Symposia


Los Angeles - October 27, 1995


General Joseph W. Ralson
Commander, Air Combat Command
Los Angeles AFA Symposium
October 27, 1995

Air Combat -- Turning a Century

I want to tell you about your United States Air Force and Air Combat Command and where we are today.

It was about 50 years ago that the man who most affected the development of the Air Force wrote in his memoirs that you can t build an Air Force overnight. You ve got to look 20, 30, 50 years into the future to prepare for the Air Force s global mission. And you heard quite a bit about that today from the Chief and from the Secretary. But we also, like Hap Arnold, know that you can t build an Air Force overnight, and we know that the choices we make today will affect our Air Force for 20, 30, and 50 years ahead.

Let's talk about some of those choices for a moment. The last time the Air Force faced a set of choices like we have now was back in the 1970s when budgets were cut dramatically. We chose a much different route in the 1970s than we have chosen today. The route that we chose in the 70s was to keep every base that we had open. We would hang onto every airplane and every squadron that we could. And the budgets just flat would not support that. So how did we get through it? We cut flying hours, and we cut spare parts. It was a disastrous set of choices.

Those of us who were squadron commanders during the late 70s saw that our pilots were getting 7 to 8 sorties a month, which was not enough for them to be combat ready. They knew they were not combat ready. They got out in great numbers. That forced a system of training to replace pilots whom we had spent $6 million getting up to speed in the F-15, and then they got out and we had to start over again.

Our maintenance people, who want nothing more than to fix a broken airplane, would go to the spare parts bin, and there were no spare parts. They became demoralized. Retention was bad. We had problems all over. Those of us who were squadron commanders in the 70s and saw that said, "If we are ever in a position of senior leadership, we will make a different set of choices. We will close bases, and we will cut force structure. But whatever force structure we ve got, let s provide it with the flying hours and with the spare parts it takes to be truly combat ready. We would rather have one squadron where we are truly combat ready, than to have 10 sick ones on the books."

As painful as that has been, we have in fact closed over a third of our bases. We have cut our fighter force structure from 40 wings to 20 wings. We ve reduced our bomber force by two-thirds. Those are significant numbers and not without pain. For example, in our force structure arena, it has an impact on our people.

I just visited our F-15Es at Seymour Johnson [Air Force Base, N.C.] this past week. Most people think we brought our troops home after Desert Storm. Seymour Johnson and the F-15E is getting ready for their 14th deployment to Southwest Asia since Desert Storm. Think about that for a moment. You have two operational squadrons with 14 deployments in four years. It is not unreasonable that in 1991 a young crew chief showed up on the line at Seymour Johnson in the F-15E. Four years later, he is still there, but on his 14th deployment. If he is in one of two squadrons, he may have only deployed 7 times, but that is a tremendous impact on our people. That story is repeated time and time again especially in our systems which are small in number and high in demand.

We are supporting our training very strongly and that is the correct approach to take. Training is not without problems in today s Air Force, though. When you deploy for four months at a time to Incirlik, Turkey, for Operation Provide Comfort in your F-16, you will go for four months and you will never drop a bomb. You will never engage in a simulated air combat engagement because that is not why we are there. There are all kinds of problems when you are ready to go to war, when you ve got live missiles on board, and you are not going to train air-to-air in that configuration, and you are not going to drop bombs.

The problem is when we bring those F-16s home, three days later they may be called on to support OPLAN 5027 and they may be off to Korea. We tried to get around some of that by shortening the length of deployments. You can go for 60 days and never drop a bomb, come back and in just a couple of sorties get back up to speed. You do that for three, four, five six months at a time, it is much more difficult. But we are working that problem and trying to strike the balance.

I'd like to spend most of the time talking about modernization because I know it is very important to all of you in this room. Again, we are forced with choices within that modernization account. We have done our modernization in the Air Force in a cyclical manner for many years because that is the only way we can afford it. The decade of the 70s was the decade of fighter modernization. That is when we brought on board the F-15, the F-16, and the A-10. The decade of the 80's was strategic modernization MX missile, small ICBM, rail garrison, B-1, B-2, and B-52 upgrades. The decade of the 90's is our mobility modernization C-17s and C-130Js.

By the time we turn the century, we will be back in the fighter modernization cycle again. It will be time to replace the F-15s and the F-16s that are serving us extremely well and have served us extremely well. We think of the F-15 as our most modern fighter, but I went to the first flight of the fist F-15 as a captain at Langley Air Force Base [Va.] in 1972. That was 23 years ago.

Today we are still 10 years away from the first combat F-22 replacement. That is 33 years that we have been flying that airplane. That is not 33 years since the technology was frozen or since the design was frozen, it is 33 that it has been airborne. You have to go back years beyond that from when we froze the technology for the F-15.

Our F-16 is almost the same story. We first flew the F-16 in 1974. That was 21 years ago. Today, we are at least 15 years away from the first combat replacement for the F-16 in the year 2010, the JAST [Joint Advanced Strike Technology] program. JAST is terribly important to us because the bulk of our force is with F-16 aircraft, and we are working that hard from a requirements point of view. I would like to report to you that we are making progress in that regard.

We are working with the Marines and with the Navy. I can tell you that we are in very good shape with regard to the Marines in terms of harmonizing our requirements. What the Marines need in terms of range, payload, maneuverability, signature, and cost is identical to what the Air Force needs. We still have work to do with the Navy, because the Navy has a different set of requirements they are looking at. We have to continue to work that hard.

Let s talk about our bombers for a moment. The B-52 is certainly our workhorse today. As we turn the century, we will continue to use the B-52 in both a nuclear and conventional role. What we really need most of all on the B-52 is precision guided ordnance. That is true across our bomber force. But we really need that, and we are working on it.

The B-1 should be the backbone of our bomber fleet. With 95 airplanes today, after the turn of the century we will have about 62 of those in the force structure. We will be shifting from a low altitude nuclear penetrator to a medium and high altitude conventional bomber. But again, the most burning need we have is for precision attack capability on the B-1. We also need to do some work on the B-1s electronic counter measure system. There is a plan to do that, and we've got dollars in the budget to do that.

For the precision attack that I mentioned for the B-52 and the B-1 and also for the B-2, we need JDAM [Joint Direct Attack Munition]. We also need the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff missile, JSOW, and we need the wind corrected munitions dispenser and have them qualified for the fleet. The JDAM story that you ve heard about today is a very good news story for our Air Force. This is one of the few times when we are getting a weapons system that is being accelerated into the inventory, as opposed to slipped. The cost has come in cheaper instead of more expensive.

We have shifted our first JDAM platform to the B-52, and we should have a capability on the B-52 in the 1997 time period, which is a good acceleration of the program.

With regard to the B-2, we still have an awful lot of work. We have over $1.5 billion in development yet to go on the B-2. We currently have the Block 10 aircraft, which are serving us well in terms of training pilots and training maintenance crews. It will be next summer before we get the first Block 20. It will be near the end of the century before we get the Block 30 that should approach what we need in terms of radar signature. We haven t built one yet, so we have to do that and test it. So there is still a lot of work yet to go, but in any case, precision attack capability on our B-2 will be as critically important as it is on the B-52 and the B-1.

There has been a lot of turmoil in the electronic warfare community. We are retiring the F-4G this year. It is a system that has served us well, but we have to divest ourselves of those older systems that are expensive to maintain, operate and are less capable than what they should be. In the case of the F-4G, it has been replaced with the Block 50 F-16 HARM [High-speed Anti-radiation Missile] targeting aircraft, that has tremendous capabilities over the F-4. It has longer range, more loiter, greater maneuverability, greater self protection capability with the AMRAAM [Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile] missile, and greater sensitivity with the HARM targeting system. The field of view is not a full 360 degrees as in the F-4G Wild Weasel, but we can work around that with tactics. With regard to numbers, we have 72 HARM targeting systems in the inventory versus only 36 Wild Weasels, so we have a tremendous increase in capability.

The EF-111/EA-6B debate is worthwhile to talk about for a couple of minutes because I have been a supporter of retiring the EF-111. Let me tell you what led me to that conclusion. We have 24 EF-111s in our inventory. In order to get these to the turn of the century, it was going to cost us $1.5 billion because we have to maintain the depot system and all the things that go with a unique set of 24 airplanes. The jamming system is an old 1974 system. We haven t upgraded it. We have tried and failed. The Navy has 127 of the EA-6B versus 24 EF-111s. If you are going to try to maintain a jamming capability, why not do it on a viable fleet size aircraft?

Next, most people think the EA-6B is an old airplane. With regard to age, the EF-111 is 30 years old. The average age of the EA-6B is less than 12 years. It is a much newer airframe. How about its effectiveness? This is an argument that has gone on for at least the 20 years that I ve been around this business. If you happen to be an EF-111 guy, you will march in with a stack of studies that prove conclusively the EF-111 is the best jammer in the world. If you happen to be an EA-6B guy, you will walk in with a stack of studies that prove conclusively the EA-6B is best. The analysts failed time and time again to ever sort that out.

I took a farmer approach. I went out to the desert where we ve got people who operate simulated threat systems that have to work against the EF-111 and the EA-6B every day. I asked the radar operators, "Which of these airplanes gives you the hardest time when you are trying to do your job?" They said, "General, you are not going to like the answer to this, but the EA-6B gives us a harder time than the EF-111." I said, "That is okay with me, I m just trying to find ground truth here." If you put all those things together, my belief is the EA-6B is the right way to go. That is the approach we have taken. Last month, I went to Whidbey Island [NAS, Wash.] along with the Vice CNO, and we stood up the first squadron that will be a joint squadron. We have assigned Air Force EWOs [Electronic Warfare Officer] and pilots to that squadron. They are onboard and in training. I believe with a lot of work that we will be in good shape in that mission area.

Let's talk about combat support for a moment. Joint STARS is a treendous system with tremendous capability and one that we really need to get on with. The only downside of Joint STARS is we signed the contract in 1985. It even served an extremely successful deployment in Desert Storm five years ago. But ten years after signing a contract, we are still screwing around testing it to satisfy all the testers in the Pentagon, and we are still two years away from getting IOC [Initial Operational Capability]. Nevertheless, we stood up the Joint STARS squadron this month. We will have the wing up and operating in January. We ve picked the senior leadership for those positions, and we are anxiously awaiting getting on with the Joint STARS aircraft.

AWACS is absolutely indispensable to our operations and to the CINCs around the world. We have a small number of airplanes, but they are in great demand. All the CINCs want them all the time. To give you an idea of how much AWACS is in demand, we started flying AWACS 24 hours a day, 7 days a week over Saudi Arabia in 1979. We did that for 10 straight years. In 1989, we brought them home. What happened in August of 1990? They went back and they ve been there ever since. If you have been in the AWACS community for the last 16 years, except for about a six month period in late 89 and early 90, all you have known is 200 days a year away from your family.

We have all gone on remote tours. We have all gone on long TDYs, but how many of you have been asked to do it 16 years in a row? We have to get the system under control and we are doing that. We have gone to the Joint Staff and to the CINCs and said, "Enough, we can t do that." We ve brought AWACS home. We are training new crews and trying to get the program stabilized. By December, we will have enough crews trained and on board to get our perstempo down to less than 120 days a year. There is good progress in that regard.

We must do some more modernization on AWACS. The RSIP, the Radar System Improvement Program, is coming along well, and we are anxiously waiting for it. We are getting our Block 30/35 upgrades, which will be terribly important for us. That will give us GPS, JTIDS [Joint Tactical Information Distribution System] class 2, ESM on board, and new computers. One of the things that is terribly deficient in the AWACS is that we are still using "steam-driven" computer from the 1960s. It is absolutely criminal when we take our young men and young women who go to their desk tops using Windows 95, and then we put them on board AWACS and they use a system that is older than many people in this room. We ve got to do better than that, we really do. There is no reason for it.

People have talked about UAVs [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles]. We stood up the 11th Reconnaissance Squadron in July at Nellis [AFB, Nev.]. They have been sending their people to the Bosnia theater and watching what is going on there. We are anxiously awaiting our first Predators as we learn how to use UAVs. I am convinced that we have enormous potential in UAVs. I am also convinced that we have significant challenges in integrating UAVs into our force structure. The only way to find out how to do that is to stand up a squadron and go try it. That s what we are doing.

The Secretary has talked to you about information warfare. The squadron stood up on the first of Octoer. We have a commander, people assigned, and they will continue to build throughout the rest of this year. They will do much the same thing in information warfare as we talked about in UAVs.

We just accepted the first C-130J for the U.S. Air Force. For those of you not familiar with the C-130J, it is a tremendous improvement in the aircraft. If you go into the cockpit of a C-130H model, it looks just like the C-130A did. There hadn t been improvement in 40 years. The C-130J has a fully "glass" cockpit, fly by wire throttles, and a very modernized system. You would be very proud of it. It is much more efficient, has much higher altitude, much better fuel economy, and much better speed. We will be buying the C-130J in relatively small numbers for awhile, and so one of the things we will probably do is take the first ones and upgrade that portion of our fleet that is small in number but in high demand ABCCC, Coronet Solo, and Compass Call. We are looking to see if it makes sense to take the J model and use it for these missions. For example with ABCCC, it will give much more loiter, higher altitude and a more modern system for flying that very critical mission.

As we mentioned, we don t build an Air Force overnight. These are some of the choices, though, that we have made in striking a balance between force structure, training and modernization. As the Chief talked about today, I believe we have a program, and we have worked out our modernization plans for the next 25 years. If you tell me what the budget is going to be, then we can tell you what we are going to do. If you cut it 20 percent, then let me tell you what that means and what we will have to defer. If you stay on projection, this is what we would do. If there is a slight increase, this is where we would put the additional dollar. Those plans have been laid in. We look forward to working with John Gordon as he does the long range planning for the Air Force.

That is all I have for you right now. I d like to entertain any questions you may have.

GENERAL SHAUD: Joe, we do have a couple of questions. On the subject of JAST, what are the major differences between Navy and Air Force requirements?

GENERAL RALSTON: Range is the major difference. The Navy wants greater range and greater pay load. Unfortunately, when you want greater range and greater payload, it normally means a bigger airplane. A bigger airplane means a more expensive airplane. We can t afford to buy it in the numbers that we need thousands to replace our F-16s.

GENERAL SHAUD: The Air Force is looking at another generation of manned tactical reconnaissance aircraft. Per your remarks, the Air Force appears to be solidly behind UAVs. How does the timing of the deployment of these systems relate to one another and are manned and unmanned RECCE systems complimentary or duplicative?

GENERAL RALSTON: Let me take the timing question first. We have retired our RF-4Cs. As we retired the RF-4Cs, we brought on board the first of a series of podded systems for our F-16s. For example, the Richmond Guard today has four podded systems, EO [electro-optical] systems with a digital backplate on the camera so they can data link the pictures to a ground station. That is a capability today. If we need to deploy it, we have it.

Now we must look at what we do in addition to that. How much is enough? How much do you need for an MRC [Major Regional Contingency] and how much can you swing? Or do you need more for two MRCs? The studies have been done, and we are working on that now. We will go to the Chief with that issue over the next week or so. With regard to UAVs, we stood up the squadron. I think the technology is there for UAVs. It certainly makes sense to do that where we can. We must get smart on it and learn how to do it. I don t believe that there is anyone today prepared to do away with manned RECCE based on the promise of UAVs. We ve got to wait and see how it develops. So it will be a complimentary arrangement for the foreseeable future. Once you go beyond that, I don t know. Other people will be around to make that decision.

GENERAL SHAUD: Joe, here is a question on air-to-air missiles. Would you discuss the progress in the AIM-9X program, the timeline and will it finally give us parity with the Russian AA-11?

GENERAL RALSTON: One of our really burning needs in the air-to-air and air superiority arena is for a better short-range missile. We are currently third or fourth in the world in short-range, air-to-air missile capability. That doesn t make me feel very good for the United States of America and for our men and women who are flying in combat. It has been a very difficult program. We started in 1980 to upgrade the AIM-9 with ASRAAM. It finally failed about 1990. Here we are starting over again. On the requirements side, I feel very good. Because we have worked very well with the Navy on the requirements for a very good short-range air-to-air missile, the AIM-9X program. How it gets implemented in execution and all of the things that go with that, I don t know. It is too early to tell. I certainly know that we have the technical capability to do it. It is not a money problem. There are other legitimate issues, but nevertheless issues, that will work to slow the program down. I am concerned about that aspect of it.

GENERAL SHAUD: The next question is on sustaining the F-15/F-16 force. We have sustainment buys for these aircraft and are these going to depend on JAST timing?

GENERAL RALSTON: Yes, and let me talk about that for a moment. We can take our current force structure that we ve got, 20 fighter wing equivalents, and we can apply our expected attrition numbers to that. If you tell me how many years I need to fly the F-16 fleet until JAST comes on board, I can tell you how many airplanes we ar going to crash. I can tell you how many are in attrition reserve today. When you compare the two and if you talk of 2010 for the first combat JAST coming on board, we are 120 airplanes short of maintaining our force structure.

There are some options. You can buy 120 more F-16s. You can reduce the force structure. You can convert some F-15Cs to multi-role as the F-22 comes on board. Or you can go back and SLEP [Service Life Enhancement Program] some F-16s out of the bone yard. I don t know exactly what the right solution to that is. Those are things that we will go through. We have a CAF commanders conference coming up Monday and Tuesday where General Lorber [Gen. John G. Lorber, PACAF], General Hawley [Gen. Richard E.Hawley, USAFE], General Boles [Gen. Billy J. Boles, AETC], General Ashy [Gen. Joseph W. Ashy, AFSPC] and I will walk through that particular problem. We ll try to come up with some recommendations.

GENERAL SHAUD: This is a forecast question. How do you see the F-22 faring in Congress next year when it moves from R&D to production?

GENERAL RALSTON: I would certainly be optimistic and hope that we will do well. Let me talk to you for a moment about something that I didn't put in my speech. I want to use it as an illustration of the absolute need for acquisition reform. In 1977, I was called one day and told that I had just disappeared off the manning document. I didn't exist and was to report down the hall. I got down the hall and there were five people. We were given the job by then Under Secretary of Defense Bill Perry to field the F-117. It was a very small program office of five people. We signed the contract for the airplane in October 1978. Just a little over four years later, we had combat capable F-117s in the Tactical Air Command s inventory.

I contrast that with the F-22, where we signed the contract for the F-22 in 1986. Here we are nine years later. We are almost two years away from the first flight on the first test airplane, and we are 10 years away from the first combat airplane being added to the force. Something is wrong with that picture. Four years versus 19 years. The only difference was not in technology, for the F-117 was a greater leap in technology from what existed in the 70s than what the F-22 is today in the 90s. It was not a matter of dollars. It was a matter of the acquisition rules upon which the program was run.

That is the most compelling argument I can give you for acquisition reform and why we need it. I believe we are in the best position we have ever been with Secretary Perry [William J. Perry, Secretary of Defense], with Dr. Kaminski [Paul G. Kaminski, USD for Acquisition & Technology] and Ms. Druyun [Darleen Druyun, SAF/AQ (Acting)]. They understand the problem very well, and they are working it well. We need to get behind them and support their efforts for meaningful acquisition reform.

GENERAL SHAUD: Joe, here is a last question. Earlier estimates of the requirements for force structure are for 180 operational bombers and it seems we are short of that now. Are you satisfied with the size of the bomber fleet?

GENERAL RALSTON: We said about 180 bombers were needed. Under our current plan, we will have 181 bombers 66 B-52s, 95 B-1s and 20 B-2s. What is needed is about 100 deployable bombers. When we field the force I just talked about of 44 deployable B-52s, 70 combat-coded, deployable B-1s and 16 deployable B-2s, we will have about 130 airplanes deployable. We have used that force structure in our simulations, our modeling, our analysis and the NIMBLE DANCER joint exercises and in the DoD heavy bomber study. They all conclude you can do the job given that force structure.

The real issue is the question, "Would we like to have more bombers." Sure, we d like to have more bombers, more fighters, more AWACS, more Joint STARS, and more everything. But given the priorities that we have and where we see the budget going, can we afford out of Air Combat Command to trade off force structure, flying hours, and modernization to the tune of $30 billion for additional B-2s? The answer is no.

GENERAL SHAUD: Joe, thanks for being with us.

As a reminder to you, the next AFA event will be the Air Warfare Symposium at Orlando on the 15th and 16th of February 1996. Let me just thank all the participants and our entire audience for being with us all day. It has been certainly a valuable day. On behalf of Walt Scott, Tom McKee, Jim McCoy and Gene Smith, thanks for being here.


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