Does the Air Force still have the combat search and rescue (CSAR) mission, and if so, what is the status of this mission area?
Personnel recovery is a very important mission area for us, as we are the only service that has established it as a core function. Additionally, DoD Directive 5100.01 identifies global personnel recovery as a specific function of the Air Force, mandating that we be able to conduct global personnel recovery operations, including theater-wide combat and civil search and rescue. We define Combat Search and Rescue as the tactics, techniques, and procedures performed by rescue forces to recover isolated personnel during combat. It is the primary mechanism by which the Air Force conducts personnel recovery in uncertain or hostile environments. So this is an Air Force core capability, and one we are very proud to provide for the joint team.
What is important to understand is that the Air Force has dedicated rescue forces. It is our belief that competent rescue forces can’t be created after emergencies occur. Additionally, designated forces may not be postured to execute more complex or high-risk recoveries, or be immediately available based on their assigned mission taskings. The Air Force’s dedicated rescue forces can provide immediate response to complex and high-risk personnel recovery events, reducing reaction time during the all-important “golden hour.”
To perform the CSAR mission today, we have a responsive, long-range, armed recovery force capable of operating under the most difficult environmental and combat conditions. The combined force includes a wide variety of rotary- and fixed-wing aircraft, robust command and control, and specially trained technical and medical rescue teams. The efficacy of this force could be seen in our recent Libya operations, where the political and military risk associated with losing aircrew members over that country was deemed untenable. So we adopted an enduring alert posture to ensure seamless CSAR coverage, thereby reinforcing the confidence of U.S., allied, and partner aircrews. Preserving this important Air Force capability continues to be central to meeting combatant command requirements and remains essential to upholding our commitment to bring Americans home, including those wounded on Afghanistan battlefields.
What is the status of the Air Force’s helicopter upgrade programs, to include the HH-60G Pave Hawk partial fill-in program and the Common Vertical Lift Support Program?
The HH-60G Pave Hawk, which we use for CSAR, is what we call a “high-demand/low supply” asset. It also has documented performance shortfalls in altitude, range, payload, airspeed, hover, defensive systems, and armament. The average Air Force Pave Hawk is also 20.5 years old with 5,300 flight hours. Over 50 percent of the fleet has had major structural issues, and 30 aircraft sustained battle damage in fiscal year 2010.
To address these concerns, there are three different efforts related to the HH-60G and CSAR. The first is replacing the aging HH-60G fleet with a non-developmental helicopter configured to meet our requirements. This will be a full and open competition, with draft request for proposal expected in early 2012. To ensure the current HH-60Gs remain viable until we can replace them with the new helicopter, we’re also pursuing a modification program to address engine commonality, avionics upgrades, safety features, and defensive systems. Finally, we are working to replace HH-60G operational losses, until the full recapitalization gets under way, by procuring UH-60M aircraft using an Army contract and configuring those helicopters with CSAR equipment. We received two unmodified helicopters from the initial increment in September 2011.
The other major helicopter program we’re looking at is replacing the Air Force’s existing fleet of UH-1N Iroquois helicopters with 93 in-production, non-developmental, off-the-shelf helicopters. These new helicopters would be used in Air Force Global Strike Command nuclear security support and Air Force District of Washington continuity of government operations. We’ll also use them for other missions, to include aircrew system and tactics training, Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape training, and range support. Like the HH-60G program, we envision a full and open competition. However, the draft request for proposal release is currently on hold as the Defense Department continues its current strategy and budget deliberations.
What do you see as the right mix of C-17A Globemaster IIIs and C-5 Galaxies? And how many C-5s, and which models, would you like to see upgraded to C-5M status?
Our intertheater airlift requirements in the fiscal year 2012 budget request are based on the “Mobility Capabilities and Requirements Study 2016.” This study indicated that the maximum strategic airlift requirement would be 32.7 million ton miles per day, resulting in a proposed force of 222 C-17 Globemaster IIIs, 52 C-5M Galaxies, and 27 C-5As. So that is where we are at today.
That being said, our subsequent analysis, based on the current security environment, suggests a further reduction may be possible. Clearly, any reduction would, of course, increase risk, but just like all capabilities across the Air Force, we’re re-examining those requirements to determine the right force mix given our most current strategy, requirements of the combatant commanders, and fiscal guidance.
Finally, our current plans call for all C-5Bs and C-5Cs to be upgraded to C-5Ms, and 52 of these models are reflected in the current program of record.
What is the future of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), to include the E-3, E-8, RC-135, and even F-35A, and have we gone overboard with remotely piloted aircraft, to include replacing U-2s with RQ-4 Global Hawks?
Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance is one of 12 Air Force Service Core Functions, and one of the Air Force’s four fundamental and enduring contributions to the joint fight. Secretary [of the Air Force Michael B.] Donley directed that we conduct a comprehensive review of our ISR enterprise so that we could have an in-depth, holistic view of our ISR capabilities. We recently completed this review, and it has been instrumental in informing our planning and programming to ensure we optimize the ISR portfolio across the air, space, and cyberspace domains.
We’ve invested heavily to grow our ISR capabilities at an unprecedented rate over the previous decade, all to provide unparalleled capability to the joint fight. While much of the public focus has been on remotely piloted aircraft, as you suggest, it is in fact the entire enterprise working together that makes our ISR capability so powerful.
Looking to the future, we will continue to increase the number of MQ-1 and MQ-9 combat air patrols to 65. We are scheduled to keep the U-2 operational to 2015. This will give us time to evaluate the Global Hawk with respect to capacity, sensor availability, and other factors. So while we continue to execute our High Altitude Transition Plan for the U-2 and Global Hawk, we’ll make final force mix decisions as we proceed. The Rivet Joint is an important ISR capability, and we will seek ways to make this platform more efficient with data off-boarding capability. The future JSTARS [E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System] platform will be defined by the analysis of alternatives that is currently in review.
Finally, we will also look at improving our ability to use non-traditional ISR platforms like the F-35A and our legacy fighters. The future of ISR demands integration of capabilities in air, space, and cyberspace. To that end, we need to invest in reliable information architectures; improved sensors, platforms, and analyst tools; and train analysts to transform multi-source information into actionable intelligence.
I’m optimistic about the future of ISR, as we develop the capability to meet the challenges of current and future threat environments within the significant fiscal constraints we face. In the end, the Air Force’s goal is a seamless, open-architecture, cross-domain, sensor-agnostic “go-to” information source, fully integrated with our command and control architectures.
This interview first appeared in Defense: Review Edition 2011/2012.