Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Forward Arming and Refueling Points for Fighter Aircraft

Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Forward Arming and Refueling Points for Fighter Aircraft

Article excerpt

Power Projection in an Antiaccess Environment

The United States depends upon effective power projection to advance its national interests abroad. A section of the Department of Defense's strategic guidance for 2012 describes one of the primary missions of the US armed forces as "Project[ing] Power Despite Anti-Access/Area Denial Challenges."1 The US Air Force plays a central role in power projection by providing air and space superiority; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); rapid global mo bility; global strike; and command and control.2 The US military faces significant challenges to its power projection capabilities, particularly in the Western Pacific theater of operations (WPTO). The People's Republic of China has invested substantial resources in the modernization of its military forces and continues to expand its antiaccess/areadenial (A2/AD) capabilities, largely designed to prevent opposing forces from gaining access to the WPTO.3 Consequently, as the Air Force attempts to solve today's A2/AD problems, it should first reduce the vulnerabilities of forward-deployed forces to A2 threats, thereby allowing them to project force into a contested theater. The rapid movement and employment of fighter aircraft by means of mobile forward arming and refueling points (FARP) support this priority.

Fighter FARP, an innovative concept, combines sortie-generation capabilities and mobility support to enable more expeditionary and dispersed operations. It uses existing airfields throughout an area of responsibility to increase the range and tempo of fighter operations. Fighter FARP includes rearming, refueling, and swapping pilots without the use of airfield infrastructure-usually in 90 to 120 minutes. Benefits include strategic deterrence, crisis stability, greater range of fighter aircraft, and sustained fighter operations in an A2/AD environment. Currently, this affordable, feasible concept can be executed on a small scale, but the Air Force should develop it into an operational capability for application in a variety of scenarios using current and future aircraft.

Although other nations such as Iran and North Korea have A2/AD capabilities, this article focuses on issues in the WPTO. China's capacity for A2 has increased to the point that it fundamentally confronts one of the basic concepts of US power projection-the massing of forces at forward bases. Thus, the article first describes A2/AD in the WPTO, offers a brief history of FARP in the US military, and examines this concept, including its three critical elements, operational and strategic benefits, and known challenges.

Antiaccess / Area Denial

In an effort to hinder America's ability to project combat power and conduct operations in the WPTO, China has developed a robust A2/AD system that includes both defensive and offensive capabilities. A2 refers to actions and capabilities intended to deny adversary forces entry to a theater of operations. AD denotes actions and capabilities intended to limit an enemy's freedom of action within an operational area.4 China's A2 strategy calls for deterring US military action in support of its allies by increasing the difficulty and costs associated with projecting power in the WPTO.5 China plans to attain its A2/AD objectives through the coordinated use of air defenses, antisatellite/cyber weapons, and both ballistic and cruise missiles to target operating bases and maritime forces in the region.6 Fighter FARP addresses the projection and sustainment of fighter forces in a contested environment.

Threats to US and allied bases include Chinese ballistic and cruise missiles that can strike bases throughout the WPTO. The Department of Defense estimates that China could target approximately 1,100 of its short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) and 500 ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCM) against bases within the first island chain, which encompasses the East and South China Seas. Additionally, more than 500 medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBM) and air-launched cruise missiles (ALCM) can reach bases as far away as Guam and the second island chain (figs. …

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