I originally posted this as a reply to one of my other threads, but I feel that it deserves its own thread.
The Air Force is positioning itself to become more irrelevant. Three decisions, all made this year, have begun the process of gutting the UAS fleet
that the Air Force built up under Gates.
Decision one, was the cut to the Global Hawk fleet. The Air Force announced that they would be putting the Global Hawk Block 30 into the boneyard,
including several that would fly there straight from the factory. When the program was declared "essential to National Security" under
Nunn-McCurdy, the Air Force changed the requirements of the program. The Global Hawk would have saved $220 million over the U-2 program, and the
requirements were for a surveillance orbit of 1200 nautical miles. To protect the U-2, and to show that they were right to cut it, they changed the
requirements to a surveillance orbit of 400 nautical miles. The original requirements favored the Global Hawk, while the revised requirements favored
the U-2. Global Hawk was also supposed to be the lead in for three more large UAVs, the MQ-La, MQ-Lb, and MQ-Lc, none of which have even begun the
process of development.
Decision two, was the cancellation of the MQ-X program. The MQ-X was supposed to be a modular design that would allow UAVs to take on a variety of
missions that to date had been performed by manned aircraft. These would include Interdiction, Electronic Attack, and SEAD. So far, development of
the MQ-X consists of one Predator. The Air Force has said that they would watch the Navy's UCLASS program for development of the MQ-X, but the flaw
with that thinking is that the Navy is the farthest behind of all the services, and UCLASS won't deliver any results for at least a decade. They
won't even release the RFP for the UCLASS until at least 2013. The official reason the Air Force gave was that they "don't see a need at this
time" for the MQ-X
Decision three is the cutting of MQ-9 Reaper production. The Air Force was to receive 48 MQ-9s a year from 2013-2017. Two days after announcing the
MQ-X decision, they announced the cut to the MQ-9 fleet.
The Air Force should be accelerating production of their UAV fleet, not cutting programs. They have also announced that they will almost certainly be
going with a manned bomber, instead of the optionally manned bomber that Gates required, claiming that "cost considerations are going to make it
difficult to afford an unmanned solution".
Under the "Strategic Plan 2012: Securing the High Ground", the Air Force has reaffirmed its commitment to buying the F-35, and says that the
development of a next generation fighter and bomber is a "must". It makes no mention of unmanned aircraft anywhere.
The Air Force has developed a mentality that is making it impossible to change, and more and more irrelevant. During the F-22 procurement, to pay for
more unmanned aircraft, and not lose any of their precious F-22s, General Moseley, the Chief of Staff at the time, cut 40,000 airmen out of the
service. After Gates made his plane clear, Moseley continued to lobby Congress for more F-22 funds. This played a role in the decision later made to
The Air Force is the worst of the services when it comes to tradition. Tradition demands that there are manned aircraft, especially fighters, and By
God they are going to stick to that come hell or high water. The problem is that every time a new generation of commanders comes up through the
ranks, this mentality gets entrenched into them by the older generation over them. Then when they take over, they have the same thinking.
This follows on the heels of General Hostage, commander of Air Combat Command, saying that the current fleet of UAVs is irrelevant in the Pacific
Theater, because they are too slow, and not stealthy enough. He said that there are countries out there that would be able to deny the current 24/7
coverage we currently have over Afghanistan, with the current fleet.
Without a major paradigm shift in thinking at high levels, the Air Force is going to manned aircraft itself to death. To date they have allowed the
current fleet to age to the point that some of them are barely flyable, to ensure that they could have their F-22, and F-35. The F-22 has yet to fly
a single mission, and has a dreadful record to date. To contrast, the MQ-1 has flown over a million combat hours since its entry into service, and
the MQ-9 has been adding hours at a frenzied pace.
This year, the Air Force has announced three major decisions that eviscerate its “Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Plan 2009-2047,” a roadmap
that provided for an increasingly unmanned force.
First, in January, the service terminated procurement of the Block 30 RQ-4 Global Hawk. It also revealed plans to ground and mothball its young Block
30 fleet, 18 aircraft with an average age of just two years. Remarkably, several birds currently in production will roll directly off the assembly
line into storage.
Yet in June 2011, a month before Gates left office, the defense undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics had certified the Global Hawk
Block 30 as “essential to national security” per the Nunn-McCurdy Act. The certification also asserted that the plan to replace the aging manned
U-2 aircraft with Global Hawks would save $220 million per year.
To justify its abrupt reversal on the respective merits of the Block 30 and the U-2, the Air Force changed the basis of comparison. The service
reduced the range of its surveillance orbit requirement from 1,200 nautical miles, which favored the Global Hawk, to 400 nautical miles, which favored
the U-2. Northrop Grumman, the Global Hawk’s manufacturer, called the Air Force’s justification and analysis “flawed.”
The Global Hawk was also supposed to pave the way for three more large unmanned aircraft: the MQ-La, MQ-Lb, and MQ-Lc. The Air Force has yet to take
any steps to develop those aircraft.
Second, in February, the Air Force ended the MQ-X program. The linchpin of medium-size UAS development under the UAS Flight Plan, its modular design
was to help unmanned aircraft take on a host of missions monopolized by manned aircraft, including air interdiction, electronic attack, suppression of
enemy air defense and mobility. That vision is now dead. Medium-size UAS development appears to consist of little more than a couple of Predator C