The F-22: On track for ensuring air dominance for America

Released: Mar 12, 1997

by Gen. Richard E. Hawley
Commander, Air Combat Command

LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va., (AFNS) -- The crucible of war has taught us many lessons, but none so vitally important to all airmen -- indeed, to anyone concerned about winning our nation's wars at minimum cost in blood and treasure -- as the importance of air superiority.

Air superiority is the prerequisite for success in all our military operations: on land, at sea and in the air. As (former) Secretary of Defense (William) Perry once put it, "Everything else we do depends on this air dominance." History bears this out.

All Americans should care deeply about this vital mission. They should know that our Air Force has a plan to guarantee United States air dominance for the next three decades -- it is the right plan. It is the F-22.

But too many people -- including some senior military leaders who should know better -- still fail to understand how dependent this nation's war fighting strategies for the next century are on complete and total dominance of the air.

They fail to understand that everything else we must do to prevail on tomorrow's battlefield depends on our ability to be dominant in the skies over that battlefield. So our greatest challenge in the year ahead may be to keep this most important of our modernization programs fully funded and on track to full deployment by the end of the first decade of the 21st century.

The lessons of the past

During World War II, our strategic bombing campaign in Europe began without a semblance of air superiority -- we thought massed formations of bombers would overcome any defense. But that theory floundered when losses per mission passed 9 percent in October 1943; so we invented the P-51, a fighter that could stay with the bombers all the way to the target. The P-51 helped give us the degree of air superiority that we needed in the final years of the war.

We carried those lessons into the Korean War and used a great air combat aircraft, the F-86, to dominate the skies over the Korean Peninsula. The airmen of those years downed 14 enemy aircraft for every one that they lost.

But by the Vietnam War, America's military had forgotten the air combat lessons of World War II and Korea. The Air Force had focused on the nuclear strike mission to the exclusion of almost everything else, and had fielded great nuclear strike fighters like the F-105. We had adapted a fleet defense fighter, the F-4, to fill our other requirements, but we had neglected job one -- air superiority.

In the six months from August 1967 to February 1968, North Vietnamese MiG-21s racked up a 17-to-1 kill ratio over our airmen and naval aviators. By the end of the war, the United states had reversed that ratio to 2.55-to-1 in our favor; but a third-rate power had administered a painful lesson about the importance of air superiority -- a lesson we had learned years before, but that had been lost in our enthusiasm for new war fighting doctrines that came with the nuclear age.

After Vietnam's sobering wake up call, the Air Force refocused on the air superiority mission and built the F-15, an aircraft that will have been in service for 30 years when the first F-22 squadron is fielded in 2004.

In Desert Storm, the Air Force destroyed 45 Iraqi aircraft in air-to-air combat. We made it look easy because we had developed and fielded the world's best equipment, trained our warriors to win the air battle, and stayed focused on job one.

Despite the lessons of history, the Air Force finds itself again defending the need for air dominance, and the need to invest the resources to guarantee it.

The requirement for air superiority tomorrow

Air superiority will be just as important on tomorrow's battlefields. Because we have reduced our force structure by 40 percent, and have decreased our presence overseas, America's military will fight as expeditionary forces, rapidly deploying decisive combat force from the United States to the theater.

This strategy requires the commander to provide our forces a sanctuary free from enemy aerial attack as they disembark at ports and airfields. As in Desert Shield, air superiority fighters will be the first in theater to provide cover for incoming forces. These fighters need an overwhelming advantage in capability to either deter an adversary, or if deterrence fails, fight outnumbered and win.

This nation's war fighting strategies are founded on total dominance of the air. This dominance must be theater-wide, spanning both sides of the battlefield.

We talk of information dominance and digital battlefields; but how dominant will we be if the Airborne Warning and Control System, Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, Rivet Joint and other information-gathering systems are subject to attack by aircraft operating from sanctuaries -- sanctuaries guarded by dense networks of modern surface to air missiles?

How precise will our attacks be if the attacking aircraft are forced to react to determined air and surface based defenders?

How effective will our maneuver-based strategies on the ground be, if our enemies have the ability to observe our movements with reconnaissance aircraft operating from those same sanctuaries?

The answer to these and a host of other similar questions is the same: Not very!

Challenges to air superiority

Everything that America's forces must do to prevail on tomorrow's battlefield depends on our ability to dominate the skies, and the Air Force faces two issues that challenge our ability to provide air superiority.

First, nations continue to improve their aerial warfare capability. While the F-15C has established an unmatched combat record, other nations have stepped up to the challenge and have produced fighters that match the F-15C in several performance areas.

The MiG-29, SU-27, Mirage 2000, Rafael and Eurofighter 2000 each have performance advantages in some areas such as acceleration, radar capability, and/or firepower. These aircraft are aggressively marketed worldwide and we face improvements in both the quality and quantity of potential threat aircraft.

Second, potential adversaries looked at the American way of war and concluded that one way to counter America's air dominance is with sophisticated air defenses built around modern surface-to-air missile systems such as the Russian SA-10 and 12.

This strategy seeks to deny America the ability to operate over enemy territory, and it will be an effective strategy against air forces that fail to appreciate the importance of, and deploy, low-observable technology.

Stealth and super cruise work together to shrink surface-to-air missile engagement zones, allowing us to hold the most highly prized targets at risk, destroy the enemy's air defense system, and leverage the joint force by affording freedom of action.

Recent studies by the highly regarded Institute for Defense Analysis examined the ability of various aircraft to engage targets in the face of defensive systems that we can expect to encounter in 2015. They concluded that the F-22 will be able to attack 12 times the number of targets that could be engaged by a conventional aircraft such as today's F-16 -- without exposure to attack by the SAM that will be the foundation of those 2015 defenses.

The United States has the technology to guarantee air dominance well into the next century -- it will fly in three months -- it is the F-22.

F-22 provides a revolutionary leap in capability

The F-22 will be the most lethal and efficient aircraft in the world, allowing us to dominate the skies, faster and with less support, than ever before. The F-22 will deploy quickly to establish air superiority, with half the support required for an F-15.

In air combat, the F-22 will far outclass any adversary. The F-22 will sustain supersonic speeds without the use of fuel-consuming afterburners. This "super cruise" capability increases responsiveness, expands weapons envelopes, and reduces vulnerability to threats. Its stealth and super cruise will ensure survivability and lethality on the 21st century battlefield. Its advanced integrated avionics will allow the F-22 to neutralize the enemy before he can react, and will provide the pilot with dominant battlefield awareness.

The combination of stealth, super cruise, and advanced avionics will give us a "first look, first shot, first kill" capability. Moreover, the F-22 will be capable of delivering accurate air-to-ground weapons to hit crucial targets deep in enemy territory, such as weapons of mass destruction, long before they can threaten our deploying forces.

Phased modernization: affording the F-22

Fiscal constraints have always challenged our ability to provide for America's defense, and the Air Force has met that challenge by adopting a sequenced modernization strategy that allows us to modernize all parts of the force within a fairly constant investment of about 10 to 12 percent of our total budget authority.

The current aircraft modernization cycle began in the early '70s when we began to replace the Vietnam-era fighter force with the F-15, F-16 and A-10. In the '80s we turned our attention to the bomber force and developed the B-1, B-2 and substantially upgraded the B-52 and the KC-135 tankers that leverage so many of our other capabilities.

The '90s have seen another shift in focus, this time to the airlift force, with development and deployment of the C-17 that is replacing the aging C-141. And that brings us full circle. It is time to begin a new modernization cycle and return our focus to the fighter force that is showing signs of age.

The F-15 we depend on for air superiority today will be 30 years old when our first F-22 squadron is fielded in 2004. The F-16 will achieve an equally ripe old age when it is replaced by the Joint Strike Fighter beginning late in the next decade.

As acknowledged in the recently released Congressional Budget Office report on tactical air modernization, this sequential modernization strategy has given us the world's best Air Force with a relatively constant investment of about ten per cent of the Air Force's traditional share of the DOD budget.

Our plan for the next century will sustain that record, but there are those who suggest we should change those plans in mid-stream. They would have us abandon our investment in the F-22 and take a different approach to maintaining air dominance into the next century.

They would have us wait for the Joint Strike Fighter, a relatively low cost fighter that will not have the stealth, super cruise and weapons capacity to achieve air dominance. It will be a capable replacement for the F-16, but it will not give us what we need to own the enemy's air space.

Or, they would have us buy an upgraded F-15, a course of action that would consume most of the remaining resources we plan to invest in the F-22 and still leave us unable to be dominant in the skies over future battlefields.

Many of those who urge us to abandon the F-22 do so because they don't think we can afford all of the TACAIR modernization programs that are currently planned for the Air Force, Navy and the Marine Corps. One could get the impression that we are planning to buy all of these aircraft at the same time, crowding out all of the other important things that the services need to do their jobs. That is simply not true, especially for the Air Force.

The Congressional Budget Office report on TACAIR modernization puts it this way, " the Air Force has made an effort to develop a phased procurement schedule that avoids large overlaps in aircraft purchases. That strategy means that the Air Force plans to begin JSF procurement when funding for the F-22 is tapering off."

That phased investment strategy will give us an Air Force that is as dominant in 2021 as the one that proved so dominant in 1991 during the Gulf War. Can the nation afford less?

This nation has invested billions to achieve technological dominance in aerospace. With the F-22 we propose to spend less than 1.3 percent of a much-reduced national security budget between now and 2002 to provide guaranteed air dominance through the first third of the next century.

Delays in this schedule not only threaten our war fighting capabilities but also that carefully crafted sequential investment strategy that has served the nation and the Air Force so well.

The F-22 will fly in May of this year. There are few uncertainties remaining about how much it will cost or how well it will perform. We can afford this program that will preserve air dominance for America and enhance the capabilities of every other part of the joint force.

Investing in the future

It has been over 45 years since American soldiers have been subjected to attack by enemy aircraft. Perhaps this impressive record leads Americans to take our air superiority for granted. Nothing could be further from the truth.

To extend this record, and ensure America's continued military success, we must invest in the F-22. It will save American soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen's lives and ensure quick victories for our forces. Our investments in air superiority will yield enormous national security benefits and ensure that we can provide air dominance well into the 21st century. (Courtesy of ACC News Service)

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