The present and future of the F-35, A-10 and other platforms in the vision of the U.S. Air Force Air Command Command Chief.
In an interesting, open and somehow surprising interview given to Air Force Times, Chief of U.S. Air Force Air Combat Command Gen. Michael Hostage, explained the hard choices made by the Air Force as a consequence of the budget cuts and highlighted the position of the service for what concerns the F-35.
First of all, forget any chance the A-10 will survive. According to Hostage, one of the few ways to save some money cut from the budget is to retire an entire weapon system. And, even though the Warthog “can still get the job done”, the plane does not seem to be the weapon of choice in future conflicts, in which “the A-10 is totally useless“.
Obviously, a less drastic solution, as keeping half of the A-10 fleet in active service, is not viable as it would still require much of the costly support infrastructures the whole fleet need.
Another problem is in the ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) domain. Politics urge the Air Force to keep buying Global Hawks, hence, given the current budget picture, the Air Force can’t afford both the U-2 Dragon Lady and the Global Hawk. That’s why the ACC Commander “will likely have to give up the U-2” and spend much money to try to get the large Northrop Grumman drone do the same things the U-2 has done for decades.
Dealing with the Joint Strike Fighter, Hostage says he is “going to fight to the death to protect the F-35” since the only way to keep up with the adversaries, which “are building fleets that will overmatch our legacy fleet”, is by employing a sufficient fleet of 1,763 (“not one less”) F-35s. You can update and upgrade the F-15 and F-16 fleets, but they would still become obsolete in the next decade.
But, the F-22 Raptor will have to support the F-35. And here comes another problem. When the Raptor was produced it was flying “with computers that were already so out of date you would not find them in a kid’s game console in somebody’s home gaming system.” Still, the U.S. Air Force was forced to use the stealth fighter plane as it was, because that was the way the spec was written. But now, the F-22 must be upgraded through a costly service life extension plan and modernisation program because, “If I do not keep that F-22 fleet viable, the F-35 fleet frankly will be irrelevant. The F-35 is not built as an air superiority platform. It needs the F-22,” says Hostage to Air Force Times.
Something that seem to confirm what we have written some time ago….
Image credit: Lockheed Martin
The F-35 program is going to lead to the abolition of the Air Force.
‘Hostage says he is “going to fight to the death to protect the F-35” since [that is] the only way to keep up with the adversaries…You can update and upgrade the F-15 and F-16 fleets, but they would still become obsolete in the next decade.’, but then states, without a trace of irony:
“If I do not keep that F-22 fleet viable, the F-35 fleet frankly will be irrelevant. The F-35 is not built as an air superiority platform. It needs the F-22.”
So as a stand-alone platform, in his own words the F-35 is ‘irrelevant’.
So what exactly does the $400B F-35 do to earn its living? What originally started out as a 5th gen advanced multi-role fighter in 1994 to serve all four services, with a common air frame to save money, has proven to be superior at very little. The decision to require an STOL/VTOL variant compromised the airframe to the point that it can’t compete in the air superiority realm. That decision doomed the project from the start. I’m willing to bet there has been very little use of fighter STOL/VTOL in recent conflicts, certainly not enough to justify the expenditure. It can’t hold enough ordinance to be an effective bomber. It requires an F-22 escort in order to carry out its mission (?), which ties the F-22 up from its vital air superiority mission. We don’t have enough F-22s to carry out both these roles, but DOD won’t restart production lines. The advanced technology which is the hallmark of the F-35 and supposedly makes it superior to all other fighters doesn’t work. This whole thing is a monumental fiasco that no one seems to have an answer for, except to barge blindly forward over a cliff. No one wants to talk about an alternative to the project or at least scaling it back – and the Chief of U.S. Air Force Air Combat Command wants to buy 1700 copies of this thing? Congress won’t cancel it because supplier plants would close in their states. To the average taxpayer, DOD and Congress appear totally incompetent. The Russians and Chinese must laughing their asses off. No the answer is not more money – the answer is better use of existing money – and wiser choices by our leaders. If you’re going forward with this thing, scale back production to maybe 400 or 500 until the bugs are worked out and restart the F-22 with updated electronics to maybe another 400-500.