After eight years of capped budgets and deferred modernization under President Obama, the Air Force’s vision of the future has become confused. Two items it is pursuing seem especially ill-conceived. First, there is the plan for a “light fighter” that could conduct close air support of ground forces in undefended air space to save money. Chances are, the U.S. won’t be able to count on any air space being undefended by the time this concept is developed and fielded. Then there is the proposal for a long-range, super-stealthy “penetrating counterair” plane that could help the B-21 bomber go after heavily defended targets deep inside Russia or China during an East-West war. Developing such a plane would be extremely costly since most of the relevant technologies are immature, and it appears the Air Force will need a whole family of aircraft to provide various types of support to the bomber in carrying out a very challenging mission. The Air Force needs to set aside these fantastic visions of the future and focus on replacing its Cold War fighter force with more survivable planes — that’s what will deter war in Eastern Europe and the Western Pacific. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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