The Air Force must take care not to become complacent after the “very permissive environment” it has enjoyed during the last 12 years of war, said Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Sandy Winnefeld on Wednesday. “The Air Force has to take a very hard look at what kind of airpower operations it will most likely conduct in the future,” he said in his keynote address to AFA’s 2013 Air and Space Conference. The next fight will be “faster, harder, and dependent on capabilities brought to bear by American airmen,” said Winnefeld. The nation must bear in mind that the conditions facing land, sea, and air forces will be “much more hostile,” he said. “We will not win that fight without dominant airpower.” He said speed—either by being in proximity to the enemy, or by getting to the fight from distance—will be a hallmark of future combat; noting especially the Air Force’s singular capability in airlift. There are some lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan that apply to the future, though, he said. These include “network warfare and intelligence operations integrations. And we’ve certainly deepened our approach to joint warfare,” he said.
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.