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Sat, Apr 10, 2004

USAF: F/A-22 Important To All Airmen

To Air Force people who do not fly or maintain aircraft, the oft-repeated characteristics of the F/A-22 Raptor, “stealth, supercruise, agility, integrated avionics, and supportability” probably mean about as much as “independent front suspension” and “aluminum alloy heads” mean to someone who is not really into cars.

Not much.

“So what,” they might argue, “I’m just a (fill in duty title of choice). The F/A-22 isn’t going to affect me or how I do my job.”

But they would be wrong -- dead wrong -- and what the “meanest, baddest bird on the planet,” as it is described, contributes to America’s warfighters, can be summed up in one word.

Survivability. It is a commodity other “legacy” fighters -- the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon -- will be less likely to provide in future conflict, according to senior leaders.

“I get a lot of comments on the F/A-22,” said Gen. John P. Jumper, Air Force chief of staff. “Mostly they say, ‘You know general, you guys are so good. The Iraqi air force threw its arms up and quit the first day of the war. They didn't even fly a single sortie. You had four guided surface-to-air missiles fired during the entire war so you've got what you need. What's the problem?’”

In response to that kind of questioning, General Jumper often refers to two axioms: first, that you should not fight the last war; and that people who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it.

“Too many are content to rely, potentially for too long, on yesterday’s technology in the majority of the aircraft we use to fight our nation’s battles,” said Dr. James G. Roche, secretary of the Air Force.

The Air Force has enjoyed some widely publicized successes in the Balkans, Middle East, and Afghanistan during the last decade and a half. However, people like Steve Dunn, a former weapons system officer who now serves as an air threat analyst for Air Combat Command, say that swift, one-sided victories against enemies who have not upgraded their arsenals for the last 15 years are not certainties in future conflicts.

“We’ve spent the last decade fighting an enemy in the Middle East (who) has tended to anchor our thoughts about what we need in the future,” Mr. Dunn said. “If we use that as a lesson for the future, we’re making a big mistake.”

That potential mistake is poised to manifest itself in the form of next-generation fighter aircraft and integrated air defense systems that are already, or will soon be, available to governments willing to pay the price, he said.

“You might have a starving population,” Mr. Dunn said, “but you can pick up some advanced fighters.”

Those “advanced fighters” include the latest Russian Sukhoi-series fighters and a handful of European-built aircraft that are all rolling off of the showroom floor with features that put them on par with, or ahead of, some Air Force aircraft.

“From time to time, we get our hands on these airplanes (the Russian Sukhoi-series) and we put our very best pilots in them up against our very best pilots from the Navy, the Marine Corps, and the Air Force flying our own F-15s, F-14s, F-18s, and F-16s,” General Jumper said. “The fact is that our guys flying their airplanes beat our guys flying our airplanes every single time.”

Mr. Dunn said that systems already on the market have the ability to engage as many as six different targets -- old systems could only engage one. He also said that maximum engagement ranges have increased from 25 nautical miles in legacy systems to 100 nautical miles in modern systems.

In a future threat environment, Mr. Dunn said state-of-the-art aircraft linked with equally advanced radar systems and surface-to-air missiles will present a fully integrated, overlapping, and redundant air defense. This will be a more than formidable challenge for America’s legacy aircraft.

Secretary Roche and General Jumper, people who know the fickle nature of economics and politics make advanced technology ripe for proliferation, knowing where those challenges will materialize is not nearly as important as being prepared to face and defeat them.

Between the two seemingly opposed axioms there is a “tightrope” between “jumping to tactical conclusions too quickly” and taking the time-tested lessons of air power into the future, General Jumper said.

One of those time-tested lessons is the concept of “air superiority.” To the uninitiated, it is the concept of controlling the airspace over the battlefield so that air, land and sea forces can conduct operations without interference from enemy forces.

In the history of American military aviation, it is a concept that is so fundamental to the application of airpower that retired Gen. William Momyer, a former commander of Tactical Air Command, characterized it as “…the most important contest of all, for no other operations can be sustained if this battle is lost.”

In General Momyer’s more than 30 years of service, he saw the machines and doctrine of airpower evolve from massed bomber formations over Europe to the fast-moving war of jets and surface-to-air missiles over Southeast Asia. Though he retired from the Air Force long before operations Desert Storm or Allied Force, the observations he recorded in his 1978 book, “Airpower in Three Wars” seem almost prophetic today.

“Our experiences suggest that superiority in equipment and superiority in tactics must be viewed as two elusive goals to be constantly pursued ...,” he wrote. “We are not apt to have marked superiority in both equipment and tactics for an extended period; neither side is likely to corner the market on ingenuity for long.”

Ironically, General Momyer recorded those words three years after the F-15 entered active service, and almost 30 years later it is still America’s frontline fighter.

“Not since Orville and Wilbur flew in December of 1903 have we operated an Air Force this old,” said Gen. T. Michael Moseley, Air Force vice chief of staff.

In the aftermath of operations Desert Storm, Allied Force, and Iraqi Freedom, Air Force leaders no longer talk about air superiority; instead, they often refer to “air dominance.”

The change is more than just semantics; it is an evolution of doctrine.

“…It’s different from the old concept of air superiority where we kept the (sky) clear of things that might drop bombs on our Soldiers, Airmen and Marines on the ground,” General Jumper said. “It’s this notion of dominance that allows us first to get into the place we’re trying to go to -- to kick down the door or be part of kicking down the door -- and allows us to operate at the times and places of our choosing.”

Air dominance is sending less people in harm’s way and making sure those who go are safer than ever before, Secretary Roche said.

“It’s not just the parents of Airmen who are going to be glad we have the F/A-22,” said Gen. Hal M. Hornburg, ACC commander, “it’s going to be the parents and the husbands and the wives of Soldiers, Sailors and Marines. Because of the capabilities it brings to the fight, the F/A-22 will result in direct tangible benefits and less loss of blood on the battlefield.” [ANN THanks Master Sgt. Mark Haviland, Air Combat Command Public Affairs]



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