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Could this be the end of U.S. air superiority?

Posted By Crush • [March 30, 2010]

From Air Power Australia's assessment of the Russian Sukhoi PAK-FA (emphasis mine):

Detailed strategic analysis indicates that the only viable strategic survival strategy now remaining for the United States is to terminate the Joint Strike Fighter program immediately, redirect freed funding to further develop the F-22 Raptor, and employ variants of the F-22 aircraft as the primary fighter aircraft for all United States and Allied TACAIR needs.

If the United States does not fundamentally change its planning for the future of tactical air power, the advantage held for decades will be soon lost and American air power will become an artefact of history.

U.S. air power may become an artifact of history? I understand that this is primarily an Army blog, but I bet that both Blackfive authors and readers alike have directly benefited from U.S. air superiority. I imagine we can agree that losing it would be a very bad thing.

Today, the independent Australian think tank published another piece, "Why the F-22 and the PAK-FA have the “Right Stuff” and why the F/A-18 and the F-35 do not." Their analysis makes a great case for why improving the capabilities of the Raptor is a must and identifies shortcomings in the JSF. The report concludes that "resting on the laurels of the F-22A is not an option."

Granted, today's irregular warfare restricts most of our incredible technology. But if we found ourselves in a conflict with a more technologically-advanced enemy in the near future, we would be in a world of hurt if we depend on the F-35 - which is not an air superiority fighter - or if our designers have an over-reliance on 'stealth' technology.

Military analyst W. Thomas Smith, Jr. has more on the F-22 and F-35 at Human Events.

APA illustrates their findings with an scenario, and there are also charts and pictures, if you are into that sort of thing.

Those who believe in the absolute impenetrability of ‘stealth’ create a deadly delusion: ‘you can’t see me, so you can’t fire at me, so I don’t need to care about terminal endgame countermeasures’. The problem is, the enemy can see the F-22A close up, can see the F-35 from quite a range, especially side and rear on, and can fire missiles with radar and infra-red seekers. So when these missiles close on an aircraft without effective terminal endgame countermeasures, they kill. The F-22A’s kinematics give it a fair chance of escaping a missile shot – the F-35 JSF very little chance. How does a Mach 1.5 JSF (JORD spec is Mach 1.5 S&L @ 30 kft ISA) escape a Mach 2.25 Sukhoi, especially when the Sukhoi has fuel to burn?

Anyone who has seen "Top Gun" knows that an over-dependency on technology - as we experienced during Vietnam with abandoning dog fighting for missiles - is a bad thing. Hopefully, the Pentagon will learn from history rather than repeat it.

Why are we observing such a single-minded rejection of the need for effective endgame defences on Western combat aircraft? It is a direct by-product of a steadfast belief in Western military bureaucracies that most if not all future air combat will occur in the Beyond Visual Range (BVR) domain. There is no real evidence to support this idea, as the heavily “asymmetrical” conditions observed in air campaigns fought from 1991 through 2003 were unique and very unlikely to be repeated in the future. The advent of very long range “anti-AWACS” missiles, advanced conventional fighters like the Su-35S, and the stealthy PAK-FA, will result in far more “symmetrical” air campaigns, where the conditions permitting frequent or predominant Beyond Visual Range missile engagements will arise infrequently. Most air combat engagements will devolve into close combat, where “traditional” fighter virtues will be paramount. What follows then?

Last year, Congress capped the number of F-22s at less than 200. Meanwhile, the Russians, Chinese, and Iranians show no signs of limiting their military.

Our military may be the finest the world has ever seen, but we must remember that our combat supremacy isn't a birthright.


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