An Afghan pilot conducts training in an A-29 Super Tucano over Kabul, Afghanistan as part of the Train Advise and Assist Command’s (TAAC-Air) mission on Dec. 20, 2018. The mission of TAAC-Air is to train, advise and assist Afghan partners to develop a professional, capable and sustainable Afghan Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Maygan Straight)

The US Air Force is known for spending lavishly, and one man is offering solutions to gut some of the “money-pits” the USAF wants to invest in.
Chief Operating Officer of the non-profit Lexington Institute* and Chief Executive Officer of Source Associates Loren Thompson is demanding the end to several problematic programs within the US Air Force, claiming many are short-sighted and cost too much in the long run.

In an opinion piece posted in Forbes, Thompson feels the USAF needs to focus on sustainable programs that plan for the long-term without sacrificing capability, and chose five programs that need to go.

At the top of his list was the USAF’s thirst for “attritable” aircraft with around a decade’s service life before replacements are needed. Comparing this need to the “Century Series” of aircraft obtained during the Cold War, Thompson claimed that Air Force acquisition chief Will Roper’s plan to adopt expendable planes :is politically unsaleable and no way to stay ahead of the Chinese; what we need are modular, open-architecture aircraft that can be upgraded as threats dictate, not thrown away after a decade.”

Thompson also went after the cost of high-price drones that are suceptible to enemy fire and accidents, claiming that “Iran’s recent shoot-down of the Air Force’s most capable drone should be a wakeup call about the limitations of unmanned aircraft.”

“A second-rate military power has shot one down using a locally-designed missile,” he wrote. “It is hard to see how a costly, vulnerable unmanned vehicle would be much use in any kind of conflict with China or Russia.”

Propeller-driven aircraft for Counter Insurgency operations, Penetrating counterair fighters and small, unmanned tankers were also targeted in Thompson’s article, claiming that all three did not meet the needs of the Air Force for the long term, nor were they financially sustianable.

“Planners could make a plausible case for pursuing any of the above five projects if the government wasn’t already borrowing $2 billion per day and there were no competing demands on the budget”, he wrote. “But chances are that weapons spending will be going down from here, not up, so the Air Force needs to focus what investment resources it has on the most important modernization priorities. None of these projects makes the grade.”

*This institute receives funding from contractors who might lose or gain funding from the priorities recommended by its CEO. Some of the companies are also consulting clients.

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