Inside the US Air Force’s Race to Fund Future Fighters, Bombers and Autonomous Drones Before the Next Crisis
Over the last two decades of fighting in the Middle East, the United States enjoyed near-complete control of the skies to fly drones, fighter jets and combat rescue helicopters. That won’t be the case should the U.S. go to war with China or another advanced adversary. And to prepare for far more contested airspace, the Air Force is laying the groundwork for a series of radical transformations in how it approaches air combat that could cost at least tens of billions of dollars over the next two decades.
In a surprise admission of unreliability, Moscow cut Russia’s Air Force from several 2022 Victory Day Parades, high-profile military spectacles commemorating the surrender of Nazi Germany and the end of World War II in Europe. In Moscow, the fly-by, expected to include over 70 aircraft, was ostensibly cancelled due to weather, though the ground portion of the parade took place with good visibility and under only somewhat cloudy skies.
“Airpower should have been one of Russia’s greatest advantages over Ukraine. With almost 4,000 combat aircraft and extensive experience bombing targets in Syria, Georgia, and Chechnya, Russia’s air force was expected to play a vital role in the invasion, allowing the Russian army to plunge deep into Ukraine, seize Kyiv, and destroy the Ukrainian military. But more than two months into the war, Vladimir Putin’s air force is still fighting for control of the skies. The Russian air force’s failure is perhaps the most important, but least discussed, story of the military conflict so far. Ukrainian forces showed surprising strength in the air war, and adapted as the fighting progressed. But either side of this war could still gain air supremacy—and fundamentally change the course of the conflict,” writes Phillips Payson O’Brien, a professor of strategic studies at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and Edward Stringer, a retired Royal Air Force air marshal and a senior fellow at Policy Exchange.
Ten weeks into Russia’s wider war on Ukraine, Kyiv’s tiny, aging air force is in much better shape than anyone should have expected prior to the invasion. Videos that have circulated on social media in the last week depict each of the Ukrainian air force’s manned fighter and attack types, at least some of them while in action near the front line in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region. The videos underscore what U.S. defense department officials said in mid-April: that an influx of spare parts from Ukraine’s allies helped the air force to repair around 20 grounded jets. As a result, the air arm as of April 19 actually had more flyable planes than it did just two weeks earlier.
“DOD’s approach to resilience has been overly focused on resilience through proliferation. To meet the threat to U.S. space systems, DOD needs to broaden its approach to resilience to fully embrace reconstitution. DOD also should think further about deterrence through the threat of retaliation, especially non-kinetic-based deterrence by punishment approaches that are already feasible and mutually reinforcing to reconstitution and retaliation. Although DOD and Space Force leaders have begun talking about the need for rapid replenishment of space constellations, the department needs to accelerate investment and acquire the needed capabilities for reconstitution and retaliation to shore up the space resiliency triad,” writes Chris Bassler, a senior fellow, and Tate Nurkin, a non-resident senior fellow, with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
The U.S. Air Force has released a request for proposals for a 10-year, $420 million contract to modernize and maintain KC-135 aerial refueling and transport planes. USAF said Friday in a solicitation notice the indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract encompasses recurring and nonrecurring engineering tasks and requires personnel with various skills such as aircraft design and aerodynamics. One of the requirements listed in the statement of work is the application of digital engineering systems to the project in accordance with a Department of Defense strategy.
Take an inside look at the Air Force's E-4B Nightwatch which is used in case of a dire national security situation such as a natural disaster or nuclear war.
The show — the first the air base has held in four years — featured an array of contemporary and vintage military aircraft parked on the taxiway and in flight overhead. The goal, base leaders said in an interview ahead of the show, is to give people a chance to see the U.S. Air Force in action. The event comes as the Air Force celebrates its 75th anniversary, and Holloman, a training base for pilots and sensor operators for fighter jets, observes its 80th.
The challenge: Earth is surrounded by millions of pieces of orbital debris. Also known as “space junk,” these are now useless objects humans sent into space but never removed, ranging in size from entire defunct satellites to flecks of paint from rockets. Because orbital debris is moving at a speed nearly 10 times faster than a bullet, something as small as a screw could cut through an operational spacecraft — potentially leading to the loss of a satellite or, worse, the life of an astronaut.
Are Space Force’s emblems as bonkers as those from the classified “black world?” Sometimes, yeah! Since the Space Force badges are official commissions, they employ a more uniform aesthetic approach, but still use a lot of head-scratching iconography and inscrutable symbols.