Monday, January 2, 2012

USAF Combat Capability

Before the recent 10% force structure cuts dictated by former Secretary Defense Gates, the USAF had an active inventory of about 2,500 fast jets. Of these, only about 1,500 were actually deployed in Squadron service. About 10% of all USAF Squadrons were Operational Conversion Units that did not have any combat capability. In the USAF all F-15C/D and F-22 Squadrons have only a single air-to-air mission. A-10 Squadrons cannot be effectively employed for deep strike missions until enemy air defenses are first degraded. Therefore, about 825 F-16C/Ds and F-15Es were actually in Squadron service and available for strike missions. Given the necessity to maintain a strategic reserve, it is assessed that it would be improbable that more than about 500 of these combat ready strike aircraft have been deployed in any single theater of operations. This would have required the provision of at least 7 large pre-existing air bases located within a range of about 1,000 miles of the theater of operations, plus at least 4 additional air bases dedicated to tankers and other support aircraft. Making these newly acquired air bases operational , including building up fuel, ordnance, maintenance, and ground support equipment, would likely require as much as 4 to 5 months.

The USAF has consistently achieved a long- range war-time daily rate of about 1.25 sorties per aircraft per day. This reflects both the impact of long 5.5 hour combat sorties and the one-two-one air crew to aircraft ratio within deployed Squadrons.

USMC experience can be used to determine the USAF sortie rate when operating at shorter range. During Operation Desert Storm, USMC AV-8Bs were forward-based and operationally unconstrained by the rigid Allied Air Operational Plan. During the initial break-through ground battles, when thousands of Marines were at risk and engaged in close ground combat, the daily sortie rate of forward-based AV-8Bs was 2.6 sorties per aircraft per day.

After Gates’ recent cutbacks, this historical data indicates that the USAF could likely generate no more than 550 daily deep strike sorties, or about 1,100 shorter-range daily strike sorties. The response time of up to 4 to 5 months still remains valid.

The USMC AV-8B short-range daily sortie rate was consistent with Israeli sortie generation rates during the 1967 and 1973 Middle Eastern air wars, when the Israeli Air Force also had about a one-two-one air crew to aircraft ratio. This data proves that jet air crew are capable of sustaining about 2.5 relatively short 1.5 hour sorties per day. In 1967, Israeli experience was that their air crew could temporarily surge to a sortie rate of about 4 to 5 per day, but only for a very limited period, because the mental and physical demands of fast jet combat missions are very high.

Current fourth generation combat aircraft, including the F-15, F-16 and F-18, have become very reliable. Combat experience has shown there is about a 85% probability that these aircraft will require no corrective maintenance after completion of a typical combat sortie. Even if they suffer damage or mechanical failure, the availability of built-in test software and modular digital avionics means that executing repairs requires far less personnel and time than before. Consequently, fourth generation aircraft that experience failures can be repaired relatively quickly and rapidly recycled for continued use. They can, therefore, generate numerous sorties per day. Modern avionics, such as GPS/INS navigation, high resolution SAR radars and FLIR E/O systems have combined to vastly improve night and all-weather air-to-ground attack capability. These fourth generation aircraft are now capable of sustained 24/7 all-weather operations. There is no doubt that these aircraft could sustain a daily sortie rate of about 7 to 8 over shorter-ranges, or up to 3.5 long-range sorties per day. But this would be feasible only if an air crew to aircraft ratio of about 2.5 : 1.0 were available, and that ground support personnel could provide continuous 24/7 services.

There is only one international air force that has reorganized itself to reflect the current technological capability of its aircraft. As a result of this reorganization, Israeli military planning has long been based on wartime sortie rates of 7 per F-16 and 5 per F-15 per day. Both types of aircraft could achieve over 3 sorties per day over long-range. They achieve this by generating a wartime air crew to aircraft ratio of about 2.5 to 1. This is done very cost effectively by employing emergency posting (staff/training) and reserve air crew within active Squadrons irrespective of rank. Israeli Squadrons have an active duty Lieutenant Colonel as commanding officer, but usually have numerous officers of equal or high rank as assigned air crew. Moreover, in the Israeli Air Force, skill leads, i.e., senior high-ranking air crew may not even be functioning as flight or section leaders. The Israelis maintain war readiness by having these emergency posting and reserve air crew flying with their combat Squadron one day a week. Israeli Squadrons are very large, with at least 24 aircraft and about 60 air crew. Unlike other international Squadrons, these Israeli Squadrons are multi-role because individual air crew are able to specialize on specific weapons, sensors and missions. Each Squadron will have all the specialized pylons, systems and weapons necessary to conduct all assigned multi-role missions.

It would be virtually impossible for the USAF to fully follow the cost-effective Israeli model. First, our military tradition precludes ignoring rank. Second, the USAF, as the air arm of a global power, cannot design its force structure only for relatively short wars during which normal peacetime operations and basic training ceases. But the USAF, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserves could be reorganized to benefit from lessons learned from the cost-effective Israeli Air Force. The USAF could deploy blue-gold crewing of CONUS Squadrons. National Guard/Reserve and active Squadrons could share airframes. This would vastly increase the multi-role functionality of these Squadrons as well as doubling their wartime sortie rate.

Employing this concept would enable the USAF/National Guard/Air Force Reserve combat force to be down-sized from 18 to 13 wings without reducing theater of operations war fighting capability, while simultaneously increasing force flexibility.

1 comment:

  1. You repeatedly wrote "one-two-one", is this a typo and you meant 1:1 (one-to-one)?