even more secret launch of new weapon is m-u-c-h more ominous.  I’m all for conspiracy theories, but come on…

Really, the idea the X-37 is a space weapon is beyond the pale. First level questions like what weapon(s) does it carry?; what would be its target(s)?; how would the weapon(s) be delivered to the target(s)?, are ignored.

Regarding an X-37 payload, in the past the concept of ‘on-orbit spares’ has come up, but the idea was never compelling.  After all, if you’re going to put something on orbit, it is probably a very capable system and you probably want to use it right away.  As such, you’d be expected to turn the satellite on as soon as you can.

A vehicle like the X-37 could preserve a capability to deploy ‘sleeping’ contingency satellite(s) for an extended period of time.  If there was war here on earth that needed the kind of space capabilities the X-37’s payload could provide, then it could deploy the satellites almost immediately.  Conversely, if they didn’t need to be deployed, the X-37 could be brought back with the payload intact for use on a subsequent mission.  Or they could be deployed just prior to the X-37’s de-orbit to add space capability.

Taking off and landing with the same payload–on a first mission–makes little sense.  The X-37 first needs to show it can deploy a payload after some period of on-orbit storage.  By the way, a payload that could fit into a pickup truck’s bed seems pretty likely to not have new sensors on it.  You would  really expect this would be about employing relatively mature technologies in new ways.

Maybe. The link is pretty much a super-long Pratt & Whitney press release touting the scramjet concept.

While all the science is cosmic, the military, as with the NBA draft, often rewards potential versus proven performance.

So can something like the air-dropped, solid rocket motor (initially) and scramjet (subsequently) powered, expendable X-51 really go from Vandenberg AFB, CA to the bogey’s cave in 60 minutes or less?

Maybe.  Someday.  Maybe someday…

While the X-51 is a 26 foot, 2000 pound vehicle, it carries no payload (besides some instrumentation, I’m sure) and is only set up for a flight profile that involves 300 seconds (that sounds more impressive than five minutes, doesn’t it?) of scramjet powered flight.

As the Air Force Association reports “AFRL believes that a scramjet 10 times the size of the X-51A’s engine is necessary to power a long-range strike missile carrying a significant weapon payload.”  An engine ten times as powerful implies ten times as much fuel…now we’re talking something quite large. Traditionally, large equals expensive.

Ok, how about scramjet as a space launch vehicle?

As Spaceflight Now reports, NASA has contemplated an unmanned 130,000 lb. scramjet-powered, winged, reusable spaceplane that could carry 300 lb. payloads into orbit.  I guess if we have 300 pound payloads, maybe we’re in business, but as of today, a 300 pound payload is pretty much some sort of typographical error

By the way, 130,000 pounds is about the weight of two Minuteman IIIs, of which we may soon have spares and could easily handle a 300-pound payload.  Or we could also consider the Falcon family of vehicles from SpaceX for those 300-pound payloads.  In fact, SpaceX’s Falcon 1e can do way better than that: it can put a 2200 pound payload into LEO and do it for less than $11 million.

In fact, while we’re at it, why don’t we consider SpaceX vehicles as prompt global strike vehicles?  A handful can be based out of Vandenberg and Cape Canaveral.  They’re cheap and capable and available almost immediately.  If we don’t use them as PGS vehicles, we can turn around and use them as space launch vehicles.  Did I miss anything?

The big advantage of a scramjet enabled vehicle as a prompt global strike weapon–assuming it is technically viable and at a reasonable (pick your own definition) cost is its political correctness: it isn’t a conventional ICBM.