Thursday, July 13, 2006

Admiral Shanahan Gets it Wrong

Retired Navy Vice-Admiral Jack Shanahan is out with an op-ed (in the Austin American-Statesman) , calling for termination of the Air Force's F-22 fighter program. Shanahan, who once commanded the U.S. Second Fleet, views the F-22 as a Cold War relic, no longer relevant for a long war against terrorism.

Admiral Shanahan now chairs the military advisory committee of the Priorities! campaign, run by a group called Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities. Established in 1998, the group apparently believes that the nation's defense spending actually jeopardizes national security, by wasting money that could be spent on more productive pursuits, such as education and alternative energy sources. From the group's website:

"Top American businesspeople believe that the federal government's spending priorities are undermining our national security. Advised by retired admirals and generals, Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities' 650 members include the present or former CEOs of Bell Industries, Black Entertainment Television, Goldman Sachs, Men's Warehouse, and Phillips Van Heusen - as well as Ted Turner and Paul Newman."

In other words, the usual, liberal suspects. On the military side, (along with Admiral Shanahan), the "advisory committee" includes former CIA Director Admiral Stansfield Turner, and former Assistant Secretary of Defense Frank Korb, who served in the Reagan Administration. Next to the website description of the military advisory committee, there's a flashing bar chart that compares U.S. defense spending to that of our adversaries, and the paltry amounts spent on the group's favored programs, in contrast to the Pentagon budget.

It's ridiculously easy to pick apart the group's "arguments." Admiral Shanahan and his committee fail to mention that over half the DOD budget goes toward personnel costs, including military pay, retiree pensions and sky-rocketing health care costs for active duty personnel, retirees and their dependents. Additionally, the advisory committee fails to mention that the defense budgets for other nations are only estimates--and probably poor estimates at that. In the case of China, for example, much of the military spending and resources are hidden in the various commercial enterprises and front companies controlled by the People's Liberation Army. Factor in funding for those establishments, and the PRC's defense budget rises by another 20-40%. In that regard, the "gap" cited by the committee isn't as large as they'd have you believe and it's closing, as China increases its annual defense spending by double-digit margins.

You've also got to question the "priorities" championed by the group. $10 billion for renewable/sustainable energy programs? Never mind that most of these efforts are technical pie in the sky, and that some of these schemes--such as ethanol--will supply only a fraction of our energy needs, even if full production is realized. How about $10 billion for new schools? Sounds good, but if the schools aren't meeting their educational mission--and many aren't--it doesn't matter how new the building is. Besides, many of the policy goals cited by the group have a long history of wasting taxpayer dollars, with far less to show for the effort than military weapons programs.

But Admiral Shanahan devotes most of his op-ed to the F-22, and I'll address my comments to his critique. He says the F-22 was developed to provide a stealth capability against improving adversary air defenses, but a funny thing happened: their air defenses stopped improving.

What a crock. As with many of his claims, Shanahan carefully cherry-picks the data, ignoring relevant facts. Truth is, air defenses in Russia and China have dramatically improved over the past decade, with the introduction of modern, long-range SAM systems, such as the SA-10/20 and the SA-12. Both are at least equal (and in some ways, superior) to the U.S.-made Patriot and pose a serious threat to the current generation of "legacy" fighters (F-15/F-16). These advanced SAMs are now being marketed around the world, and will eventually wind up in countries like Iran and Syria.

In the air, those "unbeatable" F-15s and F-16s face an increasing threat from the latest generation of Russian and European fighters, equipped with advanced radars and air-to-air missiles. As we discovered during recent COPE INDIA exercises with the Indian Air Force, a late-model SU-27/30 FLANKER, in the hands of a skilled pilot, is more than a match for an F-15 or F-16. To ensure air dominance--a linchpin of our overall military strategy--we need a platform that widens the gap between our capabilities, and those of potential adversaries. Enter the F-22. As we've noted before, the Raptor's blend of stealth and supercruise will guarantee air dominance for decades to come. On the other hand, sticking with the F-15 and F-16 will make it more difficult to sustain control of the skies, and force more expenditures in other areas, notably ground-based air defenses. Afterall, if the Air Force can't dominate the skies, then the Army will need more SAMs on the ground.

It's easy to say the F-22 is irrelevant in a war against terrorists. But military planners cannot focus exclusively on that threat. Beyond the struggle against Islamofacists, the Pentagon must also field forces capable of dealing with more conventional threats, on both a regional and global level. By the end of this decade, China alone will field close to 300 FLANKERs, with dozens of SA-20s for ground-based air defense. Those systems are also expected to be deployed in the Middle East and even the western hemisphere. Against that threat array, America needs an advanced fighter, capable of "kicking down the door" against evolving air and ground-based threats.

Admiral Shanahan is entitled to his opinions, but his depiction of the threat--and the air assets needed to defeat it--is completely distorted and unrealistic. Maybe that's the result of hanging out with Ted Turner and Paul Newman. In the case of Admiral Shanahan, we should be thankful that he's on the retired list, and no longer in a position to influence defense policy. His ideas on national security are far more threatening than the "wasteful" and "irrelevant" F-22.


An Investor said...

At the recent Berlin Air Show, I saw a demonstration of the Russian MiG-29M/OVT. Oh man, that jet did things I've never seen a jet do before -- or ever thought I'd see a jet do (and a Russian one, at that). To say it has imrpoved maneuverability is an understatement. I suspect it would *literally* fly circles around an F-15 or F-16. If any of these naysayers could see a demonstration like that, no doubt they'd change their stripes in a big hurry -- and probably complain that they aren't building F-22s fast enough.

Anonymous said...

The Navy is bitching about Air Force funding? That's been going on since before the Revolt of the Admirals in 1949. They want the AF castrated so that the only long-range option is their carriers. Nothing more than the long-standing enmity between the black-shoes and the brown-shoes.

Grow up, children.

blert said...


All financial numbers for major weapons systems are fake. These big ticket items are priced to carry the burden of all of our black programs.

It is literally impossible for an outsider to render judgements such as yours since NONE of the published numbers is a straight marginal production cost figure.

The incredible technical advances within the F22 are sunk costs. This multi-decade R&D carries a daunting figure.

The true unit production cost -- stripped of the R&D and the black programs runs about 30% of the unit price bandied about.

The staggering price of the B-2 is due to the immense R&D being prorated over only 20 some aircraft. That's 10% of the original intended buy. We were foolish to purchase so few. The B-2's real role is to put a stopper to Iran and North Korea.

Strategic bombers are worth the expense because they are an American technical monopoly.

The extreme expense of the F-22 confers the same monopoly on air super superiority. The Raptor is exactly the kind of aircraft that can wipe out other air systems with impunity.

Operating as the leading edge of the spear, both machines permit the remainder of the Air Force to remain effective. They will only have to face degraded defenses. The Raptor thus gives you operational leverage on existing investments.

The idea that we can fly on and on with early 1970's airframe concepts is absurd on its face. The Germans tried that gambit and it cost them everything very quickly.

Andy said...

Despite what blert asserts, the F-22 cost is significant. However, the aircraft's capability is significant. With limited defense money and the need to recapitalize, it becomes a question of what is affordable in terms of numbers. The fact is, much is being sacrificed to recapitalize, and most of the money is going to the F-22. 40,000 officers and 15,000 enlisted cut from the force with further cuts expected next year. Hopefully personnel cuts will not come back to bite us in the rear.

We do need the F-22 for the future. We could get by with upgrades to F-15's and 16's for probably a decade, but the F-22 is available now. People forget that training, command, control, intelligence and interoperability is just as important, if not more than, specific platform capabilities. Our integrated technology is huge force multiplier and our aircrew have the best training and tactics on the planet. The videos of Russian aircraft and the amazing acrobatics they perform are impressive, but are largely useless in a sensor and communication intensive BVR fight.

If it were up to me, I'd probably slow down procurement of the F-22. This would save money each year and extend the time the production line is open. Obviously, we'd have to have a certain minimum number to ensure the production line is financially sustainable to the producer.

We will need the F-22, but we need other things too, like a new Rescue vehicle, new UAV's, and new AFSOC aircraft. I hope we don't put all our eggs in one basket and sacrifice other priorities.

billmill said...

I read your comments on the F-22 and agree with both the Admiral on some point and yourself on others.
My main problem with the F-22 is the fact that it doesn’t deliver on the promise that was made with the original concept of the F-X from the early 80’s. The design continued to gain weight and many compromises where made. One of the best articles I’ve read was written by the Don of the fighter Mafia and conceptually the father of the F-16. Col Everest Riccioni. You can check out his report at . Now I realize that the Col is a paid lobbyist now and was involved with the F-23 program that ultimately lost out to the Raptor during the fly off so some of his comments are probably slanted, but it does give a different view than all the cheerleading that the Air Staff has done over the last 10 years.
As a retired AF SNCO who spent his career working on the F-15, all models as an avionics technician. Some of the cheerleading I see is humorous. The one I love is the exchange rates against other aircraft. If you look back when the F-4 then the F-15 where being introduced you saw the same type of data. Others and I call it the silver bullet theory. It’s all based on BVR engagement, which even today is not reality because of terrible IFF performance.
Lets take a look at the Chinese and it expected 300 Flankers and how it relates to a projected manning of the F-22 in PACAF. With 180 A/C in the curent projected buy After you pull out A/C for test, training CONUS and USAFE assigned you would have a force of around 50 A/C available. Out of this you will have hanger queens, depot overhaul, maintenance training and the usual 5- 10% that are down for maintenance at any one time suddenly you have only 30 to 35 A/C to generate sorties. Reality tells you this is just not going to hack it with 300 Flankers and 1000 upgraded Chinese legacy fighters. The other item that is funny is when the Air Staff re-designated the Raptor as the F/A-22. Suddenly we where going to use a 135 million dollar A/C to due direct attacks on SAM sites as opposed to hosing them down with HARM’s from long range. Because of the cost of the 180 A/C buy we will depend on legacy systems like the Eagle for another ten to twenty years to maintain air superiority. In this the F-22 has cost us dearly in actual war fighting capability. For example it looks like AESA deployment on the remaining F-15C aircraft has been delayed or cancelled because of lack of money. You talk about upgraded SAMS, yes they are there and the F-22 cost has eliminated many programs that we had that where used to defeat this threat. The Air Force today has no dedicated jammer’s (EF-111) and our current Wild Weasel force pales in comparison to the legacy hunter killer teams of the F-4G/F-16C. Now there is no doubt that the avionics, and stealth design give the Raptor an edge over our legacy systems in BVR engagements. In addition the deployment after modification to the jet of the new small diameter bomb will give us a high-speed penetrator for some deep strike missions. But with it’s weight, physical size and wing loading it won’t be any more maneuverable except it when it can utilize thrust vectoring than an F-15 when the fight tightens up. It would be interesting to see how it fairs with everyone using high off bore sight heat seeker with helmet cued sights.

Red A said...

Any way to do a last gasp production run of f-15 or f-16s in a large quantity and with bargain basement pricing (relatively) as the costs have all been sunk?

Then keep on with the F-22.

We need to have absolute air superiority...while boots on the ground hold territory, it's not fun to do that without air superiority.

BTW, do they plan on things like China getting ahold of all of Taiwan's f-16s and Mirages once re-unification takes place?