• An excellent argument by Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down, in favor of the F-22. Considering that Somalia is so often used as evidence in favor of the 4GW school of thought (which rejects technology like the F-22), it is interesting to see Bowden take this position.

    tags: future war, airpower, air_force, F-22

    • American air superiority has been so complete for so long that we take it for granted. For more than half a century, we’ve made only rare use of the aerial-combat skills of a man like Cesar Rodriguez, who retired two years ago with more air-to-air kills than any other active-duty fighter pilot. But our technological edge is eroding—Russia, China, India, North Korea, and Pakistan all now fly fighter jets with capabilities equal or superior to those of the F-15, the backbone of American air power since the Carter era. Now we have a choice. We can stock the Air Force with the expensive, cutting-edge F‑22—maintaining our technological superiority at great expense to our Treasury. Or we can go back to a time when the cost of air supremacy was paid in the blood of men like Rodriguez.
    • American pilots haven’t shot down many enemy jets in modern times, because few nations have dared rise to the challenge of trying to fight them. The F‑15, the backbone of America’s air power for more than a quarter century, may just be the most successful weapon in history. It is certainly the most successful fighter jet. In combat, its kill ratio over more than 30 years is 107 to zero. Zero. In three decades of flying, no F‑15 has ever been shot down by an enemy plane—and that includes F‑15s flown by air forces other than America’s. Rival fighters rarely test those odds. Many of Saddam Hussein’s MiGs fled into Iran when the U.S. attacked during the Gulf War. Of those who did fight the F-15, like the unfortunate pilot framed on Rodriguez’s wall, every last one was shot down. The lesson was remembered. When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, Saddam didn’t just ground his air force, he buried it.

      That complete dominance is eroding. Some foreign-built fighters can now match or best the F‑15 in aerial combat, and given the changing nature of the threats our country is facing and the dizzying costs of maintaining our advantage, America is choosing to give up some of the edge we’ve long enjoyed, rather than pay the price to preserve it. The next great fighter, the F‑22 Raptor, is every bit as much a marvel today as the F‑15 was 25 years ago, and if we produced the F-22 in sufficient numbers we could move the goalposts out of reach again. But we are building fewer than a third of the number needed to replace the older fighters in service.

    • When Obama unveiled his national-security team in December, he remarked that he intended “to maintain the strongest military on the planet.” That goal will continue to require the biggest bill in the world, but the portion that bought aerial dominance for so long may have become too dear.
    • If Obama opts to shut down production on the aircraft, it will certainly be a defensible decision.
    • But even reasonable decisions can have harsh consequences. Without a full complement of Raptors, America’s aging fighters are more vulnerable, and hence more likely to be challenged.
    • Countries such as Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea will be more likely to take on the U.S. Air Force if their pilots stand a fighting chance. This could well mean more air battles, more old-style aces—and more downed American pilots.
    • The impact will not be felt only by aviators. Owning the sky is the first prerequisite of the way we fight wars today. Air supremacy is what enables us to send an elaborate fleet of machinery caterwauling over a targeted nation, such as Afghanistan or Iraq: the orchestrating AWACS (“Airborne Warning and Control System,” the flying surveillance-and-command center); precision bombers; attack planes, helicopters, and drones; ground support; rescue choppers; and the great flying tankers that keep them all fueled. This aerial juggernaut enables modern ground-fighting tactics that rely on the rapid movement of relatively small units, because lightly armed, fast-moving forces can quickly summon devastating air support if they encounter a heavy threat. Wounded soldiers can count on speedy evacuation and sophisticated emergency medical care. Accomplishing all this with anything like the efficiency American forces have enjoyed since the Vietnam War depends on owning the sky, which means having air-to-air hunter-killers that can shoot down enemy planes and destroy surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites before the rest of the fleet takes to the sky. Superior fighters are the linchpin of our modern war tactics. Having owned the high ground for so long, we tend to forget that it is not a birthright.
    • So it is worth examining the nature of air-to-air combat today, and the possible consequences of not building a full fleet of F-22s.
    • The Air Force fears that the dominance of U.S. airpower has been so complete for so long that it is taken for granted. The ability of the United States to own the skies over any battlefield has transformed the way we fight. The last American soldier killed on the ground by an enemy air attack died in Korea, on April 15, 1953.

      Russia, China, Iran, India, North Korea, Pakistan, and others are now flying fourth-generation fighters with avionics that match or exceed the F‑15’s. Ideally, from the standpoint of the U.S. Air Force, the F‑22 would gradually replace most of the F‑15s in the U.S. fleet over the next 15 years, and two or three more generations of American pilots, soldiers, and marines would fight without worrying about attacks from the sky. But that isn’t going to happen.

      “It means a step down from air dominance,” Richard Aboulafia, an air-warfare analyst for the Teal Group, which conducts assessments for the defense industry, told me. “The decision not to replace the F‑15 fleet with the F‑22 ultimately means that we will accept air casualties. We will lose more pilots. We will still achieve air superiority, but we will get hurt achieving it.”

    • It was fashionable in the years after the collapse of the Soviet Union to argue that the threat of conventional warfare was no longer relevant, because no other nation could compete with the United States on conventional terms. The attacks of September 11, 2001, underlined that argument; the new threat was “asymmetrical”—small cells of sophisticated terrorists against whom our huge arsenals were useless.

      Conventional weaponry may be useless against terrorists, but that doesn’t mean the old threats have disappeared. Russia’s incursion into Georgia and threatening gestures against the Baltic states; Iran’s persistence in pursuing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles; North Korea’s decision to ignore its agreement to cease building nuclear weapons—all are reminders that the threat posed by belligerent nation-states is still real.

    • So America’s fighter fleet is likely to remain F‑15-based, backed up by the F‑22 and F‑35, a fifth-generation fighter that resembles the Raptor but without the same maneuverability and speed. It means that the days when the Air Force’s leading “ace” has only three kills may be coming to an end. If more vulnerability means more challenges—and it usually does—then more fighters will be seeing action. If the cost of air supremacy is not paid in dollars, it may be paid in blood.
  • tags: future war

    • Russia is working on anti-satellite weapons to match technologies developed by other nations and will speed up modernization of its nuclear forces, a deputy defense minister was quoted as saying Thursday.
      • Wait, but don’t the Russians know that we are in the “fourth generation” of warfare, that all we’ll ever do from now on is fight non-state actors? And insurgents don’t have satellites! So, antisatellite weapons, like airplanes, are totally useless! They should obviously listen to Bob Gates or read William Lind more. [said with extreme sarcasm] – post by TransTracker

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