A US Marine Corps captain once asked a group of officer candidates: “What do we do?” None gave the correct answer: “We fight wars.” Simple, really, and classic Marines; when called upon, be ready.

Except, of course, nothing is so simple, ­either back then in the Cold War or today in what, increasingly, feels like a new Cold War.


Lockheed Martin F-35

Lockheed Martin F-35

Lockheed Martin

To be ready, soldiers – as well as politicians and arms industry bosses – had best ask some more difficult questions: Who will we fight? When? How?

Flight International’s report on military aircraft engineshighlights this dilemma. “Who” (and there are no prizes for guessing this one) is China. But when and how are moving targets.

For sure, success or failure will depend on long-distance power projection over the Pacific Ocean. If war were imminent we would, obviously, fight with the forces available today – which are both the ­product of and a guide to strategy and ­tactics. The same can be said for a conflict some years off, except that the nature of our forces – and hence strategy and tactics – will have moved on.

As for air war, experts today are ­grappling with three key variables. One is a fact: the Lockheed Martin F-35 does not have enough range to operate stealthily and penetrate China’s defensive perimeter without putting ships, tankers and bases at risk. Two are expectations: we will ­deploy large numbers of expendable drones to confuse and overwhelm defences, and hypersonic missiles will be part of the arsenal – on both sides.

A lot of effort and money is being ­directed at cracking the technologies ­behind range, numbers and speed. An equal – if not more urgent – challenge is to devise winning air war doctrines that might be realised by reliably deployable technology in five, 10 or 30 years.

Source: Flight International