A top US Air Force (USAF) general says that the ability to sink ships will be of major importance in achieving air superiority in a conflict over Taiwan.

USAF General Kenneth Wilsbach, Commander, Pacific Air Forces, indicates that surface combatants are a key element in China’s strategy of holding US forces at bay should Beijing seek to take over Taiwan by force.


Source: US Air Force

A USAF B-1B launches a LRASM (Long Range Anti-Ship Missile)

“One thing that people often don’t think about with respect to air superiority is weapons to be able to kill ships,” says Wilsbach.

“And because of the way that our adversary thinks about anti access/area denial [A2/AD], they’re going to put ships out probably to the east of Taiwan, and those ships put up an [A2/AD] weapons engagement zone that comes from the missiles that they have on the ships. And when they take away that airspace, it takes away our ability to have freedom of manoeuvre, and to create effects via airpower until you can attrite those ships.”

Wilsbach made the remarks in an interview with retired USAF General David Deptula, Dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. The interview was posted on the institute’s YouTube channel.

The US military is in the process of obtaining the Lockheed Martin AGM-158C Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), an advanced weapon that can be launched from USAF’s Boeing B-1B bombers.

Wilsbach also stressed the importance of obtaining the Boeing E-7 Wedgetail airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft to replace the obsolescent Boeing E-3 Sentry fleet, which suffers sustainment and capability challenges – reiterating remarks he has made previously.

“Even when the [E-3s] are perfectly in order, and they get airborne, they don’t necessarily see what they need to see in 21st Century modern warfare. The E-7 does. The E-7 will allow us to complete the much longer kill chain that will be required for that fight. The E-7 is absolutely critical.”

In February, Boeing landed a $1.2 billion development contract to develop the E-7 for the USAF, which plans to obtain 26 examples of the 737-based AEW&C platform. The type is already operated by Australia, and Wilsbach says that the USAF will learn significantly from Canberra’s experience with the type.

Source: Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies

Wilsbach also says that development of the Next Generation Air Dominance family of systems will be key in not only matching rivals but surpassing them. For the time being, however, he feels that the USAF is very well placed to meet existing threats.

“I’ve seen a significant improvement in our ability to counter the toughest threats that we face,” he says.

“A year ago, when we would do a Red Flag [exercise] it wouldn’t come out so great. This year, they’re doing a lot better. The folks at the weapons school at Nellis Air Force Base, at the warfare centre at Nellis, along with every single weapons officer in the Pacific, have improved their tactics, techniques, and procedures to be able to succeed in a really complicated, tough fight.”