ORLANDO: A half-dozen people in the Air Force are helping to define the service’s as part of a major new approach to deciding what weapons to buy, known as Strategic Development Planning Experimentation.
The effort is led by Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, the commander of Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson AFB. The first iteration of SDPE (as it will no doubt become fondly known) led to Penetrating Counter Air (good ole PCA) and Penetrating Electronic Warfare (PEW??). We didn’t know until today, when General P. told us, that PEW existed or was the result of SDP, but we do now. My colleague, John Tirpak of Air Force Magazine, has a piece in the magazine about the Air Force again flying an EW platform, a mission it had ceded to to the Navy. John quotes Air Combat Commander Gen. Hawk Carlisle:
“The platform could be a variant of the PCA aircraft, or ‘we have something that can go a little faster in that realm,’ or it could be an unmanned platform. ‘So there’s a lot we’re thinking about’ with the PEA, he said.
‘The Navy is kind of leaning toward a standoff capability” in electronic warfare, “because of the way the fleet operates,’ Carlisle noted. ‘We, in the Air Force, responsible for theater-level airpower, believe we need penetrating as well and so, my guess is, there will be…a synergy there where the Navy concentrates on a standoff capability, we concentrate on a stand-in capability. And then we marry those two together to make the greatest electronic attack capability we can.’
The next target for the SDP group is OA-X, an acronym that’s been in search of a clear definition. So far we’ve had this somewhat confusing situation. Textron’s Scorpion aircraft is being considered for it. It’s a program. It’s a concept. It’s a test of capabilities. OK. So just what is OA-X?
It’s the Air Force’s attempt to plan for a light attack aircraft, largely because, as Gen. P. put it, quantity has a quality all its own. Does the Air Force want to use F-35s and F-22s for most missions? Fourth generation aircraft like the F-15 and F-16 are getting pretty old for high-performance fighters and the Air Force needs to decide if it will have enough aircraft to withstand the inevitable ravages of war.
The other SDPE topic is Multi-Domain Command and Control (MDC2). More on this one later. It’s important to note here that none of these SDPE efforts are programs or anything more than detailed concepts in pursuit of formal requirements funding and friends.
Given that, let’s look at how this is all is supposed to work. The small team that leads the SDPE brings in intelligence experts and technologists to work out concepts of operations for the prospective capability. They then bring in warfighters to have a look. They run war games to test it. They go back and tear the initial CONOPS apart and keep pressing to make sure they come up with a blend of technologies and capabilities that should be able to stand the test of time come 2030 and meet the predicted threats.
Once a concept is identified as a capability gap, the Air Force then creates an Enterprise Capability Collaboration Team (ECCT) to examine the best ways to fill the gap. The first one was created under Gen. Mark Welsh, then Air Force Chief of Staff. It looked at what was needed to ensure air superiority in 2030.
Pawlikowski had one big hole in her hope chest: funds to build a prototype blended wing, an elegant looking design the Air Force has been working on occasionally since at least 2008. While General P. tried to deny she’s hoping appropriators (or someone in the Office of Secretary of Defense) might find the “hundreds of millions” of dollars needed to build a true prototype, she went public with the issue, didn’t she? Why can’t the Air Force find the money, I asked. “To be honest with you, Colin, as I look out at the the Air Force from a larger perspective, we just have so many other things we want and need to do, that….” Hello, House Appropriations?