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The High-Cost of High-Price Aircraft

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The High-Cost of High-Price Aircraft

John Q. Bolton

No high‐cost aircraft demonstrated superior performance in all, or even most, measures, and no low‐cost aircraft was generally inferior.

                                                -GAO, “Desert Storm-Evaluation of the Air Campaign”

As the Army seeks to adjust for the future it faces the twin challenges of hybrid threats and reduced budgets described in the Army Operating Concept. During this period, the Army must carefully examine its aviation component based on not only cost, but also future capabilities. Army Aviation’s vision of the future aircraft is Future Vertical Lift (FVL). Initial FVL concepts envisioned several aircraft with common airframes, parts, and avionics. Given the challenges described above, it is wise to consider some historical examples of aircraft development in order to provide insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the FVL program.

The primary consideration is the American military’s tendency to drift its focus toward high-cost, high-tech wonder weapons designed to accomplish many missions, rather than more measured approaches like simpler, single-mission designs. History shows American military designs, while technologically impressive, have often produced costly, over-hyped weapons that failed to meet basic expectations. These failures necessitated expensive post-production modifications, which frequently extended weapons procurement times into decades-long ordeals. Examples of this include the F-111 and the F-35 aircraft, as well as Army programs such as the Bradley Fighting Vehicle (BFV), the Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP), and the Future Combat System. All of these examples demonstrate two pejorative trends in American military design: an unbalanced reliance on technology and a desire to create a one-size-fits-all solution.

These trends are not necessarily exclusive to aircraft design, but the high cost associated with producing and operating aircraft exacerbate the potential for error. A prejudice toward one-size-fits-all technologically advanced solutions reflects American faith in technology’s ability to shape the world as we see fit. All too often however, this same faith makes America fail “to understand the enemy of the day” and consequently design aircraft based on our parochial priorities rather than what reality dictates. [1]

Problems with Multi-Role Aircraft

Multi-role aircraft (MRA) exemplify the pejorative characteristics of American Military equipment design by demonstrating a high cost to capability ratio and overall low performance of key missions. They tend to be larger than necessary, overly complex, and costly. In short, like the Army’s UCP, when you try to do everything well, you end up doing many things poorly. The result is wasted time, effort, and money attempting to achieve “does it all” miracles. Additionally, multi-role, high-tech aircraft invariably cost more than the aircraft they replace. Despite projections of low-cost and savings due to technological advances, MRA/Joint aircraft nearly always cost more, do less, and result in fewer aircraft procured than originally forecasted.[2] The result is often “expensive and delicate high-tech white elephants” that perform better only in test-like circumstances, both unlike and unrepresentative of combat environments.[3]

The F-35 represents the contemporary iteration of this process. Critics charge the F-35 is overly expensive and cannot supplant the A-10 in the Close Air Support (CAS) role. Supporters contend that the F-35 is not a replacement for the A-10, but can perform many missions including Interdiction against high-end Integrated Air Defense Systems (IADs) and air-to-air combat. What these supporters fail to understand is that the combination of these related missions degrades performance in both, regardless of how much impressive technology is bundled onto the aircraft.[4]

While current attention focuses on reported poor performance and expense of the F-35, it is only the most recent iteration of issues with MRA.[5] During the 1960s, the Department of Defense (DoD) pressed the Air Force and Navy into a joint aircraft program, the F-111 Aardvark. Though the F-111 evolved from Secretary McNamara’s push for jointness and cost-savings, it evoked all the negative features inherent of MRA.[6] Designed to perform air superiority, CAS, all weather attack, nuclear attack, and high-speed intercept, while being aircraft carrier-capable, the F-111 weighed in at over 70,000lbs—twice a WWII B-17.[7] On paper, the F-111 incorporated emerging technology such as all-weather intercept and bombing radars as well as variable-sweep wings. Combined with advanced cockpit avionics these technologies would create a large flight envelope for the F-111 in order to support its large range of missions. In reality, however, the F-111 was a hodgepodge of questionable technology and competing engineering demands.[8]

Figure 1. F-111[9]

As a joint aircraft, the F-111 had to meet both Air Force and Navy requirements.[10] Like the concepts behind the F-35, this should have saved money, if not during design and testing, then at least in joint production. However, designing an aircraft for multiple missions meant incorporating maneuverability, bombing, and carrier landing capability into a single airframe. Every capability simply added weight to the aircraft, reducing its ability to perform other missions while also increasing complexity. This inevitably created a Frankenstein, capable of doing much, but nothing particularly well.[11] Exacerbating the F-111’s reliance on new technologies was the absence of a competitive fly-off. Instead, computer modeling was deemed sufficient to make design and production decisions.

The new, high-tech systems designed to make the F-111 all-weather and night-capable, as well as cheaper and more reliable, had the opposite effect. Advanced avionics “failed more often than predicted, and the time and costs to repair their failures were far greater than expected.”[12] Radar bombing, which promised incredible accuracy, proved four times as inaccurate over Vietnam as in training, echoing the experience of WWII bomber crews.[13] By 1979, the average maintenance per flight was 23x times higher than forecasts and failure rates were so high that cannibalizing parts between aircraft was commonplace.[14] Rather than improve the aircraft’s effectiveness unproven technology and designing for multiple missions created an expensive, ineffective aircraft.

Increasing Complexity Drives up Cost

Not only did the multi-role F-111 prove less capable than advertised at its wide array of missions, its cost was grossly higher than the aircraft it replaced. As a result, fewer aircraft were procured, particularly after the Navy dropped out of the F-111 program in 1968. Cost and complexity quickly devolved into a pernicious loop: Technologically advanced aircraft escalated costs, reducing the number of aircraft eventually produced; this increased the mission set for each aircraft, which required further improvements, which made each new aircraft more expensive. This cycle has become endemic in American aircraft since the 1960s. Figure 2 highlights this trend in 2014 dollars.

Figure 2. USAF Aircraft Deliveries & Unit Cost (2014 Dollars)[15]

Since WWII, every new American tactical aircraft cost more, causing a corresponding drop in the total number of aircraft procured. Technology certainly plays a part—an F-22 is leagues ahead of a P-51 or F-86 in terms of capability in its particular mission—but quantity is an important metric as well. If the Air Force cannot produce enough aircraft to create an effectively trained and deployable force, then the cost is not worth it. Furthermore, quantity (mass) can create its own advantage. Increasing cost and decreasing quantity create uncertainty for manufacturers, which “increases labor costs and reduces the incentive to invest in processes that could reduce costs.”[16]

The result is that, in constant dollars, by 1980 an average flight hour cost 80x its 1950 equivalent.[17] For example, despite over-hyped claims of the effectiveness of American air power in the Gulf War, in terms of CAS, “it turns out that a Stuka was quite as capable of knocking out a WWII tank as an A-10 Warthog is of doing the same to [one today]. Similarly, a WWII P-47 did not take more sorties to bring down a bridge or hit a tank than an F-16 did six and a half decades later [in Iraq].”[18] The cost of modern aircraft is, of course, many orders of magnitude higher than a P-47.

Figure 3. USAF Aircraft Unit & Marginal Cost (2014 Dollars)[19]

Aircraft cost must be measured against its capability and quantity produced. Figure 3 demonstrates the striking increases in cost of American aircraft. Particularly significant is the marginal cost of each aircraft over its predecessor. With only two exceptions, the A-10 and F-16, marginal costs exceeded 200%. This is an unpleasant fact for MRA. Ironically, these cost increases came with the commensurate loss of quantity of aircraft delivered (due to cost) and the relatively poor performance of MRA compared to single-mission aircraft.

Conversely, examples abound of aircraft designed for a specific mission that ended-up performing many missions well. The P-51 Mustang dominated the skies of Europe during WWII as a fighter, fighter-bomber, and reconnaissance aircraft, and later performed CAS in Korea more effectively than USAF jets.[20] Developed in the 1970s, F-16 and A-10 are both “pure expressions of function,” designed to perform a specific mission very well.[21] Unlike most aircraft procurement programs before or since, both the F-16 and A-10 were designed with mission-based performance, not numerical capability in mind. Importantly, both aircraft went through a competitive fly-off, which allowed real-world evaluation of their capabilities.[22]

A fly-off also helps detract from arbitrary design requirements. Prior to the F-16, aircraft were generally designed to meet specific requirements like Mach number, G-load, etc. However, arbitrary targets often create design trade-offs often unrelated to realistic combat scenarios. For example, the F-15 preliminary design requirements dictated a top speed in excess of Mach 2.0, simply to match the MiG-25, not based on real-world experience in air-to-air combat, which overwhelmingly occurred at sub-sonic airspeeds.[23] This meant the F-15 required different engines, including exotic materials and other additions, to meet a design goal not necessarily related to mission performance.

Additionally, unlike the F-111 and F-35, the A-10 and F-16 are single-service aircraft. In the same manner as adding missions, incorporating multi-service requirements lowers effectiveness. This seems counterintuitive, as combining efforts should reduce cost. However, a 2013 RAND report revealed exactly the opposite: “the need to integrate multiple service requirements in a single design increases the complexity of joint programs and potentially leads to higher-than-average cost growth [over 30% on average] that could reduce or even negate potential savings… The difficulty of reconciling diverse service requirements in a common design is a major factor in joint cost outcomes.”[24] The RAND report also highlighted risks, aside from costs, associated with MRA aircraft: “Joint aircraft programs could potentially increase operational and strategic risk… Having a variety of fighter platform types across service inventories provides a hedge against design flaws and maintenance and safety issues that could potentially cause fleet-wide stand-downs.”[25] The authors then harshly criticized the entire concept behind joint aircraft programs, concluding, “Informed by these findings, we recommend that, unless the participating services have identical, stable requirements, DoD avoid future joint fighter and other complex joint aircraft programs.”[26]

Figure 4. Select Aircraft Hourly Cost (Average FY 11-14)[27]

The combination of design purity, competitive fly-offs, and strict adherence to function created two of the most-capable Air Force platforms still flying 40 years later in a variety of roles at low cost (Figure 4). Though the A-10 was never an Air Force darling—it evolved largely out of interservice rivalries to perform a mission dismissed in USAF doctrine—it remains unchallenged in the realm of fixed-wing CAS.[28] During Desert Storm, despite initial Air Force hesitancy to deploy the A-10, the aircraft performed Interdiction, Combat Search and Rescue, and CAS throughout the campaign. In fact, the A-10 was responsible for the vast majority of tank kills and flew the second-most number of effective sorties, behind the F-16.[29] It is also worth noting that, despite Air Force and media coverage to the contrary, 92% of the ordnance dropped in Desert Storm was unguided “dumb” bombs. However, the 8% of “smart” bombs amounted to nearly 40% of the overall cost of dropped ordnance.[30]

A 1997 GAO study of Gulf War air power sharply criticized the Air Force’s predilection toward high-tech, high-cost weapons systems. The GAO found “no clear link between the cost of either aircraft or weapon systems and their performance in Desert Storm. Neither relatively high-cost nor low-cost air-to-ground aircraft demonstrated consistently superior performance across a range of measures such as sortie rate, survivability, amount of munitions delivered, and participation in successful target outcomes.”[31] The report concluded: “The evidence from Desert Storm points to the usefulness of single-role aircraft in their respective missions and the usefulness of multirole aircraft most predominantly in the air-to-ground mission.”[32]

Lessons for Army Aviation

So, if MRA are less capable and more expensive, what are the lessons for Army aviation? Foremost is this: individual and organizational competence remains paramount to creating effectiveness. Analysis of the Gulf War as well as the Arab-Israeli wars of the 1960s and 70s points to organization competence and skill as the primacy indicators of military success.[33] Technology aids, but may only serve as a wedge between skilled and unskilled militaries.[34] The increasing prevalence of cheaper technology only serves to increase the importance of skill as “combat outcomes for comparably skilled opponents may be little changed by new weaponry.”[35] Additionally, even if our potential adversaries choose to employ peer-type high-tech weaponry, having just a few expensive platforms on-hand creates four problems.

First, a lack of quantity means fewer missions flown. Training is largely a function of quantity of experience. If pilots cannot get hours to develop skills and, more importantly, units cannot train to collective proficiency, technology will not fill the gap. This is particularly important for air-ground integration.

Second, history shows simply having a high-tech weapon does not guarantee victory. For example, when the Allies began the Combined Bomber Offensive against Germany in 1942, it became obvious that despite years of focus on strategic bombing, technology like the Norden Bombsight and the B-1y proved ineffective against German air defenses. From 1943 through spring 1944, American bombers suffered 10% casualties on a near-daily basis loss rates; it was not until 1944 and the deployment of long-range fighters that the air war over Germany was won.[36] Regardless of American valor, poor doctrine and false hope in technology failed when they met the reality of a dynamic, thinking opponent and the friction inherent in warfare.

Third, the vast rise in aircraft cost occurred with a simultaneous decrease in the price of technology, which caused massive diffusion of capability. A common expression is that a cell phone has more computing power than the Apollo Program. Technology may be compromised, as the recent hacking incidents of Sony and the federal government illustrate. The result of this technological diffusion is simple: the American Military cannot rely on simple technological superiority to guarantee a military advantage. Technology can only aid, not supplant, military competence; but rising aircraft costs ultimately mean fewer aircraft, placing even more reliance on the supposed edge provided by technology. Regardless of individual superiority, fewer platforms results in less capability because outnumbering an enemy limits his tactical options.

Fourth, aircraft costs continue to increase. Given budgetary limitations, it becomes increasingly clear that DoD must concern itself with cost as a primary consideration of aircraft procurement. While Air Force aircraft costs are the primary subject of this article, Army Aviation exhibited similar cost growth from the AH-1 Cobra through the RAH-66 Comanche. Given the needs of Army Aviation in Iraq and Afghanistan, the 2004 decision to cancel the high-tech, stealth Comanche helicopter was prescient.

Figure 5. Army Attack Helicopter Deliveries & Unit Cost (2014 Dollars)[37]

However, just because an aircraft is less expensive does not mean it is inherently less capable. The examples of the F-16 and A-10 demonstrate that simpler, often cheaper, aircraft are more effective than their MRA counterparts. Less expense upfront allows for future development, as shown with the extensive avionics and capability upgrades to the A-10C and F-16D.[38] In both Korea and Vietnam, the Air Force had to “power-down” its jet aircraft fleet and supported CAS missions with legacy propeller-driven aircraft. With long loiter times and the ability to cooperate closely with ground forces, older, slower propeller driven aircraft were well suited to CAS. This did not happen despite the clear requirement for low-cost, long-loiter CAS in Iraq and Afghanistan for two reasons: First, unmanned aircraft (UAS) surged to fill the gap. Second, since Vietnam Army Aviation has had an explicit mandate to provide support to land forces. However, Army Aviation only has helicopters with their built-in limitations of speed and cost. Adding turboprop, light fixed-wing aircraft to the Army inventory is worth study.

Army Aviation cannot allow itself to fall into the MRA trap. MRA, like so many other ideas, “brief well”; that is, they seem great but rapidly fall apart under scrutiny. Historically, joint aircraft programs exhibited three times the cost growth of single-service programs.[39] This cost growth is a result of trying to cram too many requirements into a single platform. The excessive cost growth is only a small issue when compared to the lack of capabilities. Aircraft designed to do one function will do it well, with room to grow into other missions given time. Designing for multiple, nearly exclusive roles from the start inevitably results in poorly performing aircraft.

Recommendations

Army Aviation’s helicopter fleet demonstrates exactly the opposite trend of Air Force tactical aircraft. Rather than design expensive aircraft for multiple missions, Army aircraft nest within the doctrinal roles and mission of Army Aviation. For the seven Army Aviation roles, there are just four airframes, along with several variants. While Army aircraft are not cheap, they are orders of magnitude less expensive than Air Force jets and, surprisingly for helicopters, have similar maintenance requirements. Additionally, Army aircraft are tailored not for air power itself, but for the needs of ground commanders.

Given the historical issues with MRA costs and capabilities, Army Aviation must proceed cautiously down the path toward FVL. The initial FVL documents envisioned a few common aircraft models performing multiple missions. However, Army Aviation Commander MG Lundy clarified this in early 2015 stating, “We’re probably not going to have one aircraft that’s going to be able to do all the missions…I need to see where [the technology] goes.”[40] Army Aviation is also wisely seeking iterative technology demonstrations (fly-offs) as part of the development process. Doing so will ensure only the best concepts move forward after validation through in real-world testing.[41] FVL does seek commonality in terms of drivetrains, cockpit design, and avionics.

Like the F-111 and F-35, FVL commonality should reduce costs, as should using one aircraft for multiple missions. However, history shows that separate missions require separate aircraft and, more importantly, aircrews trained to perform each mission. Likewise, commonality or “jointness” rarely actually saves money or increases capability. Wisely, FVL seeks to a balance between commonality and mission-focus along the same lines of the Marine Huey and Cobra Attack helicopters, which share many common parts, but are very different aircraft. The danger is that political, budgetary, and historical trends will push FVL toward a one-size-fits-all solution, causing the program to repeat the mistakes of many previous American military aircraft.

In addition to scrutinizing FVL, Army Aviation must avoid other wishful thinking that has often accompanied another emerging technology, UAS. While UAS seemingly offer low cost and persistent loiter, they are demonstrably less effective than manned aircraft in areas that really count. Specifically, UAS are poor at providing re-tasking, developing a chaotic situation, and providing precision fires. Army Aviation must cautiously adopt UAS as part of Manned-Unmanned Teaming Operations with this in mind. UAS, like all high-tech, multi-role solutions, can only augment, not replace, well-designed aircraft flown by well-trained pilots.

Maintaining a balanced fleet, both cost effective and tailored to specific roles must be the foremost goal of Army Aviation during future aircraft development. Army Aviation must balance the benefits of technology with the harsh reality of budgets, while understanding that more platforms and pilots are generally better than fewer high-tech wonder weapons. Critical to this is a capable pool of pilots, aircraft with a high flyability rate, and relatively simple aircraft.[42] After all, it is the Army Aviator “in the box,” not the “box” that matters in the end.

Note on methodology: Aircraft costs are notoriously difficult to pinpoint. This article utilized a variety of sources, mostly USAF and DOD documents to compute costs. When an aircraft had multiple variants, the most produced was used. All costs are displayed in 2014 dollars, adjusted 2014 year-end average Consumer Price Index.

End Notes

[1] Colin S. Gray, “The American Way of War” in Rethinking the Principles of War (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2005), pp. 13–40. Gray identifies 12 American Principles of War: Apolitical, Astrategic, Ahistorical, Problem-Solving, Optimistic, Culturally Ignorant, Technologically Dependent, Firepower Focused, Large-Scale, Profoundly Regular, Impatient, Logistically Excellent, Sensitive to Casualties.

[2] RAND Corp., “Do Joint Fighter Programs Save Money?” by Mark A. Lorell, Michael Kennedy, Robert S. Leonard, Ken Munson, Shmuel Abramzon, David L. An, and Robert A. Guffey, (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2013), 39-40.

[3] James Fallows, “The Tragedy of the American Military,” The Atlantic (January/February 2015):18-21, retrieved May 26, 2015, http://www.theatlantic.com/features/
archive/2014/12/the-tragedy-of-the-american-military/383516.

[4] Joseph Trevithick, “When is the F-35 Not a Dogfighter? When It’s Convenient,” Medium.com, accessed https://medium.com/war-is-boring/when-is-the-f-35-not-a-dogfighter-when-it-s-convenient-2fb1f233f42, July 5, 2015.

[5] See Michael W. Pietrucha, COL, USAF, “The Comanche and the Albatross,” Air and Space Power Journal 28, no. 3 (May–June 2014); Russell J. Smith, COL (Ret) USAF, “Common Sense at the Crossroads for Our Air Force,” Air and Space Power Journal 26, no. 2 (March–April 2012); For performance issues with the F-35 see David Axe, “F’d: How the U.S. and Its Allies Got Stuck with the World’s Worst New Warplane,” Medium.com, August 13, 2013, accessed https://medium.com/war-is-boring/fd-how-the-u-s-and-its-allies-got-stuck-with-the-worlds-worst-new-warplane-5c95d45f86a5, July 5, 2015.

[6] James Fallows, National Defense (New York: Random House, 1981), 104.

[7] Grant Hammond, The Mind of War: John Boyd and American Security (Washington DC: Smithsonian, 2001), 69-72; USAF, Encyclopedia of US Air Force Aircraft and Missile Systems vol.1. Post-World War II Fighters, 1945-1973 (Washington DC: Office of Air Force History, 1978), 222-225.

[8] Hammond, 69-72.

[9] Federation of American Scientists, “F-111,” accessed May 15, 2015 http://fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ac/f-111.htm.

[10] Though each service had a variant, basic engineering demands forced the aircraft to incorporate multiple service requirements.

[11] Hammond, 70-71.

[12] James G. Burton, The Pentagon Wars: Reformers Challenge the Old Guard (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2014), 74-75.

[13] Ibid.; Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millet, A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009), 306; Army Air Forces (AAF), Office of Statistical Control, Army Air Forces Statistical Digest, (Washington DC: GPO, December 1945).

[14] Burton, 74.

[15] James C. Ruehrmund, COL, USAF (Ret.) and Christopher J. Bowie, “Arsenal of Airpower: USAF Aircraft Inventory 1950-2009”(Arlington, VA: Mitchell Institute Press, 2010); AAF, Army Air Forces Statistical Digest; DoD Comptroller, Program Acquisition Cost by Weapons System-FY 2008-2015 (Washington DC: DoD, March 2014), accessed April 28, 2015, http://comptroller.defense.gov; Government Accounting Office (GAO), Operation Desert Storm-Evaluation of the Air Campaign (Washington DC: GAO, June 1997), Appendix IV; USAF, Encyclopedia of US Air Force Aircraft and Missile Systems vol.1.

[16] Dinah Walker, Trends in U.S. Military Spending, (Washington DC: Council on Foreign Relations, July 2014), accessed June 26, 2015, http://www.cfr.org/defense-budget/trends-us-military-spending/p28855.

[17] Hammond, 109.

[18] Martin Van Creveld, The Age of Airpower (New York: PublicAffairs, 2011), 433.

[19] Ruehrmund and Bowie; USAF, Encyclopedia of USAF Aircraft and Missile Systems vol. 1; DoD Comptroller, Program Acquisition Cost FY 2008-2015.

[20] Allan R. Millett, “Korea, 1950-1953,” in Case Studies in the Development of Close Air Support,  ed. by Benjamin Franklin Cooling (Washington DC: Office of Air Force History, 1990), 363.

[21] Fallows, “The Tragedy of the American Military,” 20.

[22] Hammond, 94-95, 121.

[23] Fallows, National Defense, 100-103.

[24] Lorrell, et al., xiii-xvii.

[25] Ibid., xviii.

[26] Ibid., xix.

[27] Department of Defense, “Fixed-Wing and Rotary-Wing Reimbursement Rates,” Data from Fiscal Years 2011-2014, accessed May 15, 2015, http://comptroller.defense.gov.

[28] Arden B. Dahl, “The Warthog: The Best Deal the Air Force Never Wanted” (Monograph, National Defense University, 2003), 13. Department of the Air Force, Annex 3-03 Counterland Operations (Maxwell AFB, AL: GPO, 2014), 2-3. USAF doctrine 3-03, echoing 1930s Army Air Corps Doctrine, states air power should be employed only at “decisive points,” rather than in isolation because “CAS rarely achieves campaign-level objectives.”

[29] GAO, Operation Desert Storm-Evaluation of the Air Campaign (Washington DC: GAO, June 1997), Appendix IV; Burton, 26-27.

[30] GAO, Desert Storm-Evaluation of the Air Campaign, Appendix IV.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Stephen Biddle, “Victory Misunderstood,” International Security 21, no. 2 (Fall 1996): 174.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36] L. Douglas Keeney, The Pointblank Directive (Oxford: Osprey, 2012), 76-77.

[37] James A. Bradin, From Hot Air to Hellfire: The History of Army Attack Aviation (Novato, CA: Presidio, 1994); DoD Comptroller, Program Acquisition Cost System-FY 2008-2015; Selected Acquisition Report-AH-64E Remanufacture (Washington DC: US Army, 2014), accessed April 28, 2015, http://www.dtic.mil: document ADA613931.

[38] United States Air Force, USAF Weapons School, A-10C, F-16, F-15E Capabilities Briefs (presentation, Nellis AFB, NV, February 2015).

[39] Lorell, et. al, 11.

[40] Richard Whittle, “Army Looks to Build Two Forms of Future Vertical Lift,” Breaking Defense (January 2015), accessed September 28, 2015, http:///breakingdefense.com/2015/01.

[41] US Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development, and Engineering Center (AMRDEC), “Developments Enhance Future Vertical Lift Aircraft,” AMRDEC Press Release (July 29, 2015), accessed October 5, 2015, https://www.army.mil/article/153006.

[42] Fallows, National Defense, 98.

 

About the Author(s)

John Bolton is the Deputy G3 for Train Advise Assist Command-East (4/25 IBCT (A)). He is a graduate of the Command and General Staff College’s Art of War Scholars Program and holds degrees from West Point and American Military University. His assignments include 1st Engineer Battalion and 1-1 Attack Reconnaissance Battalion with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. The views presented here are his alone and not representative of the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, or the U.S. government.

Comments

jqb101

Tue, 10/27/2015 - 11:26pm

In reply to by Warlock

I am certainly no luddite and do not necessarily blame technology for the ridiculous growth in cost. The problem is putting the technology chicken well ahead of the egg. Assuming that technology will fill all gaps and make up for for poor design is endemic in our design process, for as much a military and economic/political causes. You are correct on Boyd and the F-16, but the aircraft was still designed purely for an ends standpoint, making it able to develop later capability as technology matured and allowed for improvement; not the other way around.
As for you commend regarding only insurgencies: No we won't only conduct COIN. However, basing our entire aircraft fleet on the worst-case scenario means massive lost of opportunity cost. I.e, we need a high-tech, ADA focused aircraft, it just shouldn't for the majority of the fleet. As for what our aircraft end up doing: It's been the same in since Korea, high-intensity start, followed by majority of CAS. Every conflict prior to OIF/OEF saw the USAF throttle down to simpler, slower, CAS-focused aircraft to meet a demand that was always an inter-war non-starter. Its an institutional USAF problem. Only reason it hasn't been an service-splitting issue since 2001 is Army Aviation. See Interservice Rivalry in Vietnam by Ian Horwood or the X Corps reports from Korea.

Warlock

Tue, 10/27/2015 - 3:09pm

In reply to by Warlock

Another thought: blaming advanced technology for the woes of combat aircraft procurement is often off the mark. "Cheap and minimal" usually ends up as cannon fodder. For all that John Boyd and his acolytes wanted the F-16 to hark back to the "simple" F-86, the Sabre was cutting edge in 1951. If Boyd had gotten his way, and the F-16 was fielded as a day-only fighter with no radar, they'd have done little for us over Iraq, Bosnia, and Kosovo -- most of our high-intensity air campaigns since 1990 have deliberately been conducted at night. Indeed, that was a weakness of the A-10 until it was upgraded to give it some nighttime capability. The A-10 itself, while hailed as a "simple" aircraft, is built around a very sophisticated gun. Bottom line: it's not about good or bad technology, it's about good or bad design. Even the F-111, once it was paired down to being only one aircraft, turned out to be a pretty good design...as an all-weather medium bomber. :)

Warlock

Tue, 10/27/2015 - 2:42pm

In reply to by jqb101

<blockquote>My goal was to demonstrate the MRA peril as applicable to Army Aviation. I don't attempt to criticize the F-35 program as a concept, except to point out the overall flaws in MRA as demonstrated over the last 60 years of US aircraft development...The Apache has evolved from a pure interdiction (deep attack) platform to a CCA/CAS, reconnaissance, and UAS controller with available radar capability. The design purity built into the original A-model allows for this; had the Apache been designed to do all of this from the start, it would followed the example of the F-111/F-35, etc.</blockquote>
From an aircraft design point-of-view, though, you argue against yourself. Evolving additional roles into an aircraft changes the cost profile, but ultimately, if the aircraft doesn't have the "stretch" to accommodate them from the start, it never will. The break point is usually when the airframe has to change radically to meet initial requirements, so the "multi-role aircraft" becomes a fiction to cover what's really a multi-aircraft program. That's where the F-111 ran into problems, and the F-35 is having them now. The F-111A (the Air Force version) and F-111B (the Navy version) were two radically different aircraft, designed for completely different, incompatible performance requirements. The F-35 is three different aircraft(!), designed for three radically different requirements, and running into the same problems as a result...if we broke it down into the F-35, F-36, and F-37, it might look like more of a bargain.

McNamara got lucky with the F-4, in large part because it was inadvertently designed as a multi-mission aircraft from the start. The original design was as an attack aircraft, which lost out to the Douglas Skyhawk. McDonnell adapted the design as an all-weather interceptor, but the fact that the original airframe design was able to accommodate guns and external weapons gave it the inherent "stretch" to adapt back to those capabilities later.

<blockquote>Furthermore, most American aircraft will likely find themselves in a supporting Surveillance/CAS role during any conflict, particularly after the beginning.</blockquote>
Not sure how you reach that conclusion, unless you postulate we'll fight nothing but insurgencies.

<blockquote> AD/ADA threats are a valid concern, but we shouldn't necessarily design an aircraft solely for this threat....</blockquote>
But with the A-10, we did just that. The basic design was defined by the gun as the primary anti-tank weapon, and given that, the assumption that the aircraft would inevitably take damage, so needed to be able to survive low-altitude ADA and be relatively easy to repair. What the A-10 did in Desert Storm paled in comparison to what was envisioned in Western Europe. In 1990, the Air Force was actually prepared for the situation to be worse than it turn out to be -- more Aircraft Battle Damage Repair units were prepped to deploy, but turned out not to be needed.

Move Forward

Tue, 10/27/2015 - 8:43am

In reply to by jqb101

Read and appreciated your Aviation Digest article. Congrats on the promotion and don’t know how you crammed so much into a short period of time between the deployments as an Engineer officer and Apache driver, two Masters Degrees, and Chinese language training.

<blockquote>My goal was to demonstrate the MRA peril as applicable to Army Aviation. I don't attempt to criticize the F-35 program as a concept, except to point out the overall flaws in MRA as demonstrated over the last 60 years of US aircraft development; nor do I suggest that the A-10 and F-16 are so great as to keep them for the foreseeable future. The USAF can't, in fact, do so as their aircraft are well beyond "flow-up" as show by a 2007 CBO report.</blockquote>

As you note, there really are no alternatives to replacing worn-out F-16s and A-10s. Any new stealth aircraft start would take too long, be just as costly, and new 4th generation aircraft would be nearly obsolete as soon as built. It’s even worse for the older F/A-18s and the Harriers used for CAS that are nowhere near as capable as the F-35B.

<blockquote>The point of my research and writing was solely as it applies to the Army's FVL program. MRA's have demonstrated a propensity to oversell and under-deliver, generally at an excessive cost, especially in light of actual performance. Designing aircraft for multiple, vastly different missions inevitably leads to white elephants like the F-111 and, likely, the F-35. The MRA model, based on small numbers and high-technology, quickly devolves into a pernicious loop, where cost grossly exceeds capability.</blockquote>

The missions are not vastly different. They all amount to avoiding detection while detecting/engaging threats. I’m more optimistic about the F-35’s future. Even single-purpose aircraft like the AH-64 started out with many problems. The early P-51s had issues, too, but per your comment in the article we needed the evolved P-51 technology before the bomber escort TTP could work. Every aircraft must evolve and the F-35 has the chops to eventually be one of the best of all time used by ourselves and allies. It has great sensors, jamming, and weapons potential and will improve Joint and coalition communications and targeting not to mention ISR.

<blockquote>Your response of the UH-60 as a model of MRA is off-base. The UH-60 was designed for one sole mission, move troops on the battlefield. This focus has allowed the aircraft to expand to other roles, not the other way around. Similarly, the F-4 is a poor choice as well-though it had major issues. The F-4 came to the Navy as an interceptor, not an MRA. It was only after the DoD (McNamara) forced its adoption by the USAF did its missions expand.</blockquote>

The UH-60 was designed to replace the Huey (which I flew) which did a lot more than just air assaults. Believe you are making a chicken and egg argument both for the UH-60 and F-4. They both were multi-service/multi-role regardless if designed that way from the start. The baseline designs were competent enough to be easily modified to be Joint and multi-role/multi-service just as with the F-35. However, recall the stabilator issue that grounded UH-60s back in the mid-80s? It caused me to cancel transition orders and stay at Rucker due to forecast transition delays. Every new aircraft experiences setbacks.

Yeah, the F-4 did not have a gun, was all-engines, and was less maneuverable. Still, there was less unique between the USAF and Navy F-4 versions than between the USAF, Navy, and Marine versions of F-35. The economies of scale; common parts, sensors, R&D, logistics software; and export potential ultimately will make it more cost effective than three separately researched stealth aircraft programs that <i>when</i> (not if) they experienced the normal problems of every aircraft would individually have <i>not</i> been too big to fail.

<blockquote>Secondly, you mentioned low-level tactics as the apply to Army Aviation. You cite the Apache Longbow radar, which incidentally isn't mounted on the top of the aircraft for any reason other than design practicality. The largest radar signature on the aircraft is the rotor (spinning blades at 500mph); mounting the radar on the rotor hub is a matter of finding a place on the aircraft that didn't interfere with existing systems (gun, weapons pylons, and sight). The irony is that the Apache is an example of design that I advocate for: purity of design that allows for later expansion. The Apache has evolved from a pure interdiction (deep attack) platform to a CCA/CAS, reconnaissance, and UAS controller with available radar capability. The design purity built into the original A-model allows for this; had the Apache been designed to do all of this from the start, it would followed the example of the F-111/F-35, etc. For more information on the Manned-Unmanned teaming, see my article in aviation digest (JUL-SEP '14) http://www.rucker.army.mil/aviationdigest.</blockquote&gt;

While I know what you mean by the rotor Doppler signature, don’t really buy the mast argument as I suspect they built on the Kiowa Warrior concept. That allows reduced visual ID and places you potentially much lower/slower to the ground if hit by strong threats albeit with a big drag penalty. That somewhat disputes the need for a tilt rotor with an even higher speed hover rotor signature and less ability to fit in a firing position or small holding area. Tilt rotors could not fly full speed low to the ground at night or with sling loads, and what about wires/antennas, tree tops, and fog patches? Brown out would suck with a tilt rotor. However, a coaxial rotor and high speed drag would make it hard to mount anything on a mast and it would have a large two-rotor signature, too.

A tilt rotor attack variant would get there a bit faster and extend range allowing more time on station rather than burning endurance en route. The MEDEVAC and CSAR roles would argue for both alternatives with higher tilt rotor speeds, yet smaller LZs and faster final approach for the helicopter. Maybe an unmanned tilt rotor FVL would get there faster without any escort subsequently linking up with an escorted MEDEVAC and armed CSAR? Wager tilt rotors could employ fuselage near-vertical launch or fold out/up missiles instead of high-drag wings stores, but then I never worked FVL.

Did not realize that the AH-64 also could receive aerostat video. Learned a great deal from your Aviation Digest article and coincidentally, my own article and that of several others I know is in the same issue. That’s why I cringed but initially held my tongue when reading your comments about UAS not being responsive to retasking, able to assist JTACs/CPs in developing a chaotic situation, and unable to provide precision fires. History related to both USAF RPAs and Army UAS runs contrary to your assertion. Insert your own Apache aerial QRF scenario into Syria with ISIL forces trying to swarm toward Kurd-area FOBs getting wiped out as imagery from a UAS/RPA cues your Apache and fast movers. Insert UAS into an interdiction mission (although not sure the deep mission was <i>the</i> driver for the AH-64 as you mentioned) flying ahead of your aircraft. RPA and Gray Eagle Hellfires are not precision fires?

However frankly, I try to avoid talking about UAS because I’m not sure what I can/cannot say. I’m pending civil service employment in that field and worry that opinions expressed here on that or other matters could delay or deny my pending security clearance that expired. While I never discuss classified or even sensitive information learned as a long-time past contractor, when you constantly read about events/capabilities/news here (cough, Outlaw), on TV, and elsewhere on line you may touch on stuff you are not sure you should discuss. But believe it is critical to stay abreast of current and potential conflicts and capabilities to train Soldiers for future wars. Debate is important and if you don’t dispute flawed claims, they gain undeserved credence. Look at the other article you commented on in the SWJ blog where John Q. Public makes this false claim speaking about the F-35.

<blockquote>But they will make it no more resistant to typical shoulder-fired missile threats than the A-10.</blockquote>

That is complete B.S. because the F-35 will be flying at medium altitude where MANPADs and anti-aircraft artillery SAFIRE cannot reach them. In addition, I’ve read that they use fuel to cool the airframe signature and with a single engine it will have less heat signature against IR search and track. When I read similar press reports defending past performance of the A-10 and F-16 against outdated threats and bashing the F-35, it perturbs me because it indicates that they don’t comprehend the threat. Yet the flying services cannot explain that threat without delving into classified information that would explain it. That leads to your next comment:

<blockquote>We can speculate about perceived AD/ADA threats, but designing future aircraft to do everything is still a fool's errand. Furthermore, most American aircraft will likely find themselves in a supporting Surveillance/CAS role during any conflict, particularly after the beginning. AD/ADA threats are a valid concern, but we shouldn't necessarily design an aircraft solely for this threat when tools like specifically designed interdiction aircraft or cruise missiles would likely do so cheaper. My point is, design for what the aircraft will likely do the majority of the time, not the worst-case. See the A-10 in Desert Storm for the example.</blockquote>

As mentioned earlier, we both know the air defense threats of Desert Storm, Southern and Northern Watch, the Balkans on several occasions, OEF, OIF, Georgia, Ukraine, and Inherent Resolve are only a fraction of what we could face as modern air defenses proliferate. We know that more aircraft have been shot down by even relatively ancient air defenses than air-to-air in recent wars. You know that you could not fly your Apache against many threats like you flew it in OEF and OIF. No more high altitude, circling, and running-fire upfront in early conflicts. We know many air defenses have survived for prolonged periods despite suppression efforts from systems like cruise missiles and Wild Weasel.

For those of us who drove back then and owned early computers and newer TVs around 1991, we recall how primitive they were compared to cars and computers/monitors available today. Why then would we look at Desert Storm as proof that the A-10 and F-16 can survive against new threats with new computers, radars, missiles, guns, and other technologies integrating them? We know that COL Pietrucha posted a link to COL Warden’s doctrine that said this, as well:

<blockquote>The most difficult and costly place to attack the aircraft chain is in the air. In the aggregate, one friendly plane can destroy one enemy plane. One pilot in one airplane may well shoot down more than one enemy aircraft in a single mission, but that is rare. The majority of fighter pilots will never down an enemy, although, as technology improves, the chances of one pilot with one aircraft accounting for more than one enemy per mission may increase -- assuming that countermeasures don't improve commensurately.

Going back down the chain from the air leads to aircraft on the ground. Under ideal circumstances, the results of airfield attack can be impressive. As examples,

The Germans destroyed more than 4,000 Russian aircraft on the ground between 22 and 30 June 1941. The Germans had less than 1,400 bombers and fighters on the entire Russian front during this period.

The Israelis had similar results from their attacks on Arab air in 1967: With 196 operational combat aircraft, they destroyed almost 400 Arab aircraft on the ground in two days.

The historical experience has been that it is cheaper by far to destroy aircraft on the ground than in the air. Whether circumstances will permit such success, however, is a function of surprise, the state of enemy defenses, and the physical protection given aircraft on the field. Note that the most famous instances of such successes have occurred when one side achieved tactical surprise over the other. In some cases, air superiority may possibly be attained by methodically eliminating enemy air bases, although experience in the major wars of this century indicates that airfields must be attacked persistently and heavily if they are to be destroyed.

Light, one-time attacks probably will not eliminate an airfield, but may, for a limited period, keep its aircraft on the ground.</blockquote>

Believe this passage indicates that a strategy of <i>quantity vs quality</i> with massed aircraft on the ground at a few airfields is asking for wholesale ground destruction as exemplified by our success against German airfields and Israeli success against Arab airfields—except this time from missiles. The same applies in your article with Apaches on the ground in a QRF ready mode. Eventually, threats will have precision or at least well-aimed mortars, short-range rockets, and direct attack UAS that may threaten your parked AH-64. Advanced near peers have short-range missiles able to target your FOB as well. Possibilities:

• Many smaller FOBs and Assembly Areas for your Apaches and attack variant FVLs well-removed from the front using forward FARPs
• Closed roads used for Marine F-35Bs
• Small and large stand-off carriers exploiting aerial and buddy refueling and drop tanks
• Limit F-35As and F-22s on the ground using multiple major airfields (Rapid Raptor and Lightning) farther from front lines using aerial refueling
• Exploit cheaper shelters/barriers and decoys to protect/distort/disperse our true aircraft numbers

If we use such techniques, we are more likely to succeed in an A2/AD environment. Even in the Pacific, Army and Marine FVL and current helicopter island and ship hopping could be part of major operational campaign plans for assisted/forcible entry and distant blockades to board and divert/halt commercial ships.

<blockquote>Lastly, my quotes of MG Lundy are read incorrectly. In fact, I laud Army Aviation's judicious approach to FVL, requiring iterative testing and acknowledging from the start that multiple missions require multiple aircraft. My article was an attempt to validate this approach and caution at the alternative. As for an "actual problem," the daily news stories about the F-35 or the historical data shown in the article prove that cost, quantity, and capability of MRA are all demonstrative problems.</blockquote>

Hear ya but please keep an open mind on the F-35 as ultimately it could be a major part of air ground operations to include you lasing for them. It would be great to be able to continue to strafe with A-10s but current and future threats are prohibitive and smaller numbers of Joint fighter aircraft (dictated by price) means services must get more mission variety out of each aircraft. Someday, the sensors on the F-35 very well may feed imagery and radar metadata to your and the ground force commander CP, AH-64E, and attack FVL. Plus, the ADA system or enemy fighter jet that does not shoot you down could be due to the F-35 killing it first.

jqb101

Mon, 10/26/2015 - 6:58pm

In reply to by Move Forward

My goal was to demonstrate the MRA peril as applicable to Army Aviation. I don't attempt to criticize the F-35 program as a concept, except to point out the overall flaws in MRA as demonstrated over the last 60 years of US aircraft development; nor do I suggest that the A-10 and F-16 are so great as to keep them for the foreseeable future. The USAF can't, in fact, due so as their aircraft are well beyond "flow-up" as show by a 2007 CBO report.
The point of my research and writing was solely as it applies to the Army's FVL program. MRA's have demonstrated a propensity to oversell and under-deliver, generally at an excessive cost, especially in light of actual performance. Designing aircraft for multiple, vastly different missions inevitably leads to white elephants like the F-111 and, likely, the F-35. The MRA model, based on small numbers and high-technology, quickly devolves into a pernicious loop, where cost grossly exceeds capability.

Your response of the UH-60 as a model of MRA is off-base. The UH-60 was designed for one sole mission, move troops on the battlefield. This focus has allowed the aircraft to expand to other roles, not the other way around. Similarly, the F-4 is a poor choice as well-though it had major issues. The F-4 came to the Navy as an interceptor, not an MRA. It was only after the DoD (McNamara) forced its adoption by the USAF did its missions expand.

Secondly, you mentioned low-level tactics as the apply to Army Aviation. You cite the Apache Longbow radar, which incidentally isn't mounted on the top of the aircraft for any reason other that design practicality. The largest radar signature on the aircraft is the rotor (spinning blades at 500mph); mounting the radar on the rotor hub is a matter of finding a place on the aircraft that didn't interfere with existing systems (gun, weapons pylons, and sight). The irony is that the Apache is an example of design that I advocate for: purity of design that allows for later expansion. The Apache has evolved from a pure interdiction (deep attack) platform to a CCA/CAS, reconnaissance, and UAS controller with available radar capability. The design purity built into the original A-model allows for this; had the Apache been designed to do all of this from the start, it would followed the example of the F-111/F-35, etc. For more information on the Manned-Unmanned teaming, see my article in aviation digest (JUL-SEP '14) http://www.rucker.army.mil/aviationdigest.

We can speculate about perceived AD/ADA threats, but designing future aircraft to do everything is still a fool's errand. Furthermore, most American aircraft will likely find themselves in a supporting Surveillance/CAS role during any conflict, particularly after the beginning. AD/ADA threats are a valid concern, but we shouldn't necessarily design an aircraft solely for this threat when tools like specifically designed interdiction aircraft or cruise missiles would likely do so cheaper. My point is, design for what the aircraft will likely do the majority of the time, not the worst-case. See the A-10 in Desert Storm for the example.

Lastly, my quotes of MG Lundy are read incorrectly. In fact, I laud Army Aviation's judicious approach to FVL, requiring iterative testing and acknowledging from the start that multiple missions require multiple aircraft. My article was an attempt validate this approach and caution at the alternative. As for an "actual problem," the daily news stories about the F-35 or the historical data shown in the article prove that cost, quantity, and capability of MRA are all demonstrative problems.

Move Forward

Mon, 10/26/2015 - 11:00am

Interesting article but it appears to dispute a solution to a problem that either does not exist or is exaggerated. Nevertheless, there are other interesting comments/misconceptions. For instance, the author begins his piece with a quote from the GAO evaluating Desert Storm:

<blockquote>No high‐cost aircraft demonstrated superior performance in all, or even most, measures, and no low‐cost aircraft was generally inferior.</blockquote>

I’m certain MAJ Bolton has sat through the briefings and knows about air defenses and threat aircraft that exist today vs. during Desert Storm. F-16s and A-10s cannot survive systems that Russia and China have fielded and will field in the near future. The author, as an Apache pilot, understands that because against many radar air defenses he must fly low and slow under the radar envelope which is why his Longbow radar is on the mast above the rotors. Both A-10s and F-16s cannot fly high enough or low enough to survive. Jamming, countermeasures, and stand-off only do so much. But don’t look just at threats of Desert Storm and beyond. In the Yom Kippur war, Egyptian SA-6s downed many Israeli aircraft when enemy air-to-air could not. The same applied in the Bekaa Valley in 1982 with Israelis shooting down 80+ Syrian planes while losing only a few to air defenses. Look at the air defense losses in Georgia and Ukraine against Russian-design air defenses.

<blockquote>First, a lack of quantity means fewer missions flown. Training is largely a function of quantity of experience. If pilots cannot get hours to develop skills and, more importantly, units cannot train to collective proficiency, technology will not fill the gap.</blockquote>

Quantity <I>does not</I> have a quality all its own if it drives increased maintenance and pilot force structure, and increases cumulative training flying hours. The author’s own Figure 4 shows the F-15E costs more per hour to fly than the more survivable F-35A. If we decided to go low budget aircraft with mass quantities in mind, the reality is more likely to be eight pilots training at $15k per hour still surpassing costs of two pilots at $20-50k per hour. Plus, the two stealth aircraft would survive long after air defenses shoot down the budget planes or destroy their masses on the ground with missiles. The author also is not considering the advantages of flight simulator technology that today can replicate many training missions and reduce actual flying hours. Simulators can introduce air defense threats, mimic long-range AMRAAM engagements, and simulate targets and terrain on the ground that actual flights cannot duplicate (flying/engaging over cities for instance).

<blockquote>However, just because an aircraft is less expensive does not mean it is inherently less capable. The examples of the F-16 and A-10 demonstrate that simpler, often cheaper, aircraft are more effective than their MRA counterparts.</blockquote>

The author offers no examples of how the F-16 and A-10 are more effective than the F-35 in a radar air defense environment and against comparable stealth fighter jets. Looking at aircraft unit costs, seven single-purpose non-stealth aircraft that each cost $50 million exceeds costs of three multi-role F-35s with average costs of $100 million. In addition, if you have an F-22 (yes, it is multi-role) and F-35 that cost a lot, few nations can buy similar stealth aircraft capable of taking them on—particularly with typical $10 billion annual defense budgets. Unit cost and the cost per flying hour essentially prices most threats out of any capacity to afford competitive aircraft. Even Russia and China only could afford hundreds of T-50s and J-20s/J-31 compared to our thousands of stealth fighters. This explains why most nations opt for surface-to-surface missiles and air defenses. They simply cost less but still cannot address our dispersed fleet of stealth aircraft launching from many land and sea bases, assisted by hundreds of aerial refueling aircraft.

The F-111 is cited as a failure but the F-4 was a multi-role, multi-service aircraft that succeeded. MAJ Bolton’s own Figures 2 and 3 shows the <i>F-4 was less expensive than the F-16</i> using 2014 dollars. The F-15 designed strictly for air-to-air evolved into the multi-role F-15E used primarily for air-to-ground. The F/A-18E/F evolved into the EA-18G. Both F-4s and F-16s were/are used for Wild Weasel attack of air defenses. Nothing is inherently wrong with a multi-role, multi-service fighter and costs of the F-117 exceeded that of both F-22s and F-35s despite being exclusively single purpose. The stealth characteristics of F-117s, F-22s, F-35s, B-2s, and LRS-B drive up costs more than multi-role aspects. At least unlike the F-117, today’s F-22 and F-35 can do many missions. The capability to fly the survivable F-35 from large defended land bases, big and small carriers, and smaller land sites increases options for combatant commanders in every theater.

The ability to park and service any costly aircraft on survivable airfields is a major constraint against A2/AD threats. If you only can park 12 F-35As on a field due to shelter numbers or 12 F-35Cs or 6 F-35Bs on a large and small carrier, why would you want 48 lesser aircraft with 36 parked outside of shelters and 6 to 12 less capable Naval fighters in the same space on the same carriers? Some argue the F/A-18E/F can suffice with assistance from EA-18G jamming. The reality is that adding stealth fighters to the naval fighter mix complements both current aircraft and is more likely to survive against early conflict threat air defenses and fighter jets.

However, the entire argument about multi-role fighter jets in largely irrelevant to Joint future vertical lift aircraft. The UH-60 was the first such aircraft used by the Army, Navy, and USAF. Special Forces aviation even uses it as a weapon’s platform. That is a utility aircraft design. Yet MAJ Bolton while citing MG Lundy’s comments in his endnote 40 "Breaking Defense" article omitted several key quotes that illustrate no intent to have a single aircraft performing multiple vertical lift missions. The article says JMR-TD is joint multi-role technology demonstrator:

<blockquote> “We’re probably not going to have one aircraft that’s going to be able to do all the missions in the medium category,” Lundy said. “I’ve got an attack variant and I’ve got an assault variant. Based on what I see out of JMR-TD, one airplane may not be able to do those, and we’re not going to build a sub-optimized aircraft. If we’ve got to have two different aircraft, we’re going to have two different aircraft.” </blockquote>

<blockquote> At the same time, he added, “I need to see where JMR-TD goes. It might be that one technology is really good for a smaller aircraft and another technology is better for a larger aircraft. We can’t shrink the size of troops, so we’re going to move a squad inside of the assault variant, so it’s got to be able to move 11 soldiers.” What’s more, he said, “The attack/recon aircraft does not need to be as big as the assault aircraft. The bigger they are the more expensive they are. The bigger they are, the less stealthy they are. But you can only make a squad so small. So we know that the assault aircraft is going to be sized by that. The attack aircraft is sized by speed, range and the payload of the weapons systems.” </blockquote>.

We can speculate all we want. It looks to me like these quoted comments may imply a tilt-rotor attack medium aircraft and a more conventional pusher prop and/or counter-rotating blade helicopter for the utility variant. Helicopters of the same weight inherently have more lift than a tilt rotor of the same weight. If you don’t believe that, compare max gross weights and lift of an MV-22 compared to a CH-47F. Helicopters also can fit into smaller LZs or on the back of ships, plus utility aircraft land more often. Therefore, this article may describe an issue that really does not exist. Nothing I have read in the press indicates any intent to turn any FVL aircraft into a stealth aircraft and that is what would drive most of the cost. But utility helicopters are called that for a reason so nothing is inherently wrong or costly about conceptual multi-role aircraft.