Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Range and Persistence: The Keys to Global Strike

Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Range and Persistence: The Keys to Global Strike

Article excerpt

Editorial Abstract:

Global attack, one of the US Air Force's distinctive capabilities, is directly attributable to range and persistence. These two abilities, long problematic for the Air Force, rely on very old airframes (bombers and tankers) and increasingly unreliable strategies for overseas basing. Colonel Meilinger proposes the acquisition of new platforms to ensure continued Air Force supremacy in these areas, including new long-range strike platforms, improved air refuelers with defensive capability, and unmanned strike platforms.

EVEN BEFORE THE invention of the airplane, visionaries had debated what effect it would have on warfare; indeed, novelists wrote of aerial armadas that would defeat the tyranny of terrain. Aircraft would fly over seas, mountains, and fortresses that hindered armies and navies. From the airy heights, aircraft could devastate an enemy's defenses.

At the same time, we also noted the airplane's limitations-technical challenges that we needed to address and overcome. In the decades since, we have aggressively attacked all of these challenges and made dramatic improvements. We have effectively dealt with the issues of speed, payload, navigation/accuracy, self-defense, safety/reliability, all-environment operations, and connectivity/responsiveness through technology and operational solutions. One technical problem, however, has not so readily lent itself to fixing-range and the associated factor of persistence.

Global attack is one of the US Air Force's six distinctive capabilities, as defined in its doctrine.1 "Global" means "range." To neutralize or hold at risk targets thousands of miles distant, we need strike assets that can put ordnance precisely on target at great range-a tremendous challenge. The distance an aircraft can travel (range) and its time on station (persistence) are functions of fuel and human endurance. The Air Force has tried to meet these two requirements through forward basing, air refueling, and long-range strike platforms (bombers). Today, those first two options are becoming increasingly problematic.

We may not have access to air bases close to a conflict for political reasons, or they may be vulnerable to attack. Air refueling carries risks in an era of long-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems. Long-range strike platforms, perhaps mated with standoff weapons, offer die logical solution to the global-strike mandate.2

Forward Basing

The United States requires access to overseas bases near a crisis area. In Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Air Force used 36 air bases, many of which it had to hastily construct or upgrade. This is not a new problem. Air operations at the beginning of both the Korean and Vietnam Wars were constrained by a shortage of air bases having the requisite runways, ramp space, utilities access, and maintenance facilities.3

Air Base Politics

As mentioned above, we may not have assured access in future crises for two reasons. The first is political: a country may prove unwilling to allow US military forces to use its soil or overfly its territory. It may wish to help but nonetheless demur due to disagreements over US objectives, domestic concerns, or fear of reprisal.4 We witnessed a demonstration of the first case during Iraqi Freedom when France and Germany did not agree that an invasion of Iraq was necessary and lent no support to the US-led effort. Similarly, after Operation Desert Storm, Saudi Arabia was reluctant to allow US aircraft to use its bases for strikes against Iraq because of domestic opinion. Furthermore, Spain's withdrawal from Iraq in 2004 after a terrorist attack on the Madrid train system showed how reprisals can dictate government policy.5

Operational flexibility and foreign-policy initiatives can mitigate these concerns. Thus, despite the denial of airfields in Saudi Arabia, facilities in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Pakistan, and elsewhere proved sufficient. …

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