Next-generation air dominance will rely on data sharing

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An F-22 Raptor aircraft performs a 'tail slide' maneuver during an aerial demonstration at the SkyFest air show in Spokane, Washington, June 22, 2019. (Air Force photograph by 2nd Lt. Samuel Eckholm)

For about two decades, the Air Force has fielded both the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II — both billed as technical marvels. But what’s next for the Air Force?

Developing what officials call next-generation air dominance likely won’t require a new aircraft at all, Air Force leaders have said.

The United States is facing an increasingly competitive global security environment, Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael A. Fantini, director of the Air Force Warfighting Integration Capability said today at a Mitchell Institute-sponsored panel discussion on next-generation air superiority in Arlington, Virginia.

Nevertheless, he said, the U.S. military will need to continue to execute its core missions of homeland defense and nuclear deterrence. It also will need to be able to defeat a peer adversary while holding another at bay while continuing to engage in countering the violent extremist challenge.

“We will not be able to accomplish that without the ability to continue to control the skies,” Fantini said.

An F-35A Lightning II aircraft conducts air refueling operations with a KC-135R Stratotanker over the Utah Test and Training Range, July 11, 2019. (Air National Guard photograph by Tech. Sgt. John Winn)

The Air Force’s next-generation air dominance program is meant to help it maintain control of the skies — and that doesn’t necessarily mean a new fighter jet, said Air Force Maj. Gen. David A. Krumm, director for Air Force Global Power Programs.

“It is not a thing. It is not a platform,” he said. “The next generation of air superiority is a network-connected family of systems that works together to get after the things we need to get after for our nation to ensure air superiority. It’s not one thing; it’s a multitude of things.”

Next-generation air dominance involves ensuring that everything can share data with everything else, across services and across domains, including air, land, sea, space and cyberspace, Krumm said. “All of that connected is what we want it to be,” he added.

And it takes into account the incredible pace of technology advancement as well, he said, noting that it will be constantly evolving and constantly changing.
The Air Force will look for capabilities that are rapidly upgradable and modular in nature, Krumm said.
 

An F-15E Strike Eagle aircraft breaks away after taking on fuel from a KC-10 Extender in U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility, July 10, 2019. (Air Force photograph by Staff Sgt. Keifer Bowes)

 
An Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon flies over the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex during training in Alaska, July 18, 2019. (Air Force photograph by Staff Sgt. James Richardson)