This article on the USAirForce in The American Interest is part of a series, incomplete as of this writing, on the US Armed Forces, and the road forward in this period of draw back and draw down. The ones on the Army and Marines are worthy and insightful but don’t get to the nitty gritty level required for me at least. While this AF article could be argued to be in the same vein I think it’s stronger and that may be because the technology and mission of the AF are very tightly interwoven making it simpler to see the overall threat.
The argument is that the AF has been all but static in the past 20+ years since Desert Storm. That a combination of victors-hubris along with techno-hubris and perhaps political ineptness have left us with a hollow force at the sharp end. The AF is arguably all over its technological mission in support of communication, reconnaissance, threat detection, navigation, etc, and has been shown to be king of battle in low intensity conflict (a turnaround of epic proportions from Vietnam.) But this camouflages the fact that if we had to do Desert Storm against a foe withe the modern equivalent of Saddam’s air defenses we would suffer vastly higher casualty rates, to the point of perhaps not being able to dominate the air space to anything like the same degree, perhaps pushing us back to an earlier era’s loss ratio’s.
There is a call to back the F35 and the NGB (next gen bomber) which I agree with since all other platforms are wearing and aging out (aging out happens as old tech ( particularly electronic and electromechanical) gets impossibly expensive to support because the devices and materials used are obsolete and no longer available sometimes even illegal due to toxicity or country of origin.)
I’m not bought in on the hollowness, yet. Yes the AF / DoD bolloxed the F35 and its now causing the above wear/age issue but does it matter? The first wave B2, B1 and cruise and strike missiles from B52’s etc would take down any known threat’s air defenses long enough for the channel to be cauterized by strike aircraft and special forces…which is what happened in DS. Yes some might have ability to hang tough with fighters, for a few hours, yes some might have backup lines and reserves, but having them and using them are two very different propositions once the AF is in their backfield.
What about a peer / near peer you ask? What peer / near peer I ask? Not NorK NorK, not Iran, not Russia or China either…a limited war against either is essentially the scenario above. Anything more in those two cases and sheer area would provide a huge force multiplier on their side. Thats ignoring the fact that both are serious nuclear powers and serious world diplomatic players who we are Never Going to War With directly until nuclear weapons are off the table…though of course you have to game the doomsday scenarios…but in those cases the war can never expected to be winnable or lovable in a conventional way.