Is the U.S. Air Force Ready for a War with Russia or China? Maybe Not

U.S. Air Force F-35
February 15, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Asia Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: Great Power CompetitionRussiaChinaU.S. Air ForceMilitaryDefense

Is the U.S. Air Force Ready for a War with Russia or China? Maybe Not

The United States Department of the Air Force announced that it requires a major overhaul of its force posture, and will make "sweeping" changes to reshape both the Air Force and the Space to meet the challenges that lay ahead. In other words, the United States Air Force needs to think about a future conflict and not be built around how it has operated in past wars.

The United States Needs to Prepare for the Next War Warn Air Force Leaders - The United States Department of the Air Force announced that it requires a major overhaul of its force posture, and will make "sweeping" changes to reshape both the Air Force and the Space to meet the challenges that lay ahead. In other words, the United States Air Force needs to think about a future conflict and not be built around how it has operated in past wars.

For much of the past two decades, the U.S. military was focused on the Global War On Terror (GWOT) and needs to be better suited to confronting near-peer adversaries – notably China and Russia.

Earlier this week, the department's senior civilian and military leaders unveiled sweeping plans for reshaping, refocusing, and reoptimizing the Air Force and Space Force to ensure that the United States will maintain continued supremacy in those domains while also better posturing the services to deter and, if necessary, prevail in an era of Great Power Competition.

The changes were made public and endorsed by Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall, Performing the Duties of Acting Under Secretary Kristyn Jones, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Allvin, and Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Saltzman. It represents one of the most extensive recalibrations in recent history for the Air Force and Space Force.

“We are announcing 24 key decisions that are going to address the current force and our ability to stay competitive," Kendall said in announcing the changes and the rationale behind them. "We need these changes now; we are out of time to reoptimize our forces to meet the strategic challenges in a time of Great Power Competition."

The changes feature a mix of near-term and longer-term initiatives, senior leaders emphasized the need for speed.

"We are out of time," Kendall said repeatedly in urging action on the changes, and added that for at least two decades, China has been building a military that is designed, purpose-built, to deter and defeat the United States in the Western Pacific. "The potential for conflict at any time is real."

The Air Force further stated it would focus on a few key areas that include strengthening readiness, training, and combat command centers for program and mission development. It will also develop a new command center, the Integrated Capabilities Command, which will oversee specific areas of the military branch. The command will be in charge of new investments and operational concepts, and it will free up other command centers to focus on daily operations rather than future planning.

Time to Modernize the U.S. Air Force 

The United States Air Force must prepare for a war that of the likes it hasn't before, warned a top official, and that will call for newer and more capable aircraft.

"The strategy is to modernize," U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Richard Moore, the deputy chief of staff for plans and programs, said last month at a Center for Strategic and International Studies panel discussion on Air Force priorities in an era of strategic competition, per Business Insider.

"Forty-four percent of the fleets that we have in the Air Force are past their designed service life," the general warned "When we went into Desert Storm, we had ­ just using the fighter portfolio as an exemplar ­ we had 4,000 fighters. They averaged 8 years old. Our pilots were flying 18 to 20 hours a month. And we were ready for great-power competition against the Russians."

More Money Required for Air Force 

In an op-ed Defense News also noted, the Department of the Air Force has received far less money than the other branches, so much so that it could be argued it has been chronically underfunded to meet its global missions. Between 2002 and 2021, the Army and the Navy received $1.3 trillion and $914 billion more, respectively, than the Department of the Air Force. Moreover, funding greatly increased for the U.S. Army for the ground-centric wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

B-21 Raider

The same investment may be needed to meet the growing global demand for air power and space power.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Allvin noted that the changes are ambitious, but are what is needed in this time of Great Power Competition.

"The Air Force has a rich history of successfully reckoning with transformational change," he said in a letter to the entire Air Force. "Today, a new key inflection point is upon us. We cannot afford to be complacent, holding on to outdated structures," adding, "The Air Force built for the previous era is no longer optimized for the current strategic landscape."

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Author Experience and Expertise: Peter Suciu

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu. You can email the author: [email protected].

Image Credit: Main image courtesy Lockheed Martin. All others are Shutterstock.