Friday, January 19, 2018

U.S. Air Force Weighs International Squadrons to Strike Terror Targets: Use of low-cost fighter planes would allow deployment of higher-tech jets to areas requiring their advanced capabilities



The Wall Street Journal
By Julian E. Barnes in Brussels and  Gordon Lubold in Washington
January 19, 2018 5:30 a.m. ET

The U.S. Air Force is considering forming international squadrons of low-cost fighter planes to strike terrorist targets in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, allowing deployment of higher-tech jets to areas requiring their advanced capabilities.

A new unit employing relatively inexpensive off-the-shelf aircraft could free up cutting-edge U.S. and allied jet fighters for deterrence missions in Europe and Asia, and could help relieve a critical pilot shortage the U.S. Air Force faces, military and congressional officials say.

As the U.S. transitions its fighter fleet to new advanced stealth planes, like the F-22 and F-35, it is confronted with the difficult cost equation of using a fighter jet that costs $150 million to buy and $35,000 an hour to fly to destroy a terrorist camp of tattered tents.

Now, as Russia and China invest in their militaries and assert themselves more, the U.S. faces the additional problem of how and where to deploy limited numbers of stealthy warplanes to deter so-called peer competitors.

Congressional defense experts are urging the Air Force to rethink its strategy. They want it to move more of its advanced aircraft to Asia and Europe and design a plane that is cheaper to build and operate in the Middle East and other terror hot spots.

The U.S.’s annual defense-policy bill, which was signed into law in December, called on the Air Force to spend as much as $1.2 billion over five years to purchase as many as 300 aircraft, at the insistence of Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.).

The Air Force is reviewing a study of using commercially designed light-attack planes, similar to the 20 A-29 Super Tucano planes the U.S. has been buying for the Afghan Air Force since 2016, U.S. Air Force officials say.




The Air Force is also considering a jet and two other turboprops. All have a sticker price below $20 million apiece and hourly operating costs ranging from roughly $500 for the turboprops to around $3,000 for the jet.

U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said his service hopes this year to choose a plane for a combat demonstration. While the Air Force is enthusiastic, it could take another year before the Air Force budget would reflect the procurement of such planes, officials said.

Once the U.S. chooses a plane, and if it acquires a fleet, it plans to push allies to purchase the same airplane. Gen. Goldfein has appointed an Air Force team to study the possibility of creating international squadrons that could be deployed to support the fight against Islamic State or other terror groups.

“We have to be creative here,” said Gen. Goldfein. “I don’t know if it is feasible or not, but it gets the creative juices flowing.”

Gen. Goldfein, himself a fighter pilot, flew two light attack aircraft last summer during a visit to Holloman Air Force base in New Mexico, including the Super Tucano and the AT-6 Wolverine.

While the U.S. is still reviewing the plan and hasn’t formally approached other countries, Gen. Goldfein in September met with air chiefs from 12 countries who have been fighting Islamic State and raised the possibility of the international squadron to gauge interest.

One European military official called the idea interesting and said it was “a good idea to take a harder look.”

U.S. Air Force leaders particularly like the idea of relatively cheap, off-the-shelf aircraft because it would encourage partner nations not only in Europe but also in Africa and Latin America to contribute to the bigger counterterrorism fight, service officials said.

Even if European allies don’t buy the light attack planes, they could potentially contribute to the squadron by lending pilots.

“Maybe other countries can bring some of the manpower,” Gen. Goldfein said.

Some European military also face pilot shortfalls. Another complication is that training on light attack planes, particularly if the U.S. chooses a turboprop aircraft, doesn’t necessarily hone skills need to fly faster and more-sophisticated jet fighters. But training with U.S. pilots, widely considered the best in the world, is often an experience that partner nations are eager to embrace, allied officials say.

Pentagon and congressional aides say airstrikes are critical to keeping militant groups weak enough for local forces to manage. In countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, the airspace generally isn’t contested.

The most advanced U.S. planes, like the F-35 and F-22, also contain classified communications and network software that Washington is unwilling to share with all allies. Fielding a low-end plane wouldn’t only be more cost-effective, it would also allow the U.S. and allies to talk and share data more efficiently.

“The strategy is to drive violent extremism down so local police can manage it,” Gen. Goldfein said. “That is the strategy from the Philippines to Nigeria and everywhere in between. If that is the strategy, how do we get a platform-sensor weapon we can build into a coalition?”

Original article can be found here ➤ https://www.wsj.com

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