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Downsizing

Well, Marine Corps Gen. James “Hoss” Cartwright, the nation’s second highest military officer fired a shot at the Air Force’s renewed effort to field a stealthy, long-range nuclear bomber early in the next decade, saying we just can’t afford it.

Here’s what he said today to DoDBuzz’s founding editor, Colin Clark, who now runs AOL Defense:

“I’m known as a bomber hater,” a smiling Cartwright said this morning when I asked him whether the country needed such a plane. The general’s main worry is that we will build an “exquisite” aircraft, loaded with the latest stealth, able to fly huge distances and crammed with expensive sensors and end up being able to buy only a few of them. He noted the progression of bomber production numbers: 100s of the venerable B-52; 65 B-1s; and 20 B-2s.

“Building five or 10 of something isn’t going to do something for us,” he said, adding that he wants to think of an aircraft of which we could build “hundreds.”

He went on to tell Clark that he thinks a cheaper, unmanned bomber (that wouldn’t carry nukes, for obvious reasons) is the way to go. He apparently said that he didn’t remember any manned version of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). There you have it, the outgoing vice chairman of the joint chiefs sounding off against building a new version of the Air Force nuke triad. Oh, and he also confirmed that the Pentagon is considering getting rid of an aircraft carrier.

The country, Marine Gen. James “Hoss” Cartwright said, cannot afford to buy an upgraded nuclear triad of new bombers, new intercontinental ballistic missiles and new nuclear missile submarines.

Cartwright, outgoing vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, also confirmed that the Pentagon is considering — as part of its budget deliberations – scrapping its next aircraft carrier, the first official confirmation by a senior military official. Cartwright spoke with reporters at a Defense Writers Group breakfast here.

 

 

 

 

We’ll have a more detailed look at winners and losers the US Defense Secretary Robert Gates outlined today, but I thought it might help to get the discussion going and for those of you who weren’t watching it live to list the biggies now…

  • F-35B will go on a “two year probation” and move to the “back of the line” on development behind the “C” and “A” model. More F/A-18EF Super Hornets will be purchased and older F/A-18 Hornets will have their service lives extended for the Marine Corps to make up for the “B” delay or cut.
  • EFV is gone. Savings will be used to upgrade the AAV with more armor, better electronics and weaponry.
  • Army SLAMRAAM canceled.
  • The Non-Line of Sight Launch System gone.
  • Drawdown by 27K Soldiers and up to 20K Marines from end strength in 2015

What’s in — Air Force:

  • More Air Force Reapers.
  • More EELVs.
  • Modernize F-15 radars.
  • New long range nuclear strike bomber — that can be “optionally piloted.”

Army:

  • More money for Army suicide prevention.
  • Modernize the Abrams, Bradley and Stryker vehicle.
  • More MC-12 surveillance aircraft.
  • Quicker development of Grey Eagle UAV.
  • Quicker development of vertical UAS.

Navy:

  • More money for jammers.
  • More money to upgrade and refit Marine Corps equipment used up in war.
  • More money and accelerated development of an unmanned strike capability.
  • Life extension for 150 F-18s.
  • New ship classes, including a destroyer, LCS, oilers and ocean surveillance craft.

Missile Defense:

  • More long range interceptors.
  • More radar sites in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

Gates said the 2012 DoD budget request will be $553 billion, $13 billion less than planned in the previous FYDP. He added that the new FYDP numbers are $78 billion less than previously planned.

“We think we have tightened up a good bit,” Gates said. “We think this is a sustainable budget.”

Giving some of the first real insight into the numbers of F-35Cs the United Kingdom may purchase, the U.K. announced late last week that it’s considering halving its fighter fleet to a mere six squadrons by 2020.

From Defense News:

“We are heading for five Typhoon squadrons and one JSF [Joint Strike Fighter] squadron,” said Air Vice-Marshal Greg Bagwell, who commands the RAF’s air combat group. “It will be a six-squadron world; that’s what’s on the books.”

That could mean 107 Typhoons, plus about 40 F-35C JSFs that support a large operational squadron of 20 to 25 crews, Bagwell said.

Typhoon numbers could be clipped even further if Britain and Oman seal a deal to send the Persian Gulf nation about a squadron’s worth of aircraft. The planes could be diverted from an existing RAF order; the question is whether they will then later be replaced, he said.

Most importantly for F-35 watchers, Bagwell says later in the article that while the U.K. may someday purchase more than just 40 JSFs, “I expect a single squadron in 2020 and that’s it.” Although, he does describe the 40-plane buy as a hopeful start point for the UK’s F-35 program.

Time will tell if the 21st Century capabilities of the F-35 and Typhoon’s will make up for their limited numbers when compared to Britain’s fighter fleet of the last 20 years.

As the article points out, the RAF had 33 fighter squadrons in 1990, 17 in 2003 and just 12 today. By April 2011, that number will shrink to eight squadrons with the retirement of the U.K.‘s Harrier jump jets and the retirement of two Tornado fighter squadrons.

Still, the service is hoping to eventually fly about 100 F-35Cs from land bases and the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers, according to the article.

From the sound of it, the newest cuts will leave the legendary RAF with the ability to do little more than defend Britain, the Falkland Islands and participate in the war in Afghanistan. In fact, the cuts worry “the hell” out of Britain’s fighter boss:

[Continue reading…]

Well, it looks like the Pentagon may be joining those who recommend scrapping the short take-off and vertical landing variant of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.

The last few weeks have seen some serious punches thrown at the would-be-wonder jet. First, the British announced that they were cutting their nearly 150-plane F-35B buy in favor of an unknown number of F-35C carrier variant JSFs. Next came reports that the Pentagon is bracing for the possibilty that the program will suffer more delays and cost growth. Then, last week, a presidentially-mandated panel recommended that the government completely scrap the B-model JSF as well has half the U.S. Air Force’s and Navy’s purchases of F-35As and Cs, respectively, through 2015. 

Now, InsideDefense​.com reports:

“Senior defense leaders are questioning the Marine Corps’ need for its variant of the Joint Strike Fighter as Pentagon leaders consider a radical restructuring of the program that could accelerate the development of the Air Force and Navy F-35 variants.” 

Apparently, the move is being discussed in order to free up money and other resources “from the most risky version of the plane to the least.” 

“There are questions being asked at the senior level, up to the secretary of defense, about whether we really have to have the STOVL,” said a Pentagon official, referring to the short takeoff and vertical landing variant of the F-35 being developed for the Marine Corps.
Gates last week conducted a high-level review of the Pentagon’s fighter aircraft portfolio to explore options for revising current procurement plans, sources said, including a scenario for slowing down the F-35B and invigorating the development of the F-35A, the conventional takeoff and landing variant, and the F-35C, the version designed to operate from aircraft carriers.

If this is true, it would make some sense. Pentagon officials have to be at least considering axing the Bravo, given the fiscal environment the world is in right now. Whether they would actually do that is a separate question.  Remember, not only does the future of U.S. Marine Corps tactical aviation rely on the F-35B, but F-35-maker Lockheed Martin and Uncle Sam have already spent a ton of money on developing the STOVL airplane.

Maybe such a move will ultimately save time and money but  it would still cause a serious stir. How would such a cut impact the cost profile for the program? Would the Marines get C-model JSFs, new F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, keep flying their current F/A-18s, AV-8Bs and EA-6Bs or lose their Tacair fleet altogether?

These are the issues that senior officials at the Pentagon and Lockheed have got to be hashing out right now.

Teal Group aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia makes an interesting point in an e-mail to DefenseTech, saying that while “USMC programs are almost impossible to kill,”  the Marines’ budget “is badly overstretched, and much of it goes to develop and buy aircraft for unique USMC needs.” 

“With the U.K. leaving the B program, a complicated, expensive, single-customer program—rather like the V-22—might be an easy target for budget cutters,” Aboulafia said.

We’ll know what the Pentagon wants soon enough when it announces the content of its Technical Baseline Review for the program, establishing a new schedule and cost profile for the plane.

– John Reed

We knew it was only a matter of time until people started talking about the contested Falkland Islands in the wake of Britain’s decision last month to retire its Harrier jump jets, a move that will leave the United Kingdom with no carrier-borne strike fighters for roughly a decade.

Now a group of former British admirals have written an open letter to U.K. defense officials, published in The Times newspaper, urging them to reverse their move to retire the Harriers.

For the next 10 years at least, Argentina is practically invited to attempt to inflict on us a national humiliation on the scale of the loss of Singapore [to the Japanese in World War II], one from which British prestige … might never recover.

Well, ok, it wouldn’t be alright for Argentina to go and re-invade the Falklands. But playing the British prestige card? Hasn’t the sun already set on the British Empire? The Japanese took Singapore when the realm was at its peak in terms of land mass and people living under the crown. The redoubt city was considered a linchpin of British military and economic might in the region and its defeat signified to the world that Britain’s imperial power wasn’t what it seemed. Some say it gave steam to independence movements in British colonies in Asia after the war. 

But the Falklands, hmm, they’ve got sheep (ok, in all fairness, there might be oil nearby). And the British Empire, well, it’s got the Falklands, not much else.  Who knows, if the archipelago falls to Argentina, what’s next? Gibraltar returning to Spain? Bermuda declaring independence? Tristan da Cunha throwing off the imperial shackles to become the next India and transforming itself into economic powerhouse? Yeah, no.  

But wait, the missive gets better, as an AFP article points out:

The letter also warned that the last “10-year rule” in the 1930s assuming that Britain has warning time to rebuild its forces to face a threat “nearly cost us our freedom, faced with Hitler.”

“We believe that these decisions should be rescinded in the over-riding national interest, before it is too late,” the letter concluded.

While the Hitler reference may be a little extreme, at least this section focused on the possibility of an actual military threat to a group of U.K. nationals, not the loss of “British prestige.” After all, some reports claim that the Britain’s desire to withdraw naval forces from the region factored into Argentina’s choice to invade in 1982.

For now, let’s hope that RAF’s detachment of modern Eurofighter Typhoons at is enough to keep Argentina’s military, armed with jets of 1950s, 60s and 70s vintage, from retaking the islands, or at least hold out ’till reinforcements arrive.

– John Reed