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Chapter 1


Air power has played a pivotal role in America's military force since World
War I when aircraft were first used in combat. In World War II, it was
indispensable to U.S. forces to achieve victory. After the war, the
Department of the Navy invested in longer-range aircraft and larger
aircraft carriers to provide worldwide coverage from the sea. With the
proven success of air power and development of the
intercontinental-range bomber, the Department of the Air Force was
established in 1947, with the Air Force taking its place alongside the other
three services. During the Cold War, America's air power was a critical
element of both its nuclear deterrent forces and its conventional combat
forces. A massive U.S. aerospace industry developed, giving the United
States a research, development, and production base that has dramatically
advanced airframes, propulsion, avionics, weapons, and communications,
and helped shape and broaden the role of air power in U.S. military

Today the Department of Defense (DOD) has what some refer to as the
"four air forces," with each of the services possessing large numbers of
aircraft. Air power includes not only fixed-wing aircraft but also attack
helicopters, long-range missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles, and other
assets that give the United States the ability to maintain air superiority and
to project power worldwide through the air. During the Persian Gulf War,
the unparalleled capabilities of these forces were demonstrated as U.S.
and coalition forces dominated the conflict.

Sweeping changes in the global threat environment, sizable reductions in resources devoted to defense, technological advancements in combat systems, and other factors have significantly affected Dod's combat air power. Ensuring that the most cost-effective mix of combat air power capabilities is identified, developed, and fielded in such an environment to meet the needs of the combatant commanders is a major challenge.

U.S. Combat Air

In October 1993, DOD reported on its bottom-up review of defense needs in the post-Cold War security environment. The review outlined specific dangers to U.S. interests, strategies to deal with the dangers, an overall defense strategy for the new era, and force structure requirements. The strategy called on the military to be prepared to fight and win two nearly simultaneous major regional conflicts, engage in smaller-scale operations, meet overseas presence requirements, and deter attacks by weapons of mass destruction. Table 1.1 shows the overall size and structure of the general purpose forces dod determined are needed to execute the strategy

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According to the Defense Planning Guidance and the National Military
Strategy, U.S. forces, in concert with regional allies, are to be of sufficient
size and capabilities to credibly deter and, if necessary, decisively defeat
aggression by projecting and sustaining U.S. power during two nearly
simultaneous major regional conflicts. The services' forces are also
expected to be prepared to fight as a joint team, with each service
providing trained and ready forces to support the commanders in chief
(CINC) of the combatant commands. U.S. air power is to be able to seize
and control the skies, hold vital enemy capabilities at risk throughout the
theater, and help destroy the enemy's ability to wage war. Air power is
also expected to provide sustained, precision firepower; reconnaissance


and surveillance; refueling; and global lift. The ability of combat aircraft to respond quickly to regional contingencies makes them particularly important in the post-Cold War era.

Both documents discuss the criticality of enhancements to existing systems and the selected modernization of forces to DOD's ability to carry out the military strategy. Each expresses concerns about upgrading and replacing weapon systems and equipment under constrained budgets. In recognition of the costly recapitalization planned and the projected budgetary resources to support it, the Chairman's strategy states that major modernization programs involving significant investment are to be undertaken “only where there is clearly a substantial payoff.”

A new document-Joint Vision 2010—provides the military services a
common direction in developing their capabilities within a joint
framework. Like the guidance and strategy documents, the vision
document cites the need for more efficient use of defense resources. It
stresses the imperativeness of jointness of integrating service
capabilities with less redundancy in and among the services—if the United
States is to retain effectiveness when faced with flat budgets and
increasingly more costly readiness and modernization.

DOD Roles and

The authority of the military departments to acquire air power and other
assets stems from their broad legislative responsibilities to prepare forces
for the effective prosecution of war (Title 10 U.S. Code). DOD Directive
5100.1, which identifies the functions of the DoD and its major
components, authorizes the military departments to develop and procure
weapons, equipment, and supplies essential to fulfilling their assigned
functions. Under the directive, the Army's primary functions include the
preparation of forces to defeat enemy land forces and seize, occupy, and
defend land areas; the Navy's and/or Marine Corps' functions include the
preparation of forces to gain and maintain general naval supremacy and
prosecute a naval campaign; and the Air Force, the preparation of forces
to gain and maintain air supremacy and air interdiction of enemy land
forces and communications. The Marine Corps is also expected to conduct
amphibious operations. All services are authorized to develop capabilities
to attack land targets through the air to accomplish their primary
missions. The directive also states that the military departments are to
fulfill the current and future operational requirements of the combatant

For a more detailed discussion of service roles, missions and functions, see Roles and Functions of
U.S. Combat Forces: Past, Present, and Prospects, Congressional Research Service, Report No. 93-72S,
Jan. 21, 1993

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