Turning data into targets must become quicker to sustain the Air Force’s advantage in future combat, Air Combat Command boss Gen. Hawk Carlisle said, speaking at AWS16 on Wednesday. “A future? that I could see would be automatically generated air tasking orders that drop down, taking all the sensor data from everywhere” and feeding it directly to the pilot to engage the target directly. Instead of the linear chain from satellites and remotely piloted aircraft, through ground stations, intel analysts, operations centers, and finally onto the combatant, the Air Force needs to move toward “sensor fusion,” Carlisle said. “We have to get past that” to be able to take everything from “subsurface to on orbit,” automatically piece it together, and “put it into the warfighter’s hands in a way that … now they become the decision-makers.” The ability to find a target and strike it before the adversary has time to react allows airpower to “take dramatic control” of the engagement, 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.