January 9, 2006
Pentagon To Retire B-52s, U-2s, And F-117s In Bid To Save $16.4 Billion
The Defense Department plans to accelerate retirement of key Air Force aircraft, including nearly half the B-52 bomber force and the full U-2 spy plane and F-117 stealth fighter fleets, in a bid to save $16.4 billion and boost spending for the services' prized F-22A fighter aircraft program.
In a Dec. 20 internal budget document, Pentagon Comptroller Tina Jonas approved significant spending changes between fiscal years 2007 and 2011 that were proposed by the Air Force. The moves, which affect the service's procurement and personnel accounts, are designed to realign resources to produce a more lethal, agile and streamlined force, it states.
The document, program budget decision 720, carries the imprimatur of the Defense Department leadership and reflects decisions made in the nearly complete Quadrennial Defense Review, according to these sources.
The decisions, however, will require more than support from Pentagon officials; the Air Force will have to convince Congress, which has rejected recent Air Force proposals to retire major aircraft types early, according to defense analysts.
"The Air Force is looking to get rid of what they call 'tired iron,'" said Christopher Bolkcom, an aviation expert at the Congressional Research Service. "Congress in the past has not allowed them to retire airplanes."
Similar attempts in recent years -- including moves to stand down B-1B bombers, KC-135E aerial refueling aircraft, and the F-117 -- have met stiff resistance on Capitol Hill. But this time around, the Pentagon appears to be taking a new approach in proposing to retire three programs at once.
"Now they're going for the whole enchilada," Bolkcom said. "You can see that they seem to be launching a frontal assault."
Underscoring the difficulty that the Air Force may face in selling this plan to Congress, the fiscal year 2006 defense appropriations bill, signed Dec. 30 by President Bush, includes $9.4 billion to maintain the fleet of 52 F-117s.
"The conferees believe it is premature to retire any F-117 aircraft at this time," lawmakers wrote in the conference report accompanying the final spending bill. "The F-117 provides a unique capability to the combatant commanders and remains the only tactical stealth aircraft capable of delivering certain types of precision munitions."
The fiscal maneuvers detailed in the 14-page PBD would allow the Air Force to inject an additional $1 billion into its prized F-22A program, stretching production through fiscal year 2010 -- two years longer than previously planned -- and raising total acquisition numbers from 179 aircraft to 183.
To that end, the PBD trims $3.3 billion from the F-22A program in fiscal years 2007 and 2008 and provides $4.4 billion in fiscal years 2009 and 2010.
The Pentagon also plans to terminate the B-52 Stand-off Jammer System, an electronic attack capability, saving $1.1 billion across the five-year spending plan, according to the PBD.
Cuts to the long-range B-52 bomber fleet would reduce the inventory from 94 aircraft to 56, a move that would not affect any international treaties, the document states. The Air Force is banking on $4.6 billion in savings with this early retirement: $680 million in the procurement accounts and $3.9 billion in personnel reductions associated with a smaller B-52 fleet.
The 33-plane fleet of high-altitude U-2 reconnaissance aircraft would be retired by 2011, according to the budget decision, in a move that garners $1 billion in savings from the procurement accounts and $3.3 billion in manpower reductions. United Press International first reported details of the U-2 cut last week.
Cuts to the stealthy F-117A Nighthawk, which played a prominent role in the open salvos of the 1991 war with Iraq but has seen limited duty more recently, produced $6.2 billion in savings -- $1.1 billion from the procurement accounts and $5.1 billion from associated manpower accounts.
In addition to these decrements, the Air Force plans to slash its fleet of C-21 jets from 76 to 38 aircraft. C-21s are used to ferry Pentagon executives, cargo and execute medical missions.
"There are some pretty sound operational reasons" for the Air Force's move to retire these aircraft early, said Rebecca Grant, vice president for defense at Defense Forecast International, a Washington-based consulting firm. "What you see is an attempt to get down to the right force structure that's more manageable and sustainable."
--Jason Sherman and Daniel G. Dupont
Pentagon to retire U-2 spy plane
By PAMELA HESS
UPI Pentagon Correspondent
WASHINGTON, Jan. 4 (UPI) -- A classified budget document approved by the
Pentagon Dec. 23 calls for the termination by 2011 of one of the most
heavily relied-upon reconnaissance planes in the Iraq war.
The storied U-2 spy plane would commence retirement in 2007 under the
strictures of Program Budget Decision, or PBD, 720, according to
Pentagon, defense industry, and congressional officials familiar with
All spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision is classified.
PBD 720 would retire three U-2s in 2007, six in 2008, seven in both 2009
and 2010, and the final 10 in 2011.
The document, one of a host of similar decisions approved in an annual
ritual by senior defense officials as the finishing touches are being
put to the department's budget request, does not explain the rationale
for terminating the program, which has been unsuccessfully targeted for
retirement multiple times in the last 10 years.
The decision emanated from the Quadrennial Defense Review deliberations,
officials told United Press International. The review will be published
early this year.
According to an undated Air Force briefing chart, the U-2 flew 19
percent of the air reconnaissance missions during the 2003 Iraq invasion
but provided more than 60 percent of the signals intelligence and 88
percent of battlefield imagery.
The U-2, built by Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works, would likely be
supplanted by the Northrop Grumman's high-altitude Global Hawk unmanned
aerial vehicle, and champions of the venerable spy plane believe the U-2
termination is meant to hasten the transition away from manned toward
unmanned reconnaissance. As long as the U-2 is performing these missions
and is available, there is less impetus to develop unmanned platforms
and space systems, the high-tech systems heavily favored by Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon.
Five years ago, then-Air Force Secretary F. Whitten Peters suggested the
termination of the U-2 program in 2011 to free up funding to boost
production of the nascent Global Hawk. But this and other attempts to
retire the U-2 have been rebuffed by Congress.
"There has been a push for a long time and one has to wonder what the
push is, and one is that it is a rationale for all to drive the Global
Hawk on," said a Capitol Hill official who spoke to UPI on condition of
The U-2 was first developed in the 1950s, and put into production again
in the 1980s. Between 1995 and 1999 the entire fleet received new
These upgrades, along with a new glass cockpit and new sensors, give it
useful service life until 2050, according to a Congressional Research
Service report from 2000.
The unmanned Global Hawk can fly twice as far as the U-2 and remain on
station for three times as long. However, the U-2 can carry twice the
payload as the Global Hawk and its superior electrical power from new
engine increases some of the capabilities of its onboard sensors. The
next generation of the Global Hawk is slated to boost its payload weight
and an electrical generator to roughly match the U-2, according to
information provided by Northrop Grumman.
The two aircraft have for the last five years been operating as
complementary as bugs have been worked out of the relatively new Global
Hawk, which suffered two major crashes in Afghanistan in December 2001
and July 2002.
Northrop announced this week the Global Hawk had exceeded 5000 combat
flight hours and flown 233 missions, 157 by a single aircraft. Six
Global Hawks have been deployed in the Iraq and Afghan wars. The Air
Force currently plans to purchase 51 more of the $50 million craft.
The difference between the aircraft goes beyond the sensors they carry
and how long they can fly. A piloted aircraft can be redirected in
flight to new targets; the Global Hawk is pre-programmed. Moreover,
there are places where the FAA, international aviation regulations or
host countries prohibit unmanned aircraft for safety reasons.
"We don't have the benefit of the QDR insights," said the congressional
official. "But this is like saying, which one is better a Ford 500 or a
Mercedes roadster? The Ford doesn't have a top that can come down. On
the other hand you can't put a family of five in a roadster."
There may be a third option in what appears to be an either/or trade-off
between manned and unmanned systems: making the U-2 an "optionally
piloted vehicle" or OPV with the installation of a new command and
The House of Representatives directed the Pentagon to support the
development of the "OWL" OPV in 1998 for counter-drug and border
enforcement missions. Sources suggested this might be a way to straddle
the gap between the sensor capabilities of the U-2 and the loiter time
of the Global Hawk.
The U-2 is a single engine, single-seat aircraft built for flight -- it
is almost entirely wings. Flying above 70,000 feet to avoid detection
and attack, pilots have to wear spacesuits to protect themselves from
low pressure and oxygen starvation.
They affectionately call it the "Dragon Lady" because of its difficult
handling at altitude and the elaborate and dangerous process of landing
A chase car is dispatched to the runway to tell the pilot how far he is
from the ground; the plane has to be deliberately stalled to get it to
Taking off is also dangerous: the wings are held aloft by rolling "pogo
sticks" that sometimes fail to detach when the aircraft takes flight.
U-2 pilots have to dip the wings to drop them, and if they over turn,
they can crash. For the dangers and rigors of flight and the skill
required for it, American U-2 pilots -- fewer than 75 -- are an elite
and tight fraternity.
The small fleet of U-2s has a long and storied history in the Cold War
as well as an active place in the war in Iraq.
For most of its history, the U-2 has been regarded as a "strategic"
platform, providing information to the president and CIA rather than
The 1991 Persian Gulf war changed that: the U-2 provided 50 percent of
all imagery and 90 percent of ground-targeting imagery. The war was a
watershed for the U-2, when it proved it could provide near-immediate
tactically useful imagery. It was the largest U-2 operation ever, with
nine aircraft and 30 pilots flying as many as five sorties a day,
according to the Congressional Research Service.
The plane also played a large role in the Kosovo conflict, providing 80
percent of battlefield imagery.
The aircraft is best known from the May 1960 shoot-down of Gary Francis
Powers, a CIA pilot, over the Soviet Union. Powers' mission was one of
several meant to determine for President Dwight D. Eisenhower whether
the Soviet Union was building more nuclear bombers than was previously
known. From U-2 imagery gathered before Powers' capture and public
trial, the United States determined the Soviets had merely erected a
façade and there was no bomber or missile gap.
Frankly, if the upgraded Global Hawks and other UAVs can do the job, I see no reason to risk the aircrews who could fly other things.
If true, what will they do with Beale AFB besides run the Pave Paws?
We must not allow a mineshaft gap!
Beale has some Global Hawks right now and will be getting more.