The U.S. Air Force Is Worried
Gen. Herbert Carlisle, commander of the U.S. Air Force’s Air Combat Command, is worried. For decades, 400 “fourth-generation” Air Force F-15s and nearly 2,000 F-16s dominated the skies over foreign battlefields. But today China and Russia have fighters of their own that outclass the F-15s and F-16s.
Worse, the Air Force only has 180 or so new “fifth-generation” F-22s to replace the old F-15s — and the F-35s that are supposed to supplant the F-16s aren’t very good dogfighters. Plus, the Air Force is short on air-to-air missiles.
In his annual report, Carlisle wrote that
[i]n the near-to-mid-term, a rapid evolution of threat capabilities, as well as a lack of procurement funding for our most critical air-to-air weapons, have degraded [air superiority] kill chains. At the same time, potential adversaries are expanding the density and lethality of their Integrated Air Defenses, creating more highly contested environments. These evolutions are outpacing our ability to recapitalize and refurbish air superiority assets. …
To repair our kill chains in the near-to-mid-term we need to increase the quantity and effectiveness of our air-to-air weapons, selectively modernize fourth-gen aircraft and keep fifth-gen assets fully capable in the face of an evolving threat.