Fifth-generation fighter aircraft are key to America maintaining domain dominance in the years ahead, Air Force officials said here today.
Lt. Gen. Christopher D. Miller, deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and programs, and Maj. Gen. Noel T. “Tom” Jones, the service’s director for operation capability requirements, said the technology – exemplified in the F-22 and F-35 – assumes greater importance in combating growing anti-access, area-denial capabilities.
The generals spoke during a media roundtable in the Pentagon.
Fifth-generation aircraft are particularly valuable as part of the new defense strategy guidance that President Barack Obama unveiled here earlier this month, they said. That strategy explicitly affirms that the United States military must be able to defeat ant-access, area-denial threats.
“This is not a new thing,” Miller said. “Militaries have operated in ant-access environments probably since the beginning of time. But what is different, and why fifth-generation aircraft is relevant to that, is that operating in anti-access environments continues to become more complex and challenging.”
There is a continuing competition between nations developing anti-access capabilities and others devising ways to defeat that, the general said. “Fifth-generation aircraft are a key ability that the Air Force is bringing to the nation’s ability to operate in those environments,” he added.
The Air Force has flown against anti-access environments since it was founded. American fighters countered this capability in the skies over Korea and Vietnam. Airmen faced off against surface-to-air missiles ringing Hanoi. In the Persian Gulf War, airmen defeated the ground-to-air threat over Iraq, and most recently, they knocked out the anti-access capabilities around Tripoli.
But missile technology has become more complex and more difficult to counter. Command-and-control capabilities have grown. This will require a new set of capabilities flying against them, Jones told reporters. “The fifth-generation capabilities that the F-22 and F-35 possess will allow us to deal with that environment,” he said.
F-22s and F-35s bring maneuverability, survivability, advanced avionics and stealth technology to the fight. Both planes are multi-role capable, able to fight air-to-air and air-to-ground.
“These capabilities give our leaders the ability to hold any target at risk, anywhere in the globe, at any time,” Jones said. “I think it is important for any adversary to understand we possess those capabilities and intend to continue the development.”
Another aspect of the strategy includes the ability to operate against adversaries across the spectrum of conflict. F-22s and F-35s are particularly relevant at the top of the spectrum, “where we can’t always set the conditions for our operations as easily as we have in the last couple of decades of military conflict,” Miller said.
This is an extremely valuable capability that must be nurtured, the generals said.
Americans have become used to having domain dominance, Miller said, expecting U.S. service members to be able to operate on land, at sea, in the air with a fair degree of autonomy as they pursue national objectives.
“This is not a birthright,” Miller said. “That is something we have had to work very hard in the past to gain, … and we can’t take for granted that we are going to be able to support the joint team in future environments unless we maintain a high-end capability to target an adversary’s air forces, their surface-to-air forces and basically be able to seize control of parts of the air space and other domains the joint commander needs.
“It’s an Air Force capability,” he added, “but it’s a key Air Force contribution to the joint warfighting capability of the nation.”