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  • Fewer Fighters, New Bomber - CSBA's Air Force Plan
    Posted by Bill Sweetman 11:52 AM on Sep 21, 2009

    Now out from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments is a detailed report on the future of the USAF by Dr Tom Ehrhard - and what makes it particularly relevant is that Ehrhard moved earlier this year from CSBA to the office of USAF chief Gen. Norton Schwartz, where he acts as a strategy advisor.

    The 124-page report is worth a full read. However, the underlying theme is that the USAF needs a strategy in order to survive as an effective force, rather than a series of short term, reactive decisions. The biggest challenges are changing threats - including the need to form a credible counter to Chinese power in the Pacific, advanced SAMs and improved fighters - and a combat and tanker force that is already too old, and too large to be replaced quickly.

    Among Ehrhard's recommendations:  continue production of the F-22, at least to the point where the planned seven squadrons can be filled out with 24 aircraft;  accelerate the rate of production of the F-35, but cut the planned quantities by around half, to some 850 aircraft;  and develop a B-3 bomber in a series of blocks, starting with a near-term manned bomber with F-35 engines and a lot of B-2 systems and ending up with an unmanned global strike/reconnaissance aircraft.

    Underlying theme:  in order to balance the vital elements of airpower - fighters, bombers, tankers and intelligence/surveillance/reconnaissance - the fighter force needs to shrink in numbers and improve its quality. Otherwise, even if JSF stays on track, fighters and their supporting tankers will be all the USAF can afford.

    Ehrhard's main criticism of the F-35 is that it falls between two stools:  it is much bigger and more complex than is needed for limited warfare, but lacks either the survivability of the supersonic F-22 or the reach of a bomber, so that it needs tankers and fighter cover to operate in an "access denied" environment where bases are far from their targets.

    Finally, for all of you people who sneer when anyone cites Air Power Australia:  read Ehrhard's citations and weep.

    Tags: ar99, csba, usaf, ehrhard

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