Helping Shape the 2030 Air Force

April 2020
Topics: Air Force Operations, Air Defense, Military Planning
A Congressionally mandated MITRE study found a need for new basing options and more long-range airpower, preceding a marked shift in Air Force strategy.
Fighter Jet

When U.S. forces deploy overseas, their basing options are a critical factor in the combat power they can generate, particularly in vast areas like the Pacific.

Many factors must be considered when searching for locations to base forces outside U.S. territory: Attack the enemy while avoiding enemy attack. Strengthen deterrence. Maintain readiness. And sustain high-intensity combat operations with supply lines that stretch far from home.

In 2018, Congress commissioned three independent studies of aircraft inventory through 2030. With the requirement that an FFRDC lead one of the studies, the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) called on MITRE's National Security Engineering Center.

Beyond aircraft inventories, MITRE’s Air Force 2030 study analyzed the need and options for new rear-area bases and other key elements of future military operations.

Dave Gerber led our efforts and described MITRE’s recommendations on Capitol Hill in September 2019. “The Pacific is such a large and complex problem that an approach like this has never been attempted before,” Gerber says. “Our study results contributed to changing the baseline thinking for potential future operations.”

The work is just one example of our contributions to implement the U.S. National Defense Strategy.

"Getting Serious" About the Indo-Pacific Theater

Our recommendations for garnering additional combat power will influence Air Force operational strategy and vision into the next decade, and some of MITRE’s recommendations are already seen in the Air Force’s new Fiscal 2021 budget request.

The study built upon previous successful projects. Take for example our “stand-out” contributions to the Congressionally directed Future Fleet Architecture study of 2016. In a similar effort, MITRE developed new analytic tools and approaches to study aircraft and basing.

Our team developed a tailored analytical model that we applied to the Indo-Pacific theater. The results showed a critical need to boost long-range airpower. This can come not just through greater use of refueling tankers, bombers, and long-range weapons, but through forward bases near (yet not too near) mainland China.

Gerber says, “The U.S. is finally getting serious about expanding bases in the Pacific. This complementary ‘capability’ is as important as the aircraft we fly.” 

For example, Royal Australian Air Force Base Tindal is expanding to accommodate B-52 bombers. This agrees with MITRE’s recommendations to expand other rear-bases in “bare bones” locations near this site in northern Australia. And it ultimately improves our nation’s and allies’ ability to support a forward posture.

Other key post-study developments that align with our recommendations include:

  • Slowing down plans to retire B-1 bombers. The Air Force is overhauling the B-1 fleet for service through 2030 and beyond.
  • New investment to augment a declining fighter inventory with the F-15EX. This versatile, large-payload aircraft provides oversize weapons carriage, excellent interoperability, and lower operating costs than stealth fighters.
  • Indications that the T-7, a training aircraft, will be adapted into a light fighter for domestic and export use.

Offering a Uniquely Cost-Effective Strategy

MITRE’s team also estimated the acquisition and operations costs of the entire Air Force aircraft inventory and basing structure for the next decade. Unique among the three 2030 studies, our analysis enabled Congress to grasp the fiscal implications of our recommendations. (The other studies were performed by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and the Air Force itself.)

Our results prompted Air Force leadership to reach back and ask how we’d managed to accomplish this enormous undertaking. We’d unknowingly offered options that addressed some of their other big, persisting challenges.

MITRE’s reputation not only precedes but also follows us—leading to continuing opportunities to support our government sponsors.

Gerber says, “After delivering the report to Congress, both OSD and Pacific Air Forces saw the value in adopting and expanding the basing optimization model for further work, which is currently ongoing.”

He captures the crux of our efforts. “MITRE greatly contributed to improving national security and deterrence—at a price our country can afford.”

 —by Denise Schiavone

Explore more at MITRE Focal Point: Great Power Competition.

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