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Airpower Overview

Aviation forces of the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps—composed of fighter/attack, conventional bomber, and specialized support aircraft—provide a versatile striking force capable of rapid employment worldwide. These forces can quickly gain and sustain air superiority over regional aggressors, permitting rapid air attacks on enemy targets while providing security to exploit the air for logistics, command and control, intelligence, and other functions. Fighter/attack aircraft, operating from both land bases and aircraft carriers, combat enemy fighters and attack ground and ship targets. Conventional bombers provide an intercontinental capability to strike surface targets on short notice. The specialized aircraft supporting conventional operations perform functions such as airborne early warning and control, suppression of enemy air defenses, reconnaissance, surveillance, and combat rescue. In addition to these forces, the U.S. military operates a variety of transport planes, aerial-refueling aircraft, helicopters, and other support aircraft.

The Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps keep a portion of their tactical air forces forward deployed at all times. These forces can be augmented, as needs arise, with aircraft based in the United States.

The Air Force is capable of deploying, as part of its expeditionary forces, seven to eight fighter wing-equivalents (FWEs) to a distant theater in a matter of days as an initial response in a major theater war (MTW). Additional wings would follow within the first month. These forces would operate from local bases where infrastructure exists and political agreements allow. Navy and Marine Corps air wings similarly can be employed in distant contingencies on very short notice; these forces provide a unique ability to carry out combat operations independent of access to regional land bases.

In a major theater war, bombers would deliver large quantities of unguided general-purpose bombs and cluster munitions against area targets, such as ground units, airfields, and rail yards. Bomber forces also would play a key role in delivering precision-guided munitions (including cruise missiles) against point targets, such as command and control facilities and air defense sites.

The ability of these forces to have an immediate impact on a conflict by slowing the advance of enemy forces, suppressing enemy air defenses, and inflicting massive damage on an enemy’s strategic infrastructure will expand dramatically over the next 10 years as new munitions are deployed. The more advanced weapons now entering the inventory or in development will enable bombers to bring a wider range of targets under attack, while taking better advantage of the bombers’ large payloads. The rapid-response, long-range capability provided by bombers could make them the first major U.S. weapon system on the scene in a fast-developing crisis. For remote inland targets, bombers could be the only weapons platform capable of providing a substantial response.

Specialized aviation forces contribute to all phases of military operations. Two of their most important missions are suppression of enemy air defenses and aerial reconnaissance and surveillance. Air defense suppression forces locate and neutralize enemy air defenses. Airborne reconnaissance and surveillance forces are a primary source of information on enemy air and surface forces and installations. These forces bridge the gap in coverage between ground- and space-based surveillance systems and the targeting systems on combat aircraft. Airborne reconnaissance systems fall into two categories: standoff systems, which operate outside the range of enemy air defenses; and penetrating systems, which operate within enemy air defense range.

The Air Force has proposed to recast the operational employment of the bulk of its tactical aviation forces through the creation of aerospace expeditionary forces (AEFs). Under this concept, the fighter/attack force, as well as some bomber, tanker, and transport aircraft, will be grouped into ten AEFs for the purpose of specifying day-to-day readiness levels and availability for overseas contingency deployments. Readiness to meet MTW demands will remain unchanged. The main benefit of the AEF process will be the long-term predictability of future deployment prospects, much as the Navy has accomplished with its cyclical overseas deployments. This predictability should greatly aid Service personnel in planning personal and family commitments. The Air Force’s basic unit organization—squadrons and wings— will not change. Air Force reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft will remain outside the aerospace expeditionary force concept for the time being, based on their relatively small numbers and occasionally very heavy deployment demands.

During FY 2000, the aviation combat force structure will include 20.2 Air Force FWEs (72 aircraft each), 11 Navy carrier air wings (50 fighter/attack aircraft each), and four Marine aircraft wings (which are task organized and include varying numbers and types of aircraft).

Tactical Air Forces

 

FY 1993

FY 1994

FY 1995

FY 1996

FY 1997

FY 1998

FY 1999

FY 2000

FY 2001

(PMAI/Squadron) Primary mission aircraft inventory (combat–coded aircraft only).

Air Force Fighter and Attack Aircraft FY 2000 and FY 2001 tentative pending QDR implementation

Active

1,131/56

966/53

936/53

936/52

936/52

936/52

906/49

906/49

906/46

Reserve

816/42

639/40

576/38

504/40

504/40

504/40

549/38

549/35

549/35

Conventional Bombers

B–1 (Active/Reserve)

0

0

0

0

0

36/18

36/18

36/18

36/18

Navy Fighter and Attack Aircraft

Active

610/56

582/50

528/44

504/37

456/36

456/36

432/36

432/36

432/36

Reserve

116/10

90/7

38/3

38/3

38/3

38/3

36/3

36/3

36/3

Marine Corps Fighter and Attack Aircraft

Active

330/23

320/23

320/23

308/21

308/21

308/21

280/21

280/21

280/21

Reserve

72/6

68/5

48/4

48/4

48/4

48/4

48/4

48/4

48/4

Aircraft Role Sorties Per Day
F-15C Air to Air 4
F-15E Air to Ground 3
F-22A/JSF Air to Ground 3
F-16 Air to Air 5
F-16 Air to Ground 4
F/A-18 Air to Air 3
F/A-18 Air to Ground 3
F-117 Air to Ground 2, hours of dark only
OA-10 Air to Ground 5
B-1 Air to Ground 1
B-2 Air to Ground 1, hours of dark only
B-52 Air to Ground 1

The United States leads the world in manufacturing aircraft and associated systems. Military aircraft form the backbone for both national defense and projection of power. These air vehicles are critical to air superiority, strike, airlift, early warning, reconnaissance, command and control, ground attack and sea control. Fully one-third of the DOD annual budget ($85 billion per year) supports aircraft expenditures. Improvements in air vehicle cost and capability therefore offer significant leveraging potential for reducing defense expenditures.

Sweeping global changes in recent years have presented significant new challenges to the US aeronautics industry. Perhaps most significant is the end of the cold war, bringing dramatic reductions in defense spending including development of new aircraft and engines.

Perhaps the most common theme is that of the aging military and commercial fleets. Aircraft service life limits are derived from structural fatigue test demonstrations. Fatigue failure is the cracking of metal under repeated stressing. For example, bending a paperclip until it breaks is a fatigue failure. Similarly, aircraft structures are exposed to cyclic stresses inflight, such as fuselage pressurization and depressurization. To ensure safety, the military retires an aircraft before it reaches its estimated fatigue limit. Aircraft designers estimate structural fatigue life -- the number of cyclesand stress levels the structure can withstand prior to failure -- through analysis and testing. The military then translates fatigue life into flight hour limits, based on assumptions about the rate at which fatigue damage will occur. This rate will vary depending on several factors,including the rate at which the plane accrues flight hours, the severity of maneuvers, and the weight of the payload.

Initiatives to address this concern exist in the following areas: corrosion detection/prevention; crack detection; high-temperature fatigue and fracture; high-cycle engine fatigue; vibration control; real-time three-dimensional flight loads; and wear monitoring, modeling, and simulation; advanced intelligent and flexible manufacturing methods; advances in materials and processes, including coatings; and application of more electric subsystems. Conversion of portions of the fleet to UAV operation could result in a dramatic increase in aircraft life owing to the drastically reduced requirement for proficiency training operations.

The likelihood that an aircraft will get hit while on a mission is referred to as the aircraft's susceptibility, and its likelihood of being killed by the hit is referred to as its vulnerability. Reduction of aircraft susceptibility is achieved by selecting the appropriate weapons, tactics, threat suppression, and support jamming for the mission; reducing the aircraft's signatures; and incorporating on-board threat warning equipment and countermeasures in the form of electromagnetic jammers and expendables. Reduction of aircraft vulnerability is achieved by using redundant flight critical components, adequately separated so that a single hit does not kill them all; locating the critical components properly to reduce vulnerability; designing the critical components, or adding equipment, to suppress the effects of any hits; and shielding those components that cannot be protected otherwise. All of these concepts for enhancing survivability affect design of the aircraft. The importance of survivability in aircraft design has varied throughout the 20th century, from total neglect to the highest priority.

Over the decades, combat survivability has evolved into a high- priority design requirement for US military aircraft. The advancements in materials, damage tolerant components, flight controls, and stealth technology demonstrated during the Persian Gulf conflict contributed to one of the most decisive victories in modern warfare, yet they were based on 15- to 20-year-old technology.

"Avoiding the Hit" has three sequential phases: preventing detection, obstructing weapon launch, and defeating the weapon in the end game. Advances in sensor, weapon, and information system technology have increased detection and tracking performance, reduced defense reaction time, and produced accurate, inexpensive weapons with high resistance to countermeasures. Two characteristics of future countermeasures are the need for a generic basis for effectiveness and increased reliance on situational information for efficient use of countermeasures. Advancements in computer technology provide for the realistic application of sensors and processors required for a "self-monitoring" aircraft. Self-protection techniques that allow US forces to avoid the hit are adequate to protect combat aircraft in any foreseeable conflict. Successful mission execution requires careful operational planning with knowledge of the threat, the strengths and limitations of countermeasures, and any side effects that could affect other US and Allied forces in the engagement area.

In the effective control of "observables," attention must be paid to the wide assortment of ways in which a military platform might be detected using radar, infrared, optical, acoustic, and emission sensors. Informed control of shaping, combined with absorbing materials, is used to yield vehicle designs that tax the capability of hostile radars. The durability of many radar-absorbing material and radar-absorbing structures (RAM/RAS) are largely unknown in an operating environment, attributed mostly to the lack of experience with such fielded systems. Improvements, including further reducing the RCS and the weight of some of these materials, have already resulted in an upgrade or replacement of source materials that had been considered state-of-the-art technology.

All aircraft are given a two-part symbol or designation. The first part is a letter which tells the kind of aircraft and the second part is a number which tells the model of the aircraft. Sometimes, a letter follows the number. This shows changes in the basic model of the aircraft. For example, the X-24B is a newer version of the X-24A.

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