Tuesday, July 12, 2016

To Kill and Survive

In an age of stealth planes and networks, the Air Force plans to disperse its planes to survive and fight a major power like China.

A couple points jumped out at me in this piece on the impact of the F-35 and F-22 (and B-2 plus planned B-21) on Air Force operations:

The Pentagon would spread its fighter jets around the Pacific in small numbers to military and civilian airfields, some as far as 1,000 miles from the battlefield, to prevent enemy ballistic and cruise missiles from delivering a devastating knock-out blow to a base. Today, the Pentagon tends to concentrate the majority of its planes at regional super bases.


Unlike most missions today, they will receive targeting information from command centers through high-tech computers and communications equipment as they fly to the battlefield. Connectivity improvements between old planes and new ones is also a must.

Naturally, the legacy planes have to be used in the fight despite lack of stealth.

But other than that, two things jumped out.

One, the obvious counter to stealth by an enemy is to strike the airfields. You can't hide that and the best plane is out of the war or dead if it can't take off or land.

I've long worried about China's ability to hit our airfields in the western Pacific. Of course, I've long held that the ultimate air superiority is my soldier standing on your airfield. Yet I don't think I ever explicitly thought of striking airfields as the natural response to stealth that works as advertised.

Two, scattering planes makes sense not only to disperse targets to complicate enemy efforts to bombard airfields, but takes advantage of networking much as I've advised the Navy to do.

That is, in a network-centric world you don't need to concentrate platforms in order to concentrate effort. In the past it helped to have a super base to concentrate the planes and maximize the concentration of effort. But if networked, planes from scattered locations can mass at the objective.

This makes logistics a lot tougher, of course. Instead of having personnel and supplies at a super base, you have to make sure they are either sufficient to be at all the scattered bases or mobile to move the required personnel and supplies--including rapid runway repair--to the small base that needs them.

Which provides a capable enemy with another way to weaken our air effort--disrupt the network. So cyber-defense and securing the satellites (and providing airborne back-ups or rapid satellite replacement) becomes vital.

And the need to integrate the legacy platforms into the air effort means they must be scattered, too, and sustained.

Not that hitting our airbases wouldn't be something an enemy would do with no stealth planes at all in our arsenal. But with our stealth reducing the ability of an enemy to hit the planes in the air, hitting the airbases becomes a better means to destroy the stealth planes.

So is our Air Force also figuring how they will deal with an enemy with stealth and dispersal? Will our missiles be hitting them just as we are figuring out how to cope with them hitting us?