Fighter planes, invisible bombers, attack drones and airborne missiles must all “operate at speed” in an era of rapidly changing conflict power. This means that the time from “sensor to shooter” (the speed at which data can pass from a sensor to a war fighter) must be drastically accelerated. Without that speed, fighters will not be able to react to threats as quickly and it will be more difficult to win.
In the face of rapid, multi-frequency, and long-range precision fire from enemy air defenses, air strikers simply “operate at speed,” according to the commander of the U.S. Air Force in Europe Jeffrey Harrigian, who used the phrase in a discussion. with the ‘The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies’.
Harrigian, who is now also the commander of the U.S. Air Force in Africa, led much of the air campaign during the Inherent Resolve operation against ISIS; offered a first-hand perspective of war in a conversation with retired lieutenant David Deptula, dean of the Mitchell Institute.
The opportunity to operate with air supremacy in uncontested environments is practically over, as joint forces prepare for war in high-risk areas against advanced enemy forces, sophisticated air defenses and rival fifth-generation stealth fighters. “Years of activity in uncontested environments offered the opportunity to have some time to make decisions and bring them back to a command center. When the troops are in contact and you start targeting in a dynamic environment, you don’t want to centralize excessively. Let your commanders act and trust the boys on the field, “explained Harrigian.
While pilots and commanders have obviously always had the ability to respond when needed under enemy fire or in intense combat situations, the latest threats and advanced long-range sensor technology will require the forward attackers themselves to operate with even more autonomy.
Advanced command and control technologies, including artificial intelligence applications and sensor networks, are also expected to significantly accelerate this type of tactical approach, as air fighters and field commanders will likely have a more immediate and informed sense of specific circumstances. In the event of a fifth generation enemy fighter or long-range air attack arriving, pilots and commanders simply won’t have time to make a decision on the counterattack. These combat tactics, techniques and procedures provide key parts of the conceptual inspiration for the Pentagon’s emerging Joint Joint Control and Control Program (JADC2).
During his discussion with Harrgian, Deptula asked how his experience as an air commander in the fight against Russian-built air defenses influenced his tactical thinking. Harrigian cited Russian weapons in particular as an area of particular concern.
“We don’t want to train every three months. We need muscle memory to fight air defenses,” he said.