America’s Air Power Revolution
Air forces the world over closely watch America’s latest airpower innovations. These have often revolutionised the employment of airpower. Now, the Americans are again innovating and working towards a new airpower revolution. In time, we may all follow. The need for this new revolution is mainly driven by the responses of others to America’s stealth technology innovation.
American airpower has been invincible for the last few decades, to a large extent, because of having the edge in stealth aircraft. Not surprisingly, others have tried to both emulate and counter this latest American airpower killer capability.
Today China and Russia are developing stealth fighters, with China’s Chengdu J-20 recently entering service. Meanwhile, Russia has created a range of shoot-and-scoot, surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems with digital multiband radars. For the first time, the SAMs entering service can potentially reliably detect and engage some specific American stealth aircraft designs. Worryingly, Russia’s SAMs are now being sold worldwide. China’s new FC-31 stealth strike fighter seems likely to follow into the export market.
Compounding these technology developments is that America’s forward airbases in Europe, Asia and the Middle East are being increasingly threatened by the so-called revisionist states of Russia and China, along with the rogue states of Iran and North Korea. America’s forward airbases are often within range of the ballistic rocket forces these nations have and are at risk from mass, salvo attacks that could overwhelm their defences.
In 2015/16, the US Air Force undertook a study about what these various technological and geostrategic changes actually mean in practical terms. The study determined that US stealth fighters (F-35s and F-22s) will be unable to penetrate hostile airspace beyond 2030.
Also worrying is that this is not solely in some hypothetical major conflict with Russia or China but anywhere advanced SAMs are deployed, such as today in Syria, or soon in Iran. Combined with the forward airbases’ vulnerabilities to missile attack, the US Air Force has declared that: “The Air Force’s projected force structure in 2030 is not capable of fighting and winning against this array of potential adversary capabilities.”