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Luminar Deal - Contract with Mobileye
Official press release link
Very exiting news for Luminar, as well as the lidar industry in general.
Regarding the lidar industry, this is just another data point that shows how the broader industry sees the need for lidar technology to successfully deliver higher level autonomous driving solutions. Mobileye was the leading pioneer in developing advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) for the automotive industry and was ultimately acquired by Intel in 2017 for over $15 billion (at approximately a 30x multiple of forward revenue and a 54x multiple of forward EBITDA). Mobileye built a very successful business by using camera-based ADAS solutions. Aside from Elon (who essentially is a lone wolf when it comes to his opinion on lidar vs. the broader industry), Mobileye was probably one of the other very few companies that was strongly incentivized to push for autonomous driving solutions with just camera and radar sensors. This contract announcement, and specifically Mobileye publicly stating they are going to be using lidar technology for higher level autonomy (level 4 in press release), is a big deal for the lidar industry.
For Luminar, this contract announcement is certainly a major milestone. There has been a lot of debate on this sub regarding lidar companies. I personally think there is enough market for more than one winner, but have had a lot of confidence in Luminar leading the pack when it comes to autonomous driving solutions while a company like Velodyne can see more success in lidar applications in other, non-automotive markets. If you go through Luminar's investor presentation or listened to the investor day event, you would see the company is "laser-focused" on three core markets, all within automotive applications: passenger cars, trucking, and robo-taxis. For each of these three areas, the company has now announced major contracts that no other lidar companies can say they have.
- Passenger cars - series production win with Volvo (plus one other "undisclosed" OEM in their presentation). Luminar's sensors and software are actually going to be used on Volvo cars you can buy starting in 2022. No other player has a series production win like this. Velodyne and Aeva both claim they are working with OEMs and have development awards, but so does every lidar company. Every OEM probably has R&D units and "development agreements" with probably 5-10 lidar companies - how else do they make a decision on who they will pick for a real contract? Not a single other OEM has publicly announced a series production contract where a lidar company has been awarded a contract for tech to deliver autonomous driving.
- Trucking - at the end of last month, Daimler announced an investment in Luminar and an agreement to deliver autonomous driving solutions to its trucking fleet with Luminar. They picked Luminar as their strategic partner to produce level 4 autonomous trucks in-house. Daimler is the largest manufacturer of heavy duty class 8 trucks. Daimler is also the parent company of Mercedes Benz. Separately, the company has also claimed it is working all other major autonomous trucking programs globally.
- Robo-taxis/driverless systems - today, Luminar announced the Mobileye win. This is for Mobileye's driverless fleet program. Mobilye is working to deploy robo-taxi fleets in major cities by 2022. Separately, the company has stated it is working with other major next-gen autonomous robo-taxi programs.
Boned: Problems (but not too many) in the US Air [and Space] Force!
Yes, your ships are very impressive in the air, or in space--but at this moment, they are on the ground.
Right--they're on the ground. But they can sense an approaching ship from miles away. So what are you going to do, Mollari, blow up the island?
Actually--now that you mention it--[pulls detonator from pocket]
Babylon 5, explaining the vulnerability of aircraft to ground attack in typical hammy fashion
Hello, and welcome to another episode of "AmericanNewt8 explains the global military situation at present in a convenient, possibly easy-to-read guide". Maybe I should make a YouTube channel or something. All the cool kids [and a lot of idiots who know nothing about military equipment] are doing it. Anyway, today we have the US Air [and, for the moment, Space Force--they haven't fully separated yet], and, surprisingly for once, a somewhat more positive message. I'm sorry this one took so long; I've been busy for the past month or so, but I figured I should get this one out I already had 80% done before talking about Turkey and the war in the Caucuses, which are likely to be shorter, more current, and arrive sometime in the next week if all goes as planned.
Current Effortposts In My Series:
- What you [might] need to know about South Korea's ludicrous arms buildup
- We shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches.... uh, what do we do after that again?: The Perilous Defensive Position of Taiwan
- "You've hit another cargo ship? The Problems with the US Navy: Not all of them begin with "Seven" and end with "th Fleet"."
- Will China's PLAN survive contact with the enemy?
- Biden's New START and modern nuclear war
- Boned: Problems (but not too many) in the US Air [and Space!] Force
- Erdogan Sallies Forth [inserted largely on account of the recent breakout of a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan]
- Begun, the Drone Wars Have: Why You Should Pay Attention To This "Tiny" War
- First And Last Stand Of The Tin Can Navies [ASEAN + Australia and the smaller adversaries China may contend with]
- --Unnamed-- effortpost on Japanese military matters, mostly about how weird the JSDF status is
- --Unnamed--effortpost on Indian military matters, and why they can't focus on China or buy anything that works
- --Unnamed--effortpost on the rest of the PLA, mostly the air force though
- --Unnamed--effortpost on the rest of the US Armed Forces, mostly talking about how the marines are changing and the Army's new love affair with INF-busting weapons
1. Our Pride And JoyAmerica's Navy may be its key instrument of power projection abroad and in some ways the most important service branch, but the one that is by far the greatest beneficiary of American skill, the apex of our capabilities, is without a doubt the US Space Force. From Day 1 the US has had a commanding lead in the field. Mind you, that's not saying that nobody's ever challenged or exceeded the US in limited areas for limited periods of time--the early 1950s were about the last time that happened though [aside for commercial launch vehicles from around 1980-2010]. In the modern era, it is very rare that buying something other than an American-made aircraft or rocket makes any sort of economic or strategic sense [political is of course a different matter entirely]. The US Air Force has generally benefited from high, consistent levels of investment and has had relatively light burdens placed on it operationally [though in recent years post 9/11 this has changed to an extent], and it has developed into one of the best-trained and most doctrinally sophisticated forces in the world. More on that later. Anyway, the Air Force is probably the best-loved branch politically [Marines might be more respected but they get budgetary scraps], at least of the military as a whole, and it ends up with more funding, smarter people, and a much better QOL as a result. In fact Air Force personnel are usually treated to quite a bit of envy and ribbing about how much better their conditions are than their Army, Marine, or Navy counterparts.
2. Aging Equipment [again!]Guess what? The same problem that seems to afflict most of the US military [and, for that matter, most European, Latin American, and non-East Asian militaries] is aging equipment from the Cold War finally wearing out. In the Air Force, this takes a number of different forms. Often, it's a case of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", but even then airframes do wear out eventually and need replacement and a lot of them are getting to that point.
Logistics, Support, That Kind of Thing
One of the least glamorous parts of the Air Force, logistical and support capabilities are rapidly aging. The primary airframe the Air Force uses for these is the.. wait for it... Dash 80, as the C-135 whose commercial variant is better known as the Boeing 707. It was a very impressive aircraft, but it was designed in the 1950s. Even though we've reengined the C-135 with more modern engines, and done some serious overhauls, they're getting pretty long in the tooth. Most notably we have the 398 KC-135 Stratotankers which make up the bulk of the US midair refueling fleet, which are joined by 31 E-3 Sentry AWACs, a number of specialized RC-135 derivatives doing everything from SIGINT to hunting for nuclear weapons and 17 E-8 Joint STARS. While these were produced up until the early 1990s, the airframes are aging and they need replacements, and the sheer quantity of aircraft is likely to cause trouble. There are also other aircraft that have to be replaced in the mid-term [by the early 2040s] like the C-5 Galaxy and the KC-10 Extender, but these are somewhat less of an immediate concern. There are some C-130 Hercules replacements also needed but those are largely being done with newer versions of the same aircraft.
The B-1 Lancer is first on the chopping block, due to high maintenance costs and time [it generally takes 120 hours of maintenance for an hour of flight time]. That represents 60 bombers, on paper anyway, and a good chunk of the USAF's supersonic strike capability. However, cutting it should free up resources for new hardware, and in fact new USAF budget proposals suggest rapidly retiring the B-1. The B-2 Spirit is also on the chopping block due to high price and high maintenance demands, but it can't really be replaced until the B-21 Raider shows up. There is also a need to find a replacement for the B-52, but nobody is really sure what that looks like and it's much less urgent--the B-52 will soldier on for the indefinite future and may well hit a full century in operational service. Even if one runs into the "airplane of Thesus" the fact that you could well have fourth or fifth generation B-52 pilots flying on 90-year-old aircraft is, to be honest, kind of neat.
The F-15 and F-16 originally took flight in the 1970s and are still seeing interest today, though the modern F-15 and F-16 are very different beasts from their originals. However, the overall fleet is starting to age--primarily the F-15C fleet operated by the US Air National Guard which does air policing in the US. This is why the Guard is actually first in line for new F-15EX aircraft and has even received brand new F-35s [that, and the fact that the Air National Guard is actually pretty integrated with the Air Force]. F-16s are also starting to wear out; the USAF still operates over a thousand of the type. They are set to primarily be replaced with the F-35, though, with around 1500 aircraft on order. They will also replace the A-10 [along with drones, I suppose], and I'll take a moment to say that the A-10 is heavily overrated, there's a reason the USAF wants to dump it, and it's notorious for friendly fire incidents. Its job would be better done by drones or even aircraft like the Super Tucano.
These are, guess what, also wearing out. The USAF currently operates over 500 T-38 Talon trainers, but it already has a replacement lined up for this aircraft which was first flown in 1959. It just adds to the list of things that need replacing.
Also should mention these, I suppose. The US is currently operating the Minuteman-III) as its sole ground-based nuclear deterrent/ICBM, and these 1970s-era missiles have survived their replacement, the LGM-118 Peacekeeper. They have to be replaced as well, and the USAF actually recently awarded a contract to do so to Northrop Grumman [though there are issues with that mentioned below].
One side-effect of all this is that the Air Force has increasingly high demands for maintenance which are simply not met, which combined with a shortage of maintainers [partially due to good outside pay but mostly because anecdotal reports suggest life as an Air Force maintainer is terrible] means that the Air Force has a poor readiness rate, especially because a lot of airframes aren't in good condition to begin with, having been worn out by decades of use.
3. Procurement Woes... fixed?So, the Air Force has had a pretty troubled history with procurement in recent years. By far the most infamous one is the F-35. Well, yes, the F-35 was a procurement disaster. Another Redditor has done a great service by writing up the account Ash Carter [Secretary of Defense under Obama] gave of the program. It's long [full version here] and probably doesn't give a full account as it is Carter's memoir--but I'll just pick out one of the most significant parts of it:
At one point of the meeting, after we'd made it abundantly clear that the grossly inflated price for the JSF jets was unacceptable, CEO Bob Stevens casually said to me, "Well, if you tell me how much money you have, I'll tell you how many planes you can buy."However, the F-35 was a pretty uniquely messed up procurement program due to suffering from what I'd broadly call "jointness", where interservice procurement made things less efficient.
I was taken aback. Rather than negotiating a fair price with us, Stevens was behaving as if his company were entitled to all the money the taxpayers could afford. And although he obviously had a per-plane price in mind, he didn't care to divulge it openly, nor would he agree to a fixed-price contract holding him to it. I found this cavalier attitude offensive. With deeper disrepute, the JSF program would go down the political drain, and we wouldn't be able to buy any of these needed aircraft.
With all this in mind, I let his question hang in the air unanswered for a moment. Then I replied, "How about none?" With that, I walked out of the room. "None" was a reasonable prediction in the political climate surrounding this out-of-control program.
The Air Force on its own has had some pretty impressive procurement messups though. Look no further than the KC-46 Pegasus, a tanker designed to replace the KC-135 [as mentioned above loads of these are getting retired in the next couple years]. The first sign of trouble probably should have been when the first program to replace the tankers with the KC-767 [now the KC-46] was cancelled on account of a bribery scandal involving the CFO of Boeing offering the procurement official an executive position. The second sign probably should have been the whole bit where, unlike its competitor, the A330 MRTT, the KC-767 didn't actually exist. And when the A330 won the contract bid, Boeing of course protested and, ultimately, got the contract evaluated again, with [at least per Northrop Grumman's claims, who was running a joint bid with Airbus] requirements rigged for the KC-767, and, finally, almost a decade after the program started, Boeing won the bid.
Except there was the small problem that Boeing hadn't built the plane yet, which turned into a large one. Ultimately the program was marred by years of delays and major technical problems. It only recently finally began delivering aircraft to the Air Force, years late and over-budget [though the USAF did manage to claw quite a bit of it back from Boeing].
However, there are some positive signs that future procurement will be better. Besides the F-35 being saved, there's the example of the T-X program, which is to replace the elderly T-38 Talon trainer. It invited foreign competition to the field, featured vigorous competition, and resulted in an actually effective aircraft--developed by both Boeing [of course] but also Saab--yes, the Swedes have a significant hand in the trainer jet likely to equip much of the world.
In particular, something very interesting the US Air Force is doing is diving heavily into computer design and open systems architecture. What this means, in short, is that they'll design new planes with a heavy emphasis on doing detailed computer design and simulation, only finally building an aircraft to demonstrate it works IRL--which of course cuts costs substantially--and they'll try to build common hardware and software that will work in any number of aircraft. The overall idea is to make aircraft inexpensive, easy to design, and modular. The Air Force even has a buzzword for this already, the "Digital Century Series", referring to the last time the Air Force very rapidly built a whole bunch of aircraft on a relatively common hardware platform. Whether this will bear fruit remains yet to be seen.
4. Fighting the Peer ConflictThe USAF, for the past thirty years, has not faced a peer competitor. Arguably it didn't even face one before that--the Soviet Air Force was no match for what the USAF could field, as was demonstrated quite well in a number of conflicts. The good news is that the USAF has had a long time to build up a lead, and is still far ahead of China or Russia, further ahead than the Army or Navy is by a long shot--Americans like their planes and electronics. For an illustrative example, China'sJ-20 stealth fighter has been produced in a quantity of... 50; while the USAF has almost 200 F-22s and is ordering over a thousand F-35s. The Su-57 barely even flies and is nowhere near peer to what the United States can field despite whatever scary articles you might have read. The bad news is that only recently has the USAF actually begun preparing to fight a peer conflict, which will tax it in different ways.
The main vulnerabilities the Air Force has in a peer conflict are more logistical and operational than regarding the quality of its aircraft or pilots, which are moreless unmatched. The first problem is that readiness isn't fantastic thanks to the War on Terror burning through all the ancient Cold War aircraft that the USAF has operated, and yes, aircraft do wear out. In fact, large numbers of F-15Cs operated by the US Air National Guard have been grounded due to age and fatigue. The shortage of maintainers also plays a role here. There's also the problem that the US Air Force is still quite vulnerable on the ground in any peer conflict; especially to precision strikes with ballistic and cruise missiles--the US Air Force has downsized considerably and now only has a handful of bases for both political and budgetary reasons, but that means that, when facing, for instance, China, the USAF must rely heavily on just six airfields--Osan, Kunsan, Misawa, Yokota, Kadena and Andersen [maybe bring that to 9 by adding USMC and Navy installations, which field fewer and less capable aircraft].
Thus, the primary challenge that the USAF faces is a quiet one--ensuring that it can operate from dispersed locations, at high opstempo, and repair its facilities rapidly. This is really also the biggest question mark in terms of the USAF's performance, but there's some reason to be optimistic here--the USAF is aware of the threat and is actually working to solve it. However, ultimately only changes in the political environment [the addition of bases in the Philippines or Palau, or the development of readied airfields in Japan] will fix the basing problem. Better ballistic missile defense will probably also help here. Russia or China will probably have poor luck against the USAF in the air; seeking primarily to deny the USAF free reign and thus the ability to support ground offensives, but they could cause significant damage by hitting ground facilities, and everyone knows it.
There's also the question of surface-to-air missiles; which have driven quite a bit of concern the past few years as China and Russia field increasingly capable systems like the S-400 and HQ-9. It is feared that the sophistication of these weapons could create "A2/AD bubbles" where the USAF and USN are unable to operate. While the access bubble does still look quite real for the Navy, recent developments have seriously called the efficacy of surface-to-air missiles into question--particularly the fact that the Israelis and Turks seem to be able to almost ignore them, or at least their shorter-range counterparts. The destruction of Armenian S-300 launchers by Azerbaijan with Turkish drones is certainly an ominous signal for anyone thinking advanced air defenses would keep them safe. How good the full-scale systems are against conventional targets is still unknown, but my guess is much less effective than the marketing--and keep in mind that despite years of concerns, SAMs have only been successful from about 1960-1980, and even then relatively minor adjustments in strategy seemed to significantly mitigate damage--so it's unclear how concerned we should actually be about such technology.
There are also questions about whether or not the USAF is operating the right mix of aircraft for the job, and these are valid ones. The USAF is buying new F-15EX, which has literally been described as not survivable after 2028 [though there is a case for the plane as a carrier of standoff weapons or a homeland defense fighter], and still operates the A-10 [an aircraft now mostly known for a number of notorious blue-on-blue (friendly fire) incidents] which, if used in a modern environment where the USAF didn't have total air supremacy, would simply not be able to survive. Yes, there's a reason the USAF wants to scrap the A-10, and no, the GAU-8 is cool but it doesn't even kill columns of modern main battle tanks. Unless you're primarily planning on fighting North Korea, the A-10 is close to useless(ly dangerous). The B-1 has also been highlighted as obsolete, largely due to high maintenance costs. However, the USAF is working hard to scrap these aircraft as fast as politically feasible.
5. New TechnologiesThe Air Force has always had a certain inclination towards adopting the newest, shiniest technologies, and at the moment there are a number of interesting concepts that it is exploring. I'll talk about two of the most significant ones [especially combined] here.
First, the Air Force is seeking to create future aircraft entirely virtually--using highly detailed computer models to design numerous types of specialist aircraft, and only building prototypes to test the results that simulations produce. Their latest trainer, the "eT-7", uses this methodology--the "e" is supposed to designate that it was designed this way. There's also a move towards using common avionics and software for a variety of different aircraft. Figures high up at the Pentagon have discussed a "Digital Century Series", modeled after a chain of fighters rapidly developed in the 1950s for a number of different roles, from the F-102 interceptor to the F-105 fighter-bomber. This could potentially create numerous new aircraft rapidly; a shift back towards the times before the 1990s where a single fighter project took the entire attention and budget of the Air Force. Nobody is really sure how this will pan out but it looks quite promising. In particular, the fact that the USAF was able to take its new prototype fighter jet into the skies a year after it was originally envisioned is stunning--and suggests that this potential return to the old days of the 1940s and 1950s when new aircraft showed up every year is not just a pipe dream.
Second, the Air Force is investing in UCAVs [Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles], most notably in the Skyborg concept. The goal is to develop a low-cost drone that can both deliver additional weapons to target while being accompanied by a manned fighter--a sort of drone wingman, which is cheap enough to be expendable [thus serving a secondary purpose, soaking up enemy air to air missiles]. Numerous companies have been awarded contracts to develop UCAVs and this program is looking quite promising, so expect to hear more of it in the future.
6. DronesDrones are a rather interesting topic and one that I'll most likely get into more detail in on my next two posts specifically regarding Turkey. The US was one of the pioneers of UAVs, with the other big player in the field being Israel--in fact the US has bought Israeli drones from time to time, though of course China and Russia have also established a presence, without even mentioning Turkey. The US has a number of drones for different purposes--largely for reconnaissance of different types and precision-strike capability. It has the RQ-4 Global Hawk, for reconnaissance, the MQ-9A Reaper, for strike missions, and the RQ-170, which.... well, probably something involving reconnaissance, it's half-CIA so who knows. However, the US may not have kept up on the ongoing drone revolution, which is actually something I can't really blame them for since the 'revolution' only started in January. Yes. Last January.
This 'revolution' began on January 5, 2020, to be exact, and was led by an unlikely candidate: Turkey. They say necessity is the mother of invention, and this was certainly the case for the Turkish drone program. After the US refused to sell Turkey drones on account of the fact that they might be used against Kurds [use of Turkish drones suggests they definitely are used against Kurds], Turkey decided to make their own drone program with blackjack and hookers--or, well, just drones. Their DIY effort didn't really garner much attention until sent to Libya,but investment in their program skyrocketed, largely for two reasons. First, Turkey has been largely barred from major hardware acquisitions from the US and, to an increasing extent, Europe. Second, Erdogan deeply distrusts the Turkish Air Force and has dramatically cut pilot numbers through his multiple purges of the service. Third, Turkey is competing out of its class, against Russia, the UAE, and other major regional powers.
Once it arrived in Libya, it suddenly became clear that the Turkish drone program was much more important than previously thought. In many ways it bore the primary responsibility for turning the war around from what looked to be almost certain defeat for the UN-recognized GNA into a state where whether or not Haftar could survive was in question. In particular, it came as a great shock to most how easily Turkey defeated the very systems that were designed to shoot down UAVs--the Russian Pantsir in particular, which has been destroyed in great quantities with few Turkish casualties to show for it--and with the sticker price for a Turkish drone less than half of the Pantsir systems they kill, it could well revolutionize warfare. Experiences in Syria, and now in Armenia, where Turkish drones have destroyed hundreds of main battle tanks and casually destroyed SAM systems from some distance above, continue to bring into question just how vast the drone revolution is going to be. I'll cover this in more explicit detail in my next two posts.
However, the USAF is watching and learning--its main difficulty with drones is more political than anything. Drones are often considered less important than manned aircraft by a leadership that largely flew manned aircraft [particularly fighters at that], and it is the bottom tier of officer recruits that fly drones [though, interestingly, some drones are actually flown by enlisted pilots] and even then there's usually a shortage of RPA pilots--that's why a few are flown by enlisted in the first place. Whether or not they'll take these lessons to heart, only time will tell, but the history of the Air Force leaves me relatively optimistic on the matter--more than many other services, it's willing to embrace change.
7. NukesThe US Air Force runs two legs of the nuclear triad--the air and ground portions. The first is dominated by, believe it or not, gravity bombs--mostly the B61. This weapon has been sitting around in the United States [and Europe under nuclear sharing, in Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, and Turkey] for a while now, the first variants being made in 1968, and has recently been updated to the latest B61-12 variant, which offers high precision [as precise as JDAMs, not that it's likely to matter in most situations where nukes are being dropped] and flexibility--the bomb can be deployed from low altitudes at high speeds, and from within the internal weapons bay of the F-22 and F-35 [not to mention the B-2 and future B-21], so it's not as dumb as it might sound. Air-launched weapons also have useful features like the ability to recall them once launched, which isn't an option for missiles, along with fitting into doctrine for a tactical nuclear war. While I could go on about the lack of air-launched nuclear cruise missiles [which hopefully will be fixed by the end of the Intermediate Forces Treaty] it's not a big deal.
The main concern here [and perhaps a suggestion that procurement is still messed up] is the ground-based deterrent, which currently consists of a few hundred Minuteman III missiles buried in the northern central United States. These missiles, like much of the Air Force, date to the 1970s and have outlasted their supposed replacement--the MX Peacekeeper. These missiles are finally approaching end of life and are to be replaced by a new ICBM system. This process is... problematic. First off, it was a sole-source bid because Northrop Grumman acquired Orbital ATK Systems, the primary American producer of solid-fuelled rockets and missiles, and this resulted in Boeing pulling out of the competition. Second, the cost seems rather high, at least in my view, with lifetime cost estimates of as much as $90 billion, with development alone amounting to $13 billion at sticker price. It positions the cost of rebuilding the ground-based deterrent as comparable to the US Navy's program to replace the Ohio-class submarines with the Columbias. The ground-based deterrent has also lost substantial importance as sea-launched and air-launched weapons have become much more accurate and capable of fulfilling the ground-based counterforce mission [which arguably died with Peacekeeper], and it remains the most vulnerable portion of the triad. What good it does is largely as another independent nuclear deterrent and one that soaks up enemy warheads in the event of nuclear war that could be directed towards other targets. A disastrous procurement here could cause problems for the Air Force you will see in the future. My suggestion would be either to continue modernizing the Minuteman IIIs or aim to replace them with the cheapest option possible--something like, for instance, a land-based Trident missile [as if the Air Force would ever allow such a thing to be built]. All the ground-based deterrent needs to do is be there, be a credible threat, and soak up enemy fire. That's it.
8. Space ForceThe Space Force is now its own service branch, but as it really hasn't emerged yet I'll cover it here. In fact, just recently, the Space Force enlisted its first trainees. This is somewhat less in my area of expertise; but at the moment things look fairly promising. While the Space Force sounds silly it's almost certainly the part of the military you interact with the most in your daily life on account of running the GPS network. They also operate a variety of communications satellites and the system for monitoring ballistic missile launches, among other pieces of hardware. Expect to hear more about these guys in the future, as space becomes a potential battlefield--we've seen the deployment of a space-based anti-satellite weapon by the Russians just recently, and numerous powers now field anti-satellite missiles along with jamming equipment that can blind reconnaissance satellites, so space is becoming much more militarily important. I don't have much more to say about these guys at the moment, though, other than noting that they're already talking about being even "less physical" than the Air Force--translation: Less mandatory exercise--and they're teaching classes about space law, which is neat I guess. The main downside of the Space Force is that it's going to be very small, around 20-30,000 people, which is half what even the Coast Guard fields, and that could lead to problems with maintaining personnel and inefficiencies with redundant missions, procurement, and the like.
9. ConclusionThe USAF has problems; particularly with aging equipment and manpower, but it seems to realize that most of them exist and is moving to address them. Political constraints mean that the USAF is stuck supporting a variety of obsolete platforms and investing its large budget poorly in new ICBMs and poorly managed tankers, and procurement continues to be a struggle for the USAF, though nowhere near as bad as with the US Navy. Drones have the potential to revolutionize warfare and the USAF is working to develop capabilities in that area, albeit maybe not as fast as some other players in the field, and digital design promises more aircraft designed and produced faster--much, much faster. The USAF faces logistical challenges in a peer conflict, but nothing insurmountable--though the work there is likely to be painful and sidelined because it's less interesting than buying shiny new toys. The Space Force seems to be going along well though they could face some problems in the medium term from losing access to the USAF's resources--political, financial, and of personnel--until/unless they develop into a larger, more influential service. On the whole, though, the outlook for the USAF, at least, looks quite bright--a hope spot, along with the Army and Marines, that the serious problems of the Navy will not cripple the entire military capability of the United States.
10. CitationsUh, I mostly embedded them in the post, and I don't want to go back and hunt for what I used after a month, but here are some good longer-form ones:
RAND, Chinese Attacks on Air Bases in Asia on the ballistic missile threat
Ryan Snyder, The Future of the ICBM Force: Should the Least Valuable Leg of the Triad Be Replaced?
RAND, Creating a Separate Space Force mostly focusing on administrative difficulties and personnel issues
RAND, Drone-Era Warfare Shows the Operatoinal Limits of Air Defense Systems on drones and the conflicts in Libya and Syria [yes, it's all RAND, no Brookings Institute or such this time round]. It also explains why air defense systems are perhaps much more vulnerable than commonly thought, which I didn't really get into here.
Washington Post, Air Force seeks a radical shift in how jets, missiles, and satellites are designed with more detail on the shift to more computerized design the US Air Force wants to make
CSIS, The Air Force Digital Century Series: Beyond the Buzzwords taking apart the "Digital Century Series" push