INTERVIEW: Air Combat Command chief prepares for departure
17 Feb 2017 Leigh Giangreco
"...Carlisle’s legacy in his last post may be cemented by the Lockheed F-35A Lightning II, which reached limited combat capability last August. He tempered his tone during the announcement of that milestone, saying the aircraft still required significant work that would come with impending software and hardware upgrades.
As Carlisle heads into retirement this spring, it would appear he is counting the F-35 not as an embattled programme, but a work in progress. That position does not jibe with the Pentagon’s outgoing senior weapons tester, Michael Gilmore, who penned several caustic assessments of the fighter programme over his tenure. In his last report, Gilmore warned that hundreds of deficiencies on the platform would push full combat tests to late 2018 or early 2019; more than a year after the planned date.
In an August report following the F-35A’s initial operational capability announcement, Gilmore wrote that with the current Block 3i software, the aircraft might be less effective in a permissive environment than many “fourth-generation” platforms, including the A-10. With Block 3i software, the F-35A lacks an automated targeting capability for tracking and targeting moving vehicles: a feature that legacy platforms already have.
During a January exit interview with FlightGlobal, Carlisle acknowledged that individual capabilities on the F-35, such as its electro-optical targeting system (EOTS), needed work and would improve with Block 4 upgrades. But he also argues that taken as a whole, the new type will outperform legacy aircraft.
“In some cases, the [EOTS] we’re fielding on the F-35 are not as good as the current pods that are mounted externally on current aircraft,” he says. “And you can take things individually like that, but the airplane deploys as a package. In many environments, the A-10 can’t get close enough to employ anything because it’s threatened at a level that the F-35 is not.”
The USAF already knew about some of the gaps Gilmore pointed out and understood that those capabilities would not be available in the early Block 3i variant, Carlisle adds.
“Some of the things he talked about, it was planned that way,” he says. “The one counter-argument I would make to Gilmore is, every developmental programme goes through this. These are incredibly complex machines and you continue to improve the capability as you go.”
With all of the F-35’s technical issues aside, the fifth-generation aircraft will still fly with fourth-generation missiles. Lockheed designed it to accommodate Raytheon’s AIM-120 AMRAAM, but Carlisle wants a combination air-to-air and air-to-ground missile that can offer greater range for the aircraft.
“Range is a big factor if you look at our potential adversaries with things like the [Chinese] PL-15,” he says. “I think it needs to be multiband, broad spectrum – which aids it in survivability and reaching the target.”
Carlisle sees the missile fielded across a spectrum of platforms, from fourth-generation aircraft to a future penetrating counterair platform and Northrop’s B-21 bomber. He also believes technology will enable the USAF to achieve greater range within the current size and configuration for the F-35.
“I can’t comment a lot on where we’re going to go with what we’re developing on technology, but I will tell you that we worked hard,” he says. “I think with the engine and motor technology for weapons we can get range, depending on what kind of profile and motor we use.”
Even as the F-35 continues to face numerous hurdles, Carlisle is set on increasing the buy rate for the aircraft. In that endeavour, he could find an unlikely ally in Congress: the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain. The Republican senator has long stood as one of the programme’s harshest critics, but his recent recommendations for the defence budget vouches for an increased acquisition of F-35As.
Current funding constraints have forced the USAF to procure 228 F-35As between fiscal years 2018 and 2022, at a rate of 48 aircraft per year. That means the service would not reach its goal of 1,763 F-35As until 2040, according to McCain’s recent white paper. While the senator did not state a number, he argues that the USAF should buy as many F-35s as possible over the next five years.
“My objective is to increase the buy rate as much as I can for as long as I can,” Carlisle says. “I would love to get to 60. I’d love to get to 80 a year in the [conventional take-off and landing] version, which was the plan we had a while ago. We were just never able to finance it.”
The F-35 procurement is not the only casualty of a more austere Pentagon. Carlisle is leaving an air force that has pushed many of its budget priorities to the right. Since sequestration and the budget control act of 2011, the Department of Defense has tightened its belt. That has often forced the services to choose between pursuing ambitious modernisation programmes and maintaining their current fleets....
...McCain and Carlisle could find common ground on OA-X as well. In his white paper, McCain recommended buying 300 light attack fighters with minimal development, and called on the USAF to buy the first 200 examples by FY2022. The high-low mix of additional F-35s plus OA-X aircraft could help Carlisle ameliorate his command’s capacity issue, he says.
“One of my biggest problems today is capacity. I just don’t have enough fighter squadrons to do everything that is being asked of me,” he says. “As we look at 300 low-end fighters, that may be something that meets the combatant commander’s need and may be one of the driving factors as we move forward and watch this test develop.”"
Source: https://www.flightglobal.com/news/artic ... ep-433977/
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