In another wide-ranging speech on future defense strategy, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that the U.S. Air Force must increase its focus on asymmetric threats and unconventional warfare.
Getting USAF leaders to boost intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), especially from UAVs, had been “like pulling teeth,” Gates said, but there are now 48 Predator and Reaper orbits in Afghanistan and Iraq. He said that mobility and search-and-rescue capabilities must not be neglected and called for more “jointery” between the U.S. armed services. He said the services “must not return to the last century’s mindset after Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Referring to traditional airpower roles such as air defense, Gates defended the decision to halt F-22 production at 187 aircraft, and noted that the latest defense budget includes funds “that leverage radar and electronic protection from the F-35 program to ensure the F-22’s continued dominance.” He has committed to the F-35, which he called “the most advanced and expensive tactical fighter program in history.” The F-15C radar upgrade was a multibillion-dollar effort, he said, and a new follow-on to the advanced medium-range air-to-air missile (AMRAAM) would have greater range, lethality and protection against electronic jamming.
Gates also noted that the Fiscal Year 2012 budget includes funds to start work on a new long-range, nuclear-capable bomber that was optionally manned (previously known as NGLRS–the next-generation long-range strike requirement). But, he added, “whether we can fund a new tanker, F-35s, [and] a new bomber...is going to be a tough question.”