The way things are going, the air force will soon be nothing but ground crews for unmanned aircraft. Not that this is anything new. Back in the 1960s, when it became clear that the ICBM was a superior nuclear weapon delivery system, the air force generals had to grin and bear it, although they kept building manned bombers. But now, all a bomber has to do is drop a GPS guided smart bomb. A UAV can do that. In fact, one of the few things a UAV has not proved itself good at yet is operating helicopter gunships or ground attack aircraft (the A-10 and AC-130), aircraft mostly of use just to the army.
Even the Navy wants to control all the fighters and ground attack aircraft!
Who needs the U.S. Air Force, when you have your own (but minus the pilots, which seems to work out so much better.)
So does that leave the Air Force with just transports, ICBMs, AC-130s and A-10s for ground support, and electronic warfare aircraft?
Well, the Navy isn't going to get all the fighters and ground attack aircraft. And the day we find ourselves in a war without aerial supremacy on day one is the day people stop wondering what the Air Force is useful for. I may not think we need many F-22s but we'll be glad we have some along with F-35s and F-15s.
But the Army and Marines are going to get more UAVs flown by sergeants. So the Air Force will lose jobs. Right now the Army is happy to have Air Force planes dropping JDAMs but the Army is getting long-range GPS-guided rockets that will match accuracy and UAVs to provide the bigger JDAMs and the recon that the Air Force now provides.
So does the Air Force vainly battle for shrinking market share?
Or does the Air Force migrate to other jobs?
I think the Air Force needs to go up to space and let the ground guys take over the aerial missions needed to directly support the troops.
Air superiority (including counter-air missions against enemy airfields), space control (both offensive and defensive), ICBMs, air transport, and electronic warfare should be the Air Force missions. Missions that are directly in support of ground forces should be controlled by those services with either helicopters or UAVs.
Science fiction calls space assets "ships" but there is no reason we must have a space navy in the future. Aim high, Air Force. Space Force has a nice ring, too.