Combat Air Power:

Funding Priority for Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses May Be Too Low

NSIAD-96-128: Published: Apr 10, 1996. Publicly Released: Apr 10, 1996.

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GAO provided information on the Department of Defense's (DOD) requirements, capabilities, and plans for conducting the suppression of enemy air defenses mission (SEAD).

GAO found that: (1) since the Vietnam War, DOD has recognized that SEAD is a critical component of air operations, and it used extensive SEAD support during the Persian Gulf War; (2) SEAD is expected to remain a critical component of air combat capability; (3) airborne SEAD capabilities are being reduced, because DOD is retiring the EF-111 and F-4G aircraft, its most capable SEAD aircraft; (4) DOD has given a low funding priority to SEAD programs in favor of such programs as the F-22 aircraft, which GAO believes is not urgently needed; and (5) DOD has not assessed the cumulative impact of reducing SEAD capability.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Although Congress has increased near-term funding for SEAD and other air power programs, it has not required that DOD reassess its combat air power funding priorities.

    Matter: Congress may wish to consider requiring that DOD, prior to retiring the F-4G and EF-111, reassess the relative funding priority of SEAD and other elements of combat air power based on their war-fighting and peacetime contributions.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Although DOD retired the F-4G and the EF-111, a reassessment of the SEAD mission was conducted in 1998 at the direction of the Deputy Secretary of Defense to develop a mission area architecture for the future. In the interim, the Navy and Air Force are using EA-6B aircraft for SEAD support and concerns have been raised about the number and capabilities of this aircraft.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should postpone the retirement of the F-4G and EF-111 until the funding priority of the airborne SEAD mission in relation to other elements of combat air power is reassessed. This reassessment should include extensive input from the service secretaries and the war-fighting commanders and be based on the specific threats expected in the two postulated major regional conflicts as well as likely peacetime operations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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