Aeronautical Systems Center chief says budget-planning process
must change. The realization that today's U.S. Air Force fleet will
be around three to four decades from now has prompted top service
officials to rethink how programs and budgets should be planned.
Today's leaders, in other words, must prepare to keep the Air Force
ready to fight, even if many of the aircraft happen to be 30 to
40 years old, officials explained.
To many officers in senior leadership positions, the realities of
"aging aircraft" mean that the traditional ways of doing
business no longer are applicable, said Lt. Gen. Robert F. Raggio,
commander of the Air Force Aeronautical Systems Center, at Wright
Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
Raggio's agency manages $10 billion a year worth of aircraft modernization
programs for the U.S. Air Force.
The service's budget makeup is changing from being predominantly
focused on research, development and production, to one that emphasizes
"modifications and sustainment," Raggio told National
Defense during a recent interview in Dayton, Ohio.
"The biggest change occurring to us in the Air Force,"
he said, is "the concept of keeping our weapon systems for
a much longer period of time, maybe 40 to 50 years."
When he was flying F-4 fighters in Vietnam 30 years ago, said Raggio,
"we did not anticipate keeping the F-4 for 40 years. We had
the next aircraft on the books and the next one in concept development."
That was how things were.
The need to keep the current fleet in war-fighting condition for
many more years, he explained, demands that "we commit to a
continuous modernization of those weapon systems ... We want to
infuse new technology and to improve capability."
Long-term modernization is particularly challenging today, Raggio
added, because there are fewer suppliers in the defense industry
and many parts manufacturers exited the market during the past decade,
as profits in the defense sector declined.
The shortage of vendors is known in Pentagonese as "DMS,"
or diminishing manufacturing sources.
The Air Force's most influential policy maker in the acquisition
arena, Darleen A. Druyun, agreed that Raggio has good reason to
be concerned. Druyun is the Air Force principal deputy assistant
secretary for acquisition and management.
"This is an issue that we are facing on virtually every weapon
system," Druyun told National Defense through a spokes-man.
"We are employing a variety of strategies ranging from 'lifetime'
buy of parts and components classified as DMS.
"We are also using commercial off-the-shelf items and components
... to facilitate upgrades as components become obsolete,"
she said. "Another strategy is the use of open-system architectures
to facilitate future upgrades."
The bottom line, said Druyun, is that "there is no single
solution to the issue, and we have a menu of techniques to pick
from, based on the facts in each situation."
Raggio is an advocate of open systems, which refers to the use of
standard commercial software and hardware that can easily be upgraded,
unlike the traditional customized systems used in military programs.
"The only way to be able to accomplish [continuous modernization]
is to have the system open and friendly to change," said Raggio.
The Pentagon's DMS problem is bad news for industry as well, he
said. Defense industry firms only have one customer, "so they
have to ensure that their only buyer is an able, healthy buyer,
or they will go out of business. It benefits industry to have open-systems
architectures that can be upgraded more easily."
U.S. government solicitations, said Raggio, should ask potential
vendors "for proof that [they are] providing an open system."
Another significant obstacle to long-term aircraft maintenance
and refurbishing efforts, he said, is the U.S. budget process. "We
need funding streams for modernization [and] we have to be able
to articulate the consequences of not having that funding."
According to the traditional way of thinking, defense acquisitions
are a series of milestones or phases. Now, because aircraft must
be made to last for decades, various upgrades are made over time,
Raggio explained. That means that every weapon system will be, at
specific intervals, part of one form of acquisition program or another.
He cited the C-5 heavy-lift cargo plane as an example. For the C-5,
the avionics modernization is in the engineering and development
phase, the engine improvement is in the so-called risk reduction
stage, and a self-defense infrared countermeasures effort is in
the concept exploration phase.
"We have to think of each weapon system as an investment stream,"
he asserted, "if we are going to keep it for 40 to 50 years."
If more money had been invested to keep the C-5 up to date, he
added, "we wouldn't have to spend such a big chunk of our budget"
on upgrades today.
The average age of the current fleet is 20 years, said Lt. Gen.
Roger G. DeKok, Air Force deputy chief of staff for plans and programs.
And it will climb to 30 years by 2015. "The 'giggle factor'
starts to get pretty high when you talk about flying the B-52 [strategic
bomber] until 2040, when it will be 90 years old," DeKok told
a gathering of military and industry officials in Dayton. Because
maintaining old aircraft is expensive, he said, "we migrate
money out of modernization to keep the fleet alive. Old aircraft
find new ways to break and we often get surprised, especially in
the area of propulsion." He specifically referred to aircraft
that have old engines, which, as they age, become increasingly costly
A decision by the Air Force to cut back on spare parts purchases
in 1995 and 1996 resulted in major shortages during the past two
years, DeKok said.
"So we started seeing our mission capable rates go down. We
have dropped 10 points between 1991 and 1999, from 83 to 73 percent."
The maintenance backlog at Air Force depots has gotten so large,
said DeKok, that during the past three years, the service spent
$1.2 billion to get those accounts back up to the desired levels.