Air Dominance, from the USAF’s perspective

There’s at least two sides to every story.

The RAND report on air dominance posted here last week raises fundamental questions about the US Air Force’s vision for air dominance based on stealth, beyond visual range combat and forward basing.

Richard Hallion, former US Air Force official historian, has recently presented the “other side” of the air dominance story, a 53-slide briefing that explains the reasoning behind the USAF’s approach. I present it here to help inform and balance the discussion.

Reading both presentations — and the comments prompted by the RAND report — it’s very clear that there are two rational — but distinct — theories about the future of airpower and how to achieve it. Both sides can’t be right.

Sadly (or, perhaps, very fortunately) there is almost no useful empirical data to conclusively prove either point, since there has not been a decisive air war between the world’s most sophisticated air force since the early 1970s. (I’m sure this is a debatable point, and I’m interested to know other views.)


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6 Responses to Air Dominance, from the USAF’s perspective

  1. RugGun 29 September, 2008 at 10:58 pm #

    Hmm… not really ‘the other side’ – more ‘please can we get more F-22s’.

    RAND said even F-22s can’t defeat 1:12 odds & the loss of their bases & tankers. Dr. Hallion says ‘Air Dominance is Good’ , 4th Gen Western fighters will get chewed up by SA-XX & Super Flankers, 5th Gen Russian/Chinese aircraft are on the way – and having technical dominance is insufficient when overmatched by large numbers of even merely adequate opponents. WW2 Germany could not produce enough high tech to cope because the Allies removed its production capacity. Cost & the economy are doing that to the West now.

    So the question becomes, do you want to do the offensive counter air mission against those odds? Similarly, do you expect to defend against a massed air attack without your own integrated Anti-Air network?

    Arguably, no-one in Europe does – expeditionary ops and supply line protection yes. In those circumstances, the ‘F-15 with F-22 kit’ probably is the right way to go – read Gripen, Typhoon, whatever. At least you know how much it will cost, when you’ll get it & when the weapons will be cleared.

    {Note to UK MoD: Perhaps after sorting out the kit needed for current ground ops. What to put on UK CVF is a whole other issue. }

    If you do, then the ‘hi-lo’ mix of F-22/F-35 is too high-end & will be spread too thin to do that and combined ops at the same time. F-35 on its own is not ‘hi’ enough – a problem for anyone who can’t get F-22s.

    It’s tempting to say that where stealth indirectly led to issues with recapitalisation in the USSR, the same is now happening in the West. Issues funding the ‘tip of the spear’ mean that the other aspects are getting neglected (tankers, helicopters, transports, blue water Navy).

    If I was to stake a flag anywhere (as a Brit), I struggle to see a justification for a land-based JSF (CTOL or STOVL) whilst Typhoon & Gripen are here now and LO UCAVs & proper net-centricity are around the corner – even if the the UCAVs are just bomb & missile trucks at IOC.

    For the US, nothing says offensive counter air as well as making the other chaps defense net & aircraft go ‘boom’ when they’re still asleep – so don’t mess up NGB, stealthy cruise missiles, hypersonics & directed energy weapons. You’re going to need them.

    Defensively, plentiful AESA’d Gen 4.5 seems the best ‘stay at home’ or on-the-carrier option.

    Just a suggestion…

  2. Royce 30 September, 2008 at 1:45 pm #

    Kopp’s analysis doesn’t fit well here. Rand’s message was that the F-22 doesn’t work well against massed Su-30s over Taiwan because it cannot carry enough missiles to take out all of the Su-30s in a massed attack before the Su-30s take out the F-22′s tankers and AWACs aircraft. Without supporting assets, the game suggested, F-22s are useless.

    Australia buying the F-22 in small numbers isn’t going to change that. If anything, the Rand study cites the importance of geography and a mass of aircraft loaded with a high number of missiles. If anything, Rand would support the idea that Australia should be buying large numbers of Super Hornets and skip buying small numbers of very expensive F-22s.

  3. EG 30 September, 2008 at 3:13 pm #

    Perhaps it’s time to take a page out of the old WWII Soviet playbook and create local air dominance. (Manuever airwarfare?) Maybe you let the enemy bomb your airfield, you kill them on their way home when they are fuel critical and then land on highways. Aircraft and capabilities change so doctrine had better be flexible. Where is our Chennault? (Did Rumsfeld kick him out?)

  4. RugGun 30 September, 2008 at 8:24 pm #

    I suspect EG is on the right lines – all these analyses point to the evolution of tactical air (fewer, better, more expensive, longer lead time) is about to run into a brick wall. So is it time for a revolution?

    Other forms of arms have seen democratisation of power & delegation of their functions to tac air – might tac air now be looking for a similar doctrinal shift?

  5. PB 1 October, 2008 at 12:08 am #

    Different views, different opinions. It seems more and more to me that the JSF was a stategic mistake. The Raptor may be very expensive but it makes sense as a technologically advanced aircraft to be aquired in maybe not big but at least decent numbers. The cost escalation of the JSF shows the adiagum ‘the best is the enemy of good enough’. From economical strategical (costs is also a factor on the battlefield) point of view it would have made more sense to go for the F22 as the superiority fighter and use upgraded versions of the ‘legacy’ F’teen’ series for the workhorse duties. In particular the F15 and the F16. Much more capable aircraft than suggested and much more affordable in needed numbers.

  6. EG 1 October, 2008 at 4:44 pm #

    “Quantity has a quallity of its own.”
    Wonder who said that and how it will play out if push comes to shove?

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