The United States and its Allies have relied since the end of the Cold War upon the ability to quickly overwhelm an opposing IADS, and the ability to then deliver massed precision firepower from the air, as the weapon of choice in resolving nation state conflicts.
The reality of evolving IADS technology and its global proliferation is that most of the US Air Force combat aircraft fleet, and all of the US Navy combat aircraft fleet, will be largely impotent against an IADS constructed from the technology available today from Russian and, increasingly so, Chinese manufacturers.
If flown against such an IADS, US legacy fighters from the F-15 through to the current production F/A-18E/F would suffer prohibitive combat losses attempting to penetrate, suppress or destroy such an IADS.
The IADS technology in question is currently being deployed by China, Iran, Venezuela, and other nations, most of which have poor relationships with the Western alliance.
Until the US Air Force deploys significant numbers of the intended New Generation Bomber post 2020, only aircraft types in the US arsenal will be capable of penetrating, suppressing and destroying such an IADS – the B-2A Spirit and the F-22A Raptor.
There are only twenty B-2As in existence and retooling to manufacture a B-2C is an expensive approach given the commitment to the New Generation Bomber.
The United States therefore has only one remaining strategic choice at this time. That strategic choice is to manufacture a sufficient number of F-22A Raptors to provide a credible capability to conduct a substantial air campaign using only the B-2A and F-22A fleets.
The expectation that the US can get by with a small “golden bullet” fleet of stealth aircraft to carve holes in IADS to permit legacy aircraft to attack is no longer credible. The difficulty in locating and killing the new generation of self propelled and highly survivable IADS radars and launchers presents the prospect of a replay of the 1999 OAF campaign, with highly lethal SAM systems waiting in ambush, and mostly evading SEAD/DEAD attacks.
The F-22A Raptor will therefore have to perform the full spectrum of penetrating roles, starting with counter-air, and encompassing SEAD/DEAD, penetrating ISR and precision strike against strategic and tactical targets. The B-2A fleet can robustly bolster capabilities, but the small number of these superb aircraft available will result inevitably in very selective use.
If we assume an aircraft configuration reflecting the planned F-22A Block 40 configuration, and a contingency of similar magnitude to Desert Storm in 1991, then the required number of F-22A aircraft to cover the spectrum of penetrating roles is of the order of 500 to 600 aircraft in total.
The United States no longer has any real choices in this matter, if it wishes to retain its secure global strategic position in the 2010 – 2020 time window. Any other force structure model will result in a nett loss of strategic potential, and produce strategic risks, which neither the US nor its Allies can afford.
What do you guys think?