Magazine article National Defense

U.S. Military Needs Better Defenses from Aerial Attacks

Magazine article National Defense

U.S. Military Needs Better Defenses from Aerial Attacks

Article excerpt

* Anyone who has traveled on the London Underground knows that as the train approaches the tube station, there is a warning provided for passengers to "mind the gap." The gap to be minded is that dangerous physical distance between the edge of the train platform and the floor of the rail car. If not given attention, a careless or distracted passenger could take a spill, badly twist an ankle, or perhaps get their leg wedged between the platform and the car.

The train platform hazard is perhaps an apt metaphor for a gap that exists in the nation's ability to defend itself from enemy attacks. That is the area below the horizon of surface based radar, where ever-more stealthy aircraft and cruise missiles could approach undetected.

To mind the gap today, the military services employ radar systems in aircraft such as the U.S. Air Force Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS) E-3 Sentry, and the Navy's "eyes of the fleet," the E-2 Hawkeye series.

These aircraft are crucial to today's operations in that they provide the airborne coverage that looks down into the vast expanse of the gap. But they do so at significant operational cost. The cost per flight hour (CPFH) of a manned aircraft to take and hold station is not just the Fuel and flight crew pay. The really expensive part of the CPFH is what, in Navy terms, is known as aviation depot level repairable cost. That is the funding that is prorated per flight hour to cover the cost for the eventual refurbishment of every repairable item on the aircraft's airframe and weapons system.

With military funding levels headed down, something has to give. We can no longer afford to continue to do business the same old way, nor should we try.

If the current way of doing business is maintained then either Force structure elsewhere needs to be traded away, or current airborne platforms will need to be reduced. If the number of platforms is reduced, then the ability to mind the gap during a crisis could be perilously reduced. In Pentagonese, this is called "taking risk."

Others might call it robbing Peter to pay Paul. Either way, without additional funds, some areas lose and risk increases.

There are, in fact, other ways of completing the mission that cost less.

Unmanned aerial systems are getting a lot of press these days, and advocates are pressing for them to acquire more and more missions. …

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