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Air Force Report Warns of Air Superiority Loss

Air Superiority 2030 Flight Plan urges new capabilities, acquisition and development processes

 

 

“The Air Force’s projected force structure in 2030 is not capable of fighting and winning against [an] array of potential adversary capabilities,” according to the newly released unclassified version of the Air Force’s Air Superiority 2030 Flight Plan.

“We need to develop coordinated solutions that bring air, space, cyber, the electronic environment and surface capabilities together to solve our problems.”

The document, developed during a yearlong study “by an enterprise capability collaboration team [ECCT] composed of Air Force operators, acquirers and analysts, says that to achieve air superiority in 2030 and beyond, the Air Force needs to develop a family of capabilities that operate in and across the air, space and cyberspace domains, including both stand-off and stand-in forces,” according to an accompanying Air Force press release.

“After 25 years of being the only great power out there, we’re returning to a world of great power competition,” said Lt. Gen. Mike Holmes, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements. “We need to develop coordinated solutions that bring air, space, cyber, the electronic environment and surface capabilities together to solve our problems.”

Air superiority T-50 (052) PAK-FA

A Sukhoi T-50/PAK FA aircraft, one of the known advanced threats likely to challenge future American air superiority. Photo by Aleksandr Markin

The Air Force is likely to face two types of growing threats in the future.

Traditional threats such as advanced fighter aircraft, sensors, and weapons developed by near-peers will continue to evolve and will also proliferate to other countries around the world.

New capabilities, including cyberspace threats, counterspace threats, and new hypersonic weapons, stealthy cruise missiles, and more sophisticated ballistic missile systems will be developed that will threaten American air superiority.

J-20

China’s J-20 aircraft could be a long-range strike or interceptor aircraft, built as a direct counter to U.S. assets in the region.

In response, the Air Force will need to develop a new family of capabilities operating in the air, space and cyberspace, as well as adopt a more agile and adaptable development and acquisition system.

“There’s no silver bullet,” said Col. Alexus Grynkewich, the Air Superiority 2030 ECCT lead. “We have to match tech cycles – some of them are really long. Engines take a long time to make, but information age tech cycles are fast. Software updates are constantly moving. So how do you move from pacing yourself off industrial age mindsets to information age mindsets?”

“Gaining and maintaining air superiority to enable joint force operations in 2030 and beyond requires a new approach,” the Flight Plan concludes.

“What the flight plan lays out is a series of capability development needs, as well as initiatives to prototype and experiment with a number of concepts,” Grynkewich said. “You can start building and then move forward if experimental capabilities are determined to make enough of a difference in highly contested environments of the future.”

B-21 LRSB rendering

A rendering of the Air Force’s future B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber. Air Force image

Five major Capability Development Areas are addressed in the Flight Plan:

  • Basing and Logistics;
  • Find, Fix, Track and Assess;
  • Target and Engage;
  • Command and Control; and
  • Non-Materiel (Doctrine, Organization, Training, Materiel, Logistics, Personnel, Facilities, and Policy [DOTMLPF-P]).

Among the particular capabilities recommended in the Flight Plan to support the Capability Development Areas are:

  • Penetrating Counter Air (PCA) capability, with a formal analysis of alternatives (AoA) suggested for 2017;
  • Stand Off Arsenal Plane, for which the Air Force will continue to partner with the Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) on concepts;
  • B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber for strike against counterair targets;
  • Advanced Air Refueling to allow more range and reduce basing vulnerabilities; and
  • Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) with a formal AoA in 2018 to include non-traditional concepts including networking sensors in order to maintain battle management command and control systems that are not concentrated in large, vulnerable aircraft like AWACS.

“Gaining and maintaining air superiority to enable joint force operations in 2030 and beyond requires a new approach,” the Flight Plan concludes. “This approach requires strategic agility through experimentation, prototyping, and agile acquisition strategies. If successful, this strategic agility will provide future commanders with options through fielding of the integrated and networked family of capabilities in the AS 2030 force structure.”