Kill the AWACS, J-STARS fleets, ex-SECAF says

The era of the E-3 AWACS, the E-8C J-STARS and — presumably — RC-135 Rivet Joint may be over. Fifth-generation fighters are not only more survivable against a sophisticated opponent, they also have better sensors than the US Air Force’s best dedicated air- and ground-warning systems. Anything larger than an F-35 or F-22 should be parked forever. Instead, however, the 707-based sensor fleet is kept alive by a military-industry cabal and by fighter jocks who “pretend” to be scared of a future without at least AWACS watching their backs. Killing AWACS and J-STARS would reap billions in savings, which could be reinvested to buy more F-22s and F-35s.


None of the above sentences come from me. Nor are they the ravings of a fringe commentator on the outskirts of the blogosphere. Instead, these are the newly-published opinions of former Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne, who has become a sort of Jimmy Carter of ex-service chiefs by publicly purveying a series of his own inconvenient truths to the military-industrial complex. Last October, Wynne warned of deep ramifications of the decision to cancel the F-22, but also took shots at Pratt & Whitney and Lockheed Martin. It’s not clear if Wynne’s most recent proposals will be seriously considered by anyone inside the Pentagon’s E-ring. But it’s worth your time to read what Wynne has to say.

READ: Budget Rationalization of Survivable ISR, by Michael Wynne

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6 Responses to Kill the AWACS, J-STARS fleets, ex-SECAF says

  1. K 1 February, 2011 at 4:43 pm #

    The constant ongoing change in military technology has a tendency to result in the obsolescence of contemporary weapon systems. The dreadnought, for example, obsoleted Britain’s entire navy and gave the Germans a chance to match up with them prior to WW1.

    The US has gotten 20+ years of technological military superiority out of stealth tech, an amazingly long run historically speaking. Unless the US military R&D has been actively pursuing anti-stealth technologies and attained a good level of success, AWACS and J stars are now obsolete vs any enemy with a single stealth drone that can carry a couple of amraam or sidewinder clones.

    Of course, it may be that the US has such technology, or OTOH may have decided not to develop it quickly just as the Brits didn’t work hard on developing the submarine between the wars for the same reason – leaks in submarine technology could undermine their naval superiority.

  2. Anonymous 1 February, 2011 at 8:31 pm #

    While you’d assume that Secretary Wynne would have some undeniable insight on the topic, his assertions show that he’s primarily concerned with his legacy. Having fallen on his proverbial sword for the F-22 against Secretary Gates, his reasoning pangs of continued flailing and bloodletting.

    The C2 Iron Triad is much more useful than he insinuates. While the F-22 (and presumably the F-35) are extremely capable in their own right – they simply lack the capability to maintain command and control over a large operational area. Wynne assumes that tactical dominance of a small area of information can easily be translated into the operational realm. This the F-22 cannot do.

    Another false presupposition that Wynne forces in his claim is how close the Huns are knocking at Rome’s door. The 5th generation capabilities of the FAK-PA and the J-20 are mostly in development — and if past performance is any indication of present and future capability these 5th-gen fighters will lack many of the benefits that the USAF insists for its 5th-gen fighters.

    Finally, in the realm of stealth, Wynne plays to the worst inclinations of political theater by insinuating that these 5th-gen developmental fighters will have unfettered access to our C2 Iron Triad. They will not. Its only math: stealth does not equate to invisibility. Short of tactical surprise, the C2 Iron Triad would be defensible — even by 4th-gen fighters. Wynne wrongfully insinuates otherwise with his words.

    Wynne, as the former civilian boss of the best Air and Space force in the world would easily grasp how he’s playing his hand. At best, if he doesn’t grasp these concepts then his sacking was fortuitous. At worst, its clear that he’s playing revisionist to his legacy which ended so unceremoniously with his self-immolation on the proverbial F-22 sword.

  3. ArkadyRenko 1 February, 2011 at 9:40 pm #

    Actually, the secretary’s comments do not make much sense at all.

    If the JStars and AWACS have poor performance, its because the AF, under him, did not put enough time and effort into bringing those units up to the modern era. Unless the Secretary believes that single pilots can manage the ‘modern battle-space’ or that command and control can be enforced via satellite link, there will still be a need for airborne command and control.

    He is right to raise the point, the AF may have to rethink how it runs airborne sensors and command and control. Perhaps, there should be a move to put the sensors away from the analysis airplanes, but that may be too difficult.

  4. RunningBear 2 February, 2011 at 2:51 am #

    I’m not a fan of Wynne’s legacy. My experience is in a/c tracking Soviet submarines from an earlier era. My current “gig” is control and monitoring systems in the civilian world. I know computer systems and data analysis. That said, Stephen’s article is missing Wynne’s reference to “Gorgon Stare”. That is his assessment of the ISR downlink from the F-22/ 35 to the “developing” data processing systems that will merge each a/c’s data set into the “Window on the Battle Space”. He makes two points; 1- any lumbering multi-engine platform is a “target” in today’s world. That it is filled with many high dollar technologist collecting and analyzing their front line data, just makes it a more attractive target. 2- His shots at both of the B-707 platforms, AWACS and JSTARS are intentional. His opinion, apparently is that the data acquisition should be by stealth platforms and the analysis should be done, “Elsewhere”; ala’ Gorgon Stare. He did not mention Global Hawk or Predator but both should probably be considered as the low dollar alternative to the stealth a/c, and also the benefit of their persistence. Today’s article, ISR Needs Put Fighters in Surveillance Role By Angus Batey@ AviationWeek by way of RAF Marham and RAF Waddington perhaps puts some proof behind Wynne’s proposal. Today’s analysis technology is growing by leaps and bounds, thus the recent upgrade of all sonar systems in the US Navy’s subs. They are not replacing the sensors but the processors and the analysis programs.

  5. Dave 2 February, 2011 at 3:53 pm #

    I think the former Secretary needs to start taking his meds again. Frankly, this one dimensional obsession with fighters is not healthy. If China is the opposition then a bomber is much, much more important given that a short-legged fighter is borderline useless over such vast distances.

  6. Herkeng130 2 February, 2011 at 6:40 pm #

    Did Dr Carlo Kopp change his name and become an american?

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