DOD’s F-35 commitment is “variable”, says DOD’s top analyst

There are many takeaways from Defense News Editor Vago Muradian’s excellent interview with Brad Berkson, head of Program, Analysis and Evaluation (PA&E) for Secretary of Defense Bob Gates. It was televised yesterday on a local station in the DC metro area as part of Muradian’s weekly show.

I’ll focus on Berkson’s response about the future of the F-35. (You can also check out the video here, or read my full transcript on the jump of this blog page.)


Muradian: Whatare some of the things though that should be rethought you know by the nextteam?

Berkson: Ithink related to that — it gets to areas like Tacair. So you think aboutfighters. And who are the air threats for our country? And how many? And what capabilitydo you need of various strike fighter capabilities, bombers, attack aircraft,etc.

Muradian: Even,how many JSFs to buy? I mean, the air force maintains it need about 1,763 JSFs toreplace about 1400 F-16s, and there are people who say, “Look, if JSF is thatmuch better, why do we need so many?” Those are the kinds of trades you’retalking about?

Berkson: Ithink, exactly. Unfortunately it’s counter-intuitive. That investment is goingto be increasing in the next 10 years as we do the capital replacement of the Tacairfleet. So even though while we need to allocate significant portions of our investmentaccounts to recapitalizing that, the end game — in other words, when we would stopproducing those planes and shut down those lines — I think, is quite variablein this mix. Whether it’s 1,000 or 3,000 or somewhere in between there. Obviouslyadministrations to come will make that final decision.

Muradian: Whatare you guys doing to make sure January 20 goes smoothly no matter who wins?

 

Berkson: Well,we’ve really thought about the budget in terms of the capabilities we’ll need andthe force structure we have today. And the real issue for the transition andwhat we were thinking about in the budget for the next six years primarilydeals with the balance of that whole system.

 

We haveright now a lot of money — over $150 billion is in supplemental funding. We’verecently added significantly to the ground forces. We’ve been reshaping both theair force and navy in terms of their force structure.

 

And what wereally are going to be aspiring to do and to transmit to the new administrationis the need for balance across those various areas both manpower, O&M andprocurement. Frankly right now as you look at the force structure we need –and we’ve added to the budget over the last few years –

 

Muradian: Wellthere’s 92,000 more people you have in the force or you’re shooting for thatmuch of an increase in end-strength across the army and the marines.

 

Berkson: Exactly,for that 92,000 end-strength, it obviously requires O&M support and alsocapital to support those folks.

 

Currentlyif you look at the budget we have for procurement — we’re approaching an all-timehigh for procurement — at the levels we have for force structure, should we beable to maintain that level of procurement, we can actually continue to reducethe half-life — in other words how long we can sustain that equipment — to alevel that’s sustainbable into the long term.

 

So thechallenge will be: if we’re going to continue to have the force structure we’veadded, we will need to maintain budget levels and resource commitments at neartheir current levels excluding operations obviously in Iraq and Afghanistan. But we’ll have tocontinue that into the future in order to sustain that force.

 

Muradian: Areyou talking about –. There are two sorts of ways that outgoing administrationshandle this. They either leave a one year defense plan in which case would be aFY 2010 plan. Or you leave a future years defense plan that is the six- yearplan [and] that is tied to that first year. Are you going to be leaving a full FYDPor will you be leaving a one-year budget for the next administration?

 

Berkson: We’repreparing and looking and –. Well obviously the next administration willdecide what they’re going to propose to the Congress. But we’re preparing abudget that is consistent with the force structure that President Bush hasannounced. And it will be sufficient to sustain those forces again across thespectrum of operations and support and military, manpower and capital

 

Muradian: Butyou are proposing a six year plan, not just a one year plan?

 

Berkson: Exactly.

 

Muradian:And is that plan going to have that $60 billion a year increase to try andincrease that overall topline in defense spending?

 

Berkson: Again–. The $60 billion is a — comes out and discussed. The real key is you takethe force structure you have proposed, and you essentially have to have capitaland operations to support that.

 

Muradian: Sothat number goes with that increase force structure?

 

Berkson: Thepoint is to have a balance in that. Again, my job is to balance the portfolio ofthe Department of Defense, or at least to make those recommendations to the Secretary,in order to have that balance you have to have again at the force structure levelsthat we’re proposing, you have to have again capital and operations support tosustain that level.

 

I think thatthen makes it a little more straightforward for the next administration becausethen they can make trades really about force structure. Because if the forcestructure needs to be changed, and they have different views of either mixbetween the services or the overall levels, all three of those accounts can thensimultaneously be balanced to that level of force structure.

 

Muradian: Doesa weaker potentially economy — I mean, has the guidance from OMB and the whitehouse changed at all in the wake of all the financial bailout stuff andeverything that’s happened?

 

Berkson: Ihaven’t received any new information on guidance.

 

Muradian: You’rejob has historically bean able to better estimate tradeoffs for the departmentso that tradeoffs can be made. Yet program costs keep going up and scheduleskeep slipping. What are some of the things PA&E can do to break this trendwhere almost everything is over budget and behind schedule?

 

Berkson: Ithink our most important job is really to look at the – one, to take theperspective of the kind of fair and objective observer of the system and comeup with proposals both that challenge the status quo and give new opportunitiesand new essentially trades that can be made as well to challenge programs individuallyas they meet or fail to meet either quality cost or schedule.

 

Our role isnot to deliver a program on time. My role — and that of our team is to look atthe program as it is and see does it fit in? Does it add value to the portfolioof the Defense Department, and is it something — given all of the cost, requirements… and technology risk etc — is it something we would recommend the secretartand eventually the president continue to pursue …

 

Muradian: Asthis next administration comes into office, what are some of the things thatyou would leave for them? Things that should live? Things that shouldn’t. Thingsthat should be changed? What are sort of some of the lessons learned, to-dolists that you’re going to pass to the next administration?

 

Berkson: Ithink the big challenge with regard to trades for the next administration isone we’ve been facing for the past few years. It’s really the technologicalinvestments one needs to maintain superiority with the highest-end threats inthe world versus the resources to support most of the current operations. Andwhile –

 

Muradian: Whichare much lower intensity operations.

 

Berkson: Ingeneral. Especially in areas like air, air defense, missile defense a number ofcapabilities that one needs really to deal with the highest-end threat. But atthe low end it’s just that the level of need is not as signifrcant.

 

So SecretaryGates has been driving this point home, and I really agree with it, that wehave to think about that balance because a large portion of our resources endup going into defending against a threat in the future of a very technologicallycapable foe and while it’s very likely that those capabilities will proliferateover time and that we cannot abandon our investment in those areas for fear ofleaving ourselves vulnerable as a country, it really becomes a real challengeto think how much is enough in that area especially when I’m facing a globalwar on terrorism, which has more near to the present and more currentchallenges and requires investment as well.

 

Muradian: Whatare some of the things though that should be rethought you know by the nextteam?

 

Berkson: Ithink related to that — it gets to areas like Tacair. So you think aboutfighters. And who are the air threats for our country? And how many? And what capabilitydo you need of various strike fighter capabilities, bombers, attack aircraft,etc.?

 

Muradian: Even,how many JSFs to buy? I mean, the air force maintains it need about 1,763 JSFs toreplace about 1400 F-16s, and there are people who say, “Look, if JSF is thatmuch better, why do we need so many?” Those are the kinds of trades you’retalking about?

 

Berkson: Ithink, exactly. Unfortunately it’s counter-intuitive. That investment is goingto be increasing in the next 10 years as we do the capital replacement of the Tacairfleet. So even though while we need to allocate significant portions of our investmentaccounts to recapitalizing that, the end game — in other words, when we would stopproducing those planes and shut down those lines — I think, is quite variablein this mix. Whether it’s 1,000 or 3,000 or somewhere in between there. Obviouslyadministrations to come will make that final decision.

 

Muradian: Arewe doing a good job making sort of the broader asymmetric trades? For examplelooking at the crusader. It was cancelled yet the army still maintained themoney and gone on to develop pretty much another self propelled howitzer. Doesthat money need to be shifted somewhere else entirely? Are we making some ofthese moves that are going to set US defense up for the next decades?

 

Berkson: Again,I think, as you think about who is the high-end threat for an armored force,it’s a very interesting and important question.

 

As recentlyas Gettysburg, andas you think about how many people — 3,000 men in an infantry unit — couldcontrol or how much territory, it was relatively five feet in front of you asyou’re walking up Cemetery Ridge. Now, a group of special operations with one B-52could take out the whole union position.

 

So it’s verydifficult to say, you know exactly, “I don’t need that technology. But technologycreates an opportunity to reduce the force structure to control much biggerareas of either land or air or whatever. So while I think there are reasonable waysto think about how many ways do I need a strike platform — artillery, non-lineof sight cannon, cannons in a box, DDX firing from the shore, Predator or Reaperdropping Hellfire weapons — I mean, I have literally hundreds of ways tocreate the same effects on the battlefield. Really looking at the effectivenessand efficiency trades of those solutions is critical

 

Muradian: Onecriticism leveled at PA& E is it has taken too much of a soda strawapproach and not as much a strategic view. How do you respond?

 

Berkson: Ithink were where we get criticism is really outside the building. The place thatyou have an impact on actually affecting what decisions we make are really two.One is when you do the budget and two is when you review a program for amilestone decision.

 

So whileyou will only see PA&E fly in and show up is coming in to either kill aprogram or a major restructure, what you’re not seeing is what’s going on therest of the time, where we’re look across the whole program and make tradesacross that. It just happens that the two levers that are most visible come inthings that are more near term — budgets and acquisition.

Subscribe

Subscribe to our e-mail newsletter to receive updates.

, , , ,

4 Responses to DOD’s F-35 commitment is “variable”, says DOD’s top analyst

  1. Royce 21 October, 2008 at 3:50 pm #

    “I mean, the air force maintains it need about 1,763 JSFs to replace about 1400 F-16s…”

    Is that accurate? The JSF will have to replace not only the 1,200+ F-16s and 350 A-10s (1,550 or so aircraft), but it also needs to replace around 300-400 F-15Cs. The F-22 buy won’t go any higher than 220-240 under even optimistic forecasts.

  2. Stephen Trimble 21 October, 2008 at 3:59 pm #

    Strictly speaking, JSF is replacing more than 1,400 F-16s for the US Air Force. A-10s are part of the mix. If it does replace F-15Cs, I doubt it will do so functionally, versus plugging holes in the CONUS basing structure.

    If you think of F-22/F-35 as the new F-15/F-16, however, what Vago says is basically correct, and I think that was his point. Of course, it doesn’t quite work that way because there will continue to be F-15s and F-16s, and not because they don’t need replacing, but because the USAF can’t afford to with fifth-gen aircraft.

  3. Royce 21 October, 2008 at 8:13 pm #

    It’s a bizarre state of affairs. Stealth technology seems just too expensive to use as the core combat aircraft for the U.S. military. It’s all back to that hi-lo mix issue from the 1960s/1970s, but this go around all the options on the table are “hi.”

  4. world\u0027s brightest flashlights 6 December, 2010 at 12:16 am #

    A carpenter uses a set of home plans to build a house. If he didn’t the lavatory might get neglected altogether.

Leave a Reply