In order to keep pace and compete with China, the U.S. Air Force must continue to rebalance its fighter portfolio investment.
That’s according to the commander of Air Combat Command.
During his keynote presentation at the Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber Conference, Sept. 22, 2021, Gen. Mark Kelly said today’s fighter force was designed for a different peer adversary, built for a different time, and utilized in a different place and manner than originally planned.
“We have to focus our fighter force to face the realities of a new threat environment. And that requires a fighter force to change to be successful,” Kelly said.
The majority of competition among states takes place in the global commons ñ areas like international air space, the high seas, outer space, and cyberspace. And the intensity level of that competition increases when a nation seeks to turn a common area into a national sovereign, Kelly explained.
“It is significantly harder to compete against a nation in their own sovereign space,” Kelly said.
“If you’re going to be a resolute world power, you have to step up to compete not just in the global commons, but also in the highly-contested sovereigns,” Kelly said. “If you’re going to be an Air Force that flies, fights and wins anytime, anywhere, the anywhere includes the highly-contested sovereigns.
“As Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. has said in his foundational strategy document, Accelerate Change or Lose: ‘Good enough today will fail tomorrow.’” Kelly said. “When it comes to modern combat, if you don’t like change, you’re going to really dislike irrelevance, and you’re going to outright hate a kinetic defeat.”
Kelly added that based on the highly-contested environment we find ourselves in today, a threat, range, payload, weapons, spectrum, industry, capability, capacity challenge, that must be met with a range, payload, weapons, spectrum, industry, capability, capacity solution.
Moreover, the joint force requires the Air Force to win the air superiority fight, and that requires a concerted effort to remain the world leader in air superiority capability.
Outlined by Kelly, the alignment of the Fighter Roadmap and the development of Next Generation Air Dominance ensures the progression of combat credibility and aptitude.
“The Fighter Roadmap is part of the change you must make, or lose,” Kelly said. “We must have the right-sized fleet to keep viable, to keep the Fighter Roadmap on track.”
According to Kelly, with a shrinking fleet of 40-year-old aircraft going from 4,000 to 2,000, the Air Force must advance in modernization to maintain relevance for years to come.
The continued use of legacy aircraft has become costly to both fly and repair. Streamlining the current fighter fleet by transitioning to NGAD, F-35 Lightning II, F-15EX Strike Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, and right-sizing the A-10 Thunderbolt II will ensure the capability, capacity, and affordability required to meet the peer threat.
“Keeping the Fighter Roadmap on track involves keeping each of the four-plus-one platforms on the centerline of their own road and on plan,” Kelly said. “Like any championship team, they all play a key role. So, their individual flight plans are key to the overall enterprise and the Fighter Roadmap.”