Lt Col Bruce Cox's article "Global Power Requires a Global, Persistent Air-to-Air Capability" (Winter 2010) identifies the key limitation in our air-to-air power projection--the vulnerability of bases "within range of the area of interest" (p. 48). Fortunately, we have overcome this problem in recent conflicts, but there is no guarantee that we can do so in the next one. The author's proposed solution--arming B-1s with air-to-air capability--is not viable for the following reasons.
First, modifying a B-1 as the author proposes would create the equivalent of an F-15E with 48 missiles, albeit with far less maneuverability to defend itself. Consider what would happen if we sent this "Super Strike Eagle" up against, say, eight Su-30s in the Taiwan Strait. Unfortunately, the Strike Eagle's radar is not magic, and neither is the advanced medium-range air-to-air missile, or any other. There is no doubt about the outcome of the engagement: the B-1 would either run away or find itself at the bottom of the ocean. If anyone thinks otherwise, he or she can hop in an F-15 (C or E) simulator, set the missile load to infinite, and try it. Oh, and this includes setting a limit of no more than three-G turns. Much more goes into air-to-air combat than the number of missiles carried. The enemy probably will operate from his home airfields, so his problem set will not include range, numbers, and persistence.
Second, we have a very limited number of B-1s left in the inventory--how many should we modify for air-to-air combat? What impact would this have on our intercontinental strike capability? Is that acceptable? The counterargument to my first point would involve creating the large numbers of B-1s that we would need to actually gain and maintain air superiority. Unfortunately, I don't believe we can do that because of our small fleet.
Finally, the aircrew training required to maintain proficiency in the air-to-air role is far more demanding than that for the air-to-ground role (ask any multirole-fighter aircrew). Lieutenant Colonel Cox's solution would create at least a doubling of B-1 crews' training--is that really vi able? What happens to their (primary) air-to-ground proficiency? The rest of the article is interesting, and I feel that remotely piloted aircraft will likely assume the air-to-air role in the future. For now, though, improving access to defendable airfields in high-threat areas is a more tenable solution than arming B-1s with air-to-air capabilities.
Lt Col Paul Matier, USAF
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|Title Annotation:||Ricochets & Replies|
|Publication:||Air & Space Power Journal|
|Article Type:||Letter to the editor|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2011|
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