09 November 2010

Air Force Starts Development Of Do-It-All Fighter

On November 4, 2010, the Air Force asked for input regarding an F-22 replacing fighter aircraft that can do everything under the sun, to enter service ca. 2030-2050.

Enhanced capabilities in areas such as reach, persistence, survivability, net-centricity, situational awareness, human-system integration, and weapons effects. . . It must be able to operate in the anti-access/area-denial environment that will exist in the 2030–2050 timeframe. . . .

The primary mission in the future Next Gen TACAIR definition is Offensive and Defensive Counterair to include subset missions including Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD), Close Air Support (CAS) and Air Interdiction (AI). It may also fulfill airborne electronic attack and intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance capabilities. This is not an all-inclusive list and the Next Gen TACAIR definition will mature and sharpen as the market research and Capabilities Based Assessment (CBA) unfold. . . .

[Also]Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) and Optionally Manned Systems.

As usual, this is a price no object solicitation.

The trouble is that an aircraft that do do absolutely everything that a combatant aircraft can do, is likely to do some of those jobs not very well, and to be insanely expensive.

For example, for some missions, like air to air combat, supersonic flight speeds are a huge, albeit very expensive thing for a military aircraft to be able to achieve. But, for "close air support" (i.e. providing back up firepower to soldiers on the ground), what matters is an ability to loiter for long periods of time at slow speeds, which is something that supersonic aircraft are ill suited to do.

The Air Force has also still not woken up to the fact that it is possible to fulfill many of its missions, like reconnaisance, close air support in Counterinsurgency and Third World conflicts, and air security from terrorists within the U.S., with aircraft that are profoundly less expensive and much easier to develop in a timely fashion, than a do-it-all super high tech fighter aircraft.

Another problem is that this proposal seems to not just tolerate but anticipate a twenty year development period, for threats found in 2030 that may very well not be known at this point.

The U.S. military needs to get its head out of the clouds chasing vaporware superweapons, and return to a world where cost matters, current technology is good enough, development cycles are shorter, and missions are more narrowly defined.

Indeed, it might do better to be asking industry, "what is possible for $50 million per plane" or for "$150 million per plane" rather than asking for the moon and paying for it with a cost plus contract.

1 comment:

Michael Malak said...

I had always assumed the F-22 & F-35 were going to be the last manned military fighters.