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The Role of Range and Speed in the 21st Century: Transforming Air Power through Technology. A Systems Study

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Final technical rept. 1 Oct 2003-31 Oct 2005

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A top-down analysis of the cost structure of a U.S. air war was performed with the aim of elucidating the importance of aircraft range to campaign cost. Historically, operations and support costs dominated the cost of an air war due to the large number of sorties required to deliver the large volume of relatively inexpensive, low-precision munitions needed to destroy a specific target. The advent of precision munitions has dramatically reduced the number of sorties needed to such a degree that basing costs now dominate the current forces cost structure. These findings imply that long-range aircraft are currently more valuable than they have been historically, and they deserve more emphasis in the technical community than they have enjoyed in the past. A reassessment of science and technology investment may be warranted. A range of 12,000-13,000 nautical miles is required for world-wide coverage from domestic bases. This study has found that in the new world of precision munitions, the cost of maintaining foreign bases needed to support air operation of the current, relatively short-range USAF is the dominant cost element, consuming up to 50-60 of the total funds. This gives new impetus to the concept of global-range aircraft. In addition to providing flexibility and a reduction on foreign base dependence, such an aircraft could also significantly reduce the cost of fighting a modern air war. There are many technical solutions for realizing such aircraft. One particularly attractive approach is the oblique supersonic flying wing aircraft. The cost savings from relinquishing many of the foreign bases may provide several billion dollars per year in savings, suggesting that a cash stream to partially pay for such vehicles may be available. The recognition of the true costs of the current approach of a combination of foreign bases and air-refueling suggests that the DoD would be well-served to examine other aeronautical systems and approaches.

Subject Categories:

  • Bombers
  • Attack and Fighter Aircraft
  • Terminal Flight Facilities
  • Economics and Cost Analysis
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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