Well today was somewhat of a grim day over at the Pentagon. The heydays of printing dollars in exchange for niche capabilities are over ladies and gentleman. So far we have been briefed on the overall concept, yet many exact details have yet to be released. What amounts to a budget steering report is linked at the bottom of this piece for you to take a closer look at if you are interested.

Secretary of Defense Panetta has one tough job. Its like he just moved into a house that is flooded with standing water, and sadly the tide will most likely only rise over the coming months, and even years. The strategy detailed by the Secretary today addresses half a trillion in cuts over the coming decade, things could get much-much worse especially if the failed “super committee’s” mess if left unchecked. We can only hope that the draw-down as outlined today will be painful enough to Capital Hill, as every state is going to lose something in the process. If Congress follows through with the requested cuts hopefully they will then realize just how much capability they are throwing overboard in an attempt to right the ship that they will look elsewhere for further budget butchering.

Here are the aviation related highlights, if I don’t mention it then it means it probably has not changed:

  • The USAF will cut six tactical fighter squadrons and one training squadron, with an aim at retaining multi-role platforms over ones with niche capabilities. What exactly does this mean? Well at first glance it would seem the A-10 community, after proving itself in the GWOT above all others, is going to be running for its life. At first that number was frightening as it is almost the exact figure of the USAF’s “Golden Eagle” F-15C/D program, although cutting the F-15 across the board would be suicide for America’s counter-air capabilities, and does not fit the “Pacific-centric” focus of America’s future fighting force. In reality I would venture to say that it will mean a couple more Viper squadrons, flying the oldest units, will disappear, as well as a handful of A-10 units. Finally, that training squadron that will be axed is almost definitely the 65th AGRS who fly F-15’s in the aggressor role out of Nellis. This unit has been rumored to be closing it’s doors for some time now.
  • The C-27J Spartan is axed, and it looks like the USAF is going to fire-sale the airframes.
  • The Navy will keep 11 Carriers and 10 Air Wings. Go NAVY!
  • C-5A’s are heading to the boneyard, B models will turn into M models, and a bunch of the oldest C-130’s will follow the C-5A’s to AMARG.
  • Increased focus on Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance platforms. Mainly these are unmanned and include everything from the MQ-8 Firescout to the Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance version of the Global Hawk.
  • All three models of the F-35 move forward under the reduced “concurrency” plan, thus lowering risk by lowering production numbers before the design is mature. The only thing that can kill this program now is a new President.
  • Funding for a new bomber will be a priority.
  • New air to air missiles, upgraded radars for existing aircraft, as well as electronic attack and data-link capability enhancements will be a priority. I read this as increased beyond visual range (BVR) reach via the AIM-120D and eventually a dual-mode anti-radiation and BVR missile which would really open up the Raptor’s SEAD capabilities. Block 50/52 and possibly block 40 F-16’s will most likely get a modular AESA radar like the SABR, while the F-15E and C fleet will continue getting their radar upgrades. Next Generation Jammer as well as new ALQ-99 replacement pods and the Multi-Role Advanced Data Link (MADL) designed for stealth assets, along with further evolution of Link 16 will get budgetary priority.
  • A “prompt strike” option for submarines will sought. This will probably be in the form of a conventionally armed submarine launched ballistic missile. The ultimate in time-sensitive-targeting only to be outdone by Rummy’s “Rods From God” scheme, but I will save that for another post.
  • The rate at which the USAF will buy MQ-9 Reaper and possibly Predator Cs in the future will slow, older version will be retained longer. The Army will still get its Gray Eagle UAV
  • As reported days ago, the Global Hawk Block 30 is gone and the U-2 is here to stay. Good riddance.
  • Special Operations support will continue to be elevated in its budgetary importance

These are just some of the primary items listed in the report below. Lots of older Navy ships will be retired early without direct replacements and America’s standing ground armies will lose about 100k troops. New focuses will be placed on cyber-warfare and doing battle in denied areas of the sea. In reality, aside from the F-35 decision, I really think this was well executed by Panetta and his team. There is no way to win, only to lose the least and nobody likes cutting military capabilities, especially those who will be commanding America’s sons and daughters in times of war, but there has to be some rationalization under the current economic conditions. My closing impressions of the changes are these:

1.) Shrinking capacity. Literally, there will less of everything needed to accomplish key missions. I dread to think what another $500 million would look like. As we cut the budget we assume more risk, and even from this roughly 10% cut over 10 years you can feel the margin shrinking of excess capabilities that we have become so accustomed to.

2.) China is officially on notice. Every ounce of this reformation of priorities is aimed at confronting China in the Pacific. There is no getting around it, weapons speak louder than words, we are arming for a possible conflict with the great red dragon.

3.) If you cannot wear multiple hats, than its time to go! Multi-role is no longer an option, its an absolute necessity.

What would I have done differently? I would have pulled all our garrisoned troops out of Europe and I would cancelled the F-35 and implemented my alternative plan its place posted here:

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