Dubai 09: Air force chiefs debate warfare strategies

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Call it the world's most literally star-studded introduction to modern air war.

Several chiefs of the world's largest air forces yesterday gave a crash course on the often overlooked technologies required to wage an air campaign today and into the future.

With Maj Gen Mohammed bid Swaidan Saeed Al Gamzi, chief of the United Arab Emirates Air Force and Air Defence, presiding from a front row couch, a total of 16 chiefs and nine deputies of major world air forces gathered in Knowledge Village for the fourth Dubai International Air Chiefs conference, an increasingly popular forum for the global masters of military air power.

The UAE military's shopping list is broadening from buying simply raw combat tools, such as frontline fighters, to battle management systems, including surveillance and command and control aircraft.

Presentations by the all-star line-up of air chiefs followed suit. Gen Norton Schwartz, chief of staff of the US Air Force, lectured on the strengths and limitations of the 189 medium- and high-altitude unmanned air systems in his ever-expanding arsenal.

Gen Jean-Paul Palomeros, France's air force chief, discussed the details of network-centric operations applied to air combat. His counterpart in Australia, Air Marshal Mark Binskin, meanwhile, briefed the roughly 300 military, industry and academic officials in the audience on the capabilities of the Boeing 737 Wedgetail, an airborne early warning and control aircraft.

Most of the chiefs spoke from a script, but many were surprisingly candid during question and answer periods.

A Russian officer, for example, asked Schwartz and Palomeros if they think unmanned aircraft could really survive in airspace defended by fighters and surface-to-air missiles.

Schwartz replied that the USAF is investing one-third of its procurement budget in unmanned aviation, so the technology will eventually make such operations possible.

The French chief answered that the issue of committing unmanned aircraft in hostile airspace is more philosophical than technical.

Schwartz also explained that unmanned aircraft operations require a lot of manpower to support.

For every pilot "flying" an unmanned aircraft an army of nearly 90 intelligence analysts must support every single sortie by a General Atomics MQ-1, MQ-9 and Northrop RQ-4.