Sunday, March 22, 2009

Moral: There Are Good Reasons For Tankers to be MORE Than Tankers

Our guys in the deep canyons of Afghanistan just got a whole lot 'better connected' to their lifelines.

Note: Keep in mind when you are reading this post how Boeing attempted to minimize the importance of 'excess capability' including non-tanking duties as part of their disinformation campaign supporting their KC-45 protest. (See here for more on the KC-45 fiasco)

In a recent public release, the Air Force reveals a success story that Boeing may not want you to think about too much....even though it involves their venerable KC-135s. the title of the piece is "Manas KC-135s revolutionize combat operations", and it gives accounts of how Air Force KC-135s are now contributing more than just fuel on station in prosecuting the War on Terror:
"During the fourth mission with a ROBE refueler on July 27, our aircrew overheard radio chatter between an F-15 (Eagle) pilot and a joint terminal air controller on the ground," Colonel Bence said. "A forward operating base deep in a valley was under attack and in danger of being overrun. We could tell the F-15 pilot was struggling to identify and strike the targets without causing collateral damage or friendly casualties. We turned on ROBE and within minutes, we knew the system was a success by a comment made by the F-15 pilot. The fighter pilot said, 'I don't know where the picture (target imagery) is coming from, but I got it (the target) now. Thanks.'
That is only one of the success stories of the ROBE provided in the article, and the AF article honestly airs a little dirty laundry by also giving an account of the difficulties involved in fielding the system, including having to overcome significant institutional intransigence in getting the ROBE capability actually in the planes, working AND deployed forward :
Despite its initial successes and demonstrations in several military exercises, ROBE was not embraced by everyone, and many of the "B-kits" purchased by the Air Force remained shrink-wrapped for years in storage, quietly waiting for the right opportunity to prove the system's worth.
Honestly, I didn't think this would ever happen. It has been a LONG time coming considering the relative scope and benefit of fielding such a capability. The last thing I heard about the program was at a lecture given a couple of years ago by a retired AF Chief of Staff who gave an account of the fact that even HE couldn't get the Tanker Community to get past the tanker-only mindset and 'get with the program'.

When Jumper was pushing this on his watch I thought it was a great idea. He likes to point out that tankers are nearly always around and overhead wherever airpower is operating. I knew from flying test missions as an LCO and telemetry systems operator, over the mountainous Western test ranges, that our plane invariably collected the cleanest data with the fewest droputs than any of the range ground stations ever collected-- and that when we relayed the data we collected from our operating altitude, every ground station involved could pick up our transmissions. It is a simple matter of line-of-sight working better (and farther) going up and down than it does sideways over the horizon.

There's another interesting facet to this success story that always gets overlooked AFTER a success. If the press/detractors had gotten their teeth into this program BEFORE Spiral 2, the program might have been cancelled before it could have a fair chance to succeed:

"With previous versions of ROBE, because of the limitations of the satellite antenna, whenever the aircraft would bank through a turn it would lose connection to the satellite, Sergeant Judd said. With Spiral 2, they are installing more antennas which should drastically improve the aircraft’s ability to stay connected." (source here)

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