Mark Collins – US Airpower Up to Major Air Defences?

Range, range, range is the question–at Flightglobal:

Report: US military needs to rethink its precision strike portfolio

The US military is overly invested in short-range direct attack bombs and not enough in long-range, stealthy smart weapons and aircraft, and this must change if it ever expects to challenge the air defences of nations like China, Russia, Iran or North Korea.

That’s the assessment of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, which released a new report this week on “sustaining America’s precision-strike advantage”.

The crux of the argument presented by authors Mark Gunzinger and Bryan Clark is that while shorter-range weapons like joint direct attack munitions (JDAMs) and small diameter bombs (SDBs) have kill rates as high as 100% when an aircraft can get close to its target, that won’t be possible in large force-on-force salvo against large military force that has its own guided, smart weapons.

The report echoes what US generals have been saying for years, that America’s military investments are weighted towards supporting counterinsurgency operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Syria – where coalition combat jets and bombers operate with relative impunity…

The report also examines the Pentagon’s aircraft portfolio, which is “the smallest and oldest DOD has ever operated”.

By 2024, the only penetrating stealth aircraft that can evade air defences to put direct-attack weapons onto heavily defended targets will be 20 Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirits, 177 Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptors and 460 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.

Furthermore, with the exception of the B-2, that fleet will have an average unrefuelled combat radius of 600nm to 800nm, making an investment in standoff weapons all the more important going forward [see “The Eagle’s Carriers at Serious Risk from the Dragon“].

The authors suggest that in the future the best platforms for delivering large volumes of precision strike weapons would be land- and carrier-based unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs) in addition to large bombers [see “USN UCLASS UCAV Issues“]. The report notes that even with the air force’s upcoming procurement of 80 to 100 long-range strike bombers (LRS-Bs), the US might need even more carrying capacity to augment the tiny B-2 fleet [see also: “What About That New USAF Bomber?“].

Some service and industry officials have suggested that 100 LRS-Bs might just be the base order, but how the US government will afford even 100 bombers while also paying for its largest military procurement, the F-35, is an unanswered question [see “Sky’s Still Cloudy for F-35’s Way Ahead“].

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The report recommends that the US military adapt its concepts of operation toward long-range strike operations from dispersed locations as a way of overcoming enemy defences and any barrage of long-range, counter-air or ship weapons…

But money, money, money.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds


4 thoughts on “Mark Collins – US Airpower Up to Major Air Defences?”

  1. A friend with extensive knowledge of international and military matters observes:

    “Well, the last time the USAF/USN took on a reasonably credible opponent, arguably, was in Vietnam. They did not do all that well, notwithstanding their delusions. Even when Nixon “finally unleashed” them, they took casualties and basically finished off a small opponent which had suffered a lot of attrition.

    The key for Vietnam was a Soviet-style integrated air defence system which shot down a lot of planes but also imposed many more “mission kills” when aircraft dumped their loads to save themselves.

    My concern would be that an updated version of that system, using the latest SAMs and AAMs plus better dispersal of aircraft, might do very well. The Russians and Chinese have surely done a lot of operational analysis of recent US air campaigns and think they understand their weak points. Among the worst are too many tactical aircraft, too dependent on multiple tankings and, of course, the entire GPS system. The USAF may not be able to count on their bases being de facto political sanctuaries [note comment above].

    In any event, when has an air force ever delivered on the Douhet/Mitchell/Trenchard promise?”


    Mark Collins

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