Is the Air Force Ready to “Fight and Win in a Highly Contested Environment”?

That’s a good question, and one that two authors at War on the Rocks, one a retired Army general, put bluntly to the Air Force.

The stunning success of the Air Force in dominating its domain since the 1991 Gulf War has created two looming problems for the service leadership: The Air Force no longer has any substantive experience in how to fight and win in a highly contested environment, and its current airmen have never experienced serious losses of people and machines in air combat. The very profession of arms in air combat — “to fly, fight, and win” in Air Force parlance — may be at risk.  The Air Force’s immense success resulting from the courage, skill, and technological superiority of American airmen has now perversely made the service much less ready to fight the next big war.

I’m going to say, candidly, right now that the answer is “no,” the Air Force is not ready. They do not have the recent memory, as the Army and Marine Corps do, of sustained combat operations in the face of sometimes heavy casualties.

Conversations this afternoon in the van on the way home, which included two very experienced retired Air Force pilots, reveal that some in the Blue Yonder service understand what the problem is. Yet, many zoomies I run into on a daily basis don’t get it, or if they do they hide it well. Someone wearing that uniform needs to jerk a half-hitch in their collective ass.

What say you?

About vmijpp

VMIJPP hails from the star city of the south, Roanoke, Virginia. A 1989 graduate of the Virginia Military Institute, he is a retired artillery officer in the United States Marine Corps, with time in both the active and reserve sides. He served in Iraq in 2004, and in Afghanistan in 2009-2010. He joined the magnificent OPFOR.com as a guest blogger from the now defunct but never uninteresting Rule 308, where he denounced gun control and other aspects of tyranny, and proclaimed the greatness of the United States. When the sun set on OPFOR.com, he migrated here with Keydet1976 and the others.
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One Response to Is the Air Force Ready to “Fight and Win in a Highly Contested Environment”?

  1. BK Price says:

    It might have benefited the authors to have an actual Airman proof read their essay.

    The opening paragraph is laughably wrong. RED FLAG has always focused on taking down highly integrated air defense systems. So much so that the Air Force was criticized for not focusing on the current war while dreaming of “bigger and better wars” which drove a temporary change of RED FLAG to focus on COIN operations. Wisely, the Air Force realized it already had such training GREEN FLAG EAST and WEST (mostly, EAST) which provide air support for JRTC and NTC respectively.

    Anyone questioning the Air Force’s ability to confront the problem of advanced integrated air defenses should make an appointment to observe the US Air Force Weapons School’s semi-annual Weapons Integration phase. It will bring a tear to your eye. Given the classification requirements, you may want to submit your request well in advance. The things they discuss and employ there are beyond “state of the art.”

    As for the overall theme of the article, I thought this blog’s readership was a little older. Perhaps I was wrong. But it seems to me, I heard these exact same arguments about the US Army and the USMC before Desert Storm. How is the US military going to fare in a battle in which they lose hundreds of thousands of Soldiers and Marines against an enemy that just fought a brutal ten year campaign involving chemical weapons and human waves?

    Seems to me, the Marines and Soldiers did just fine.

    Fast forward ten years…How can American Soldiers and Marines compete against the rugged Taliban and AQ terrorist who survive in the mountains and cold and snow as a matter of day-to-day life? Men who have survived decades of war against the Soviets and then each other? American Soldiers and Marines are weak, too accustom to lightning fast wars with minimal casualties. They’ll never stand a chance.

    And yet, the Marines and Soldiers did just fine.

    As for the USAF’s acceptance of death…in Afghanistan in the last 18 months, 23 US Service members died. Of those, 16 were Airman. For those of you bad at math, that means the US Air Force suffered 70% of all casualties in Afghanistan in the last 18 months. We know loss.

    And keep in mind, the vast majority of forward deployed Airman are attached with US Army and USMC units. Which means your losses are our losses. We understand death.

    Other than those glaring errors, I completely agree. The US Air Force has been incredibly successful. It is the best in the world at what it does. The Russian operations in Syria gave truth to long held suspicions. Despite their technological advances, they have not kept pace with regards to tactical capabilities. Pretty toys but no training to go with it.

    Like

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