The Air Force should increase the number of stealth-capable aircraft to roughly 68 percent of its operational fleet, up from the present 17 percent, a group of experts at a Washington, D.C.-based think tank suggests.
In a white paper entitled “An Air Force for an Era of Great Power Competition, the authors also recommend that the service should have a “more balanced mix of short-range combat aircraft with small payloads and long-range penetrating bombers with large payloads.”
The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) believes the adaptations must be made in order to meet rising threats from China and Russia, and continue regional operations against terrorist organizations.
The authors also say the Air Force should expand battle-management and command-and-control capabilities, to include development of Penetrating Counter Air (PCA) aircraft that would out-perform present fighter planes in terms of payload, mission endurance, and range.
Additional tankers, to augment the new fleet of KC-46A Pegasus, would provide necessary support to aircraft that fly combat missions into both low-risk and contested areas as well, the writers suggest.
Despite well-intentioned planning during the 1990s, the Air Force and Defense Department have “lagged behind the evolving threat environment,” the authors wrote.
Both China and Russia are expanding their unmanned aerial systems (UAS) capabilities, with the ability to field such aircraft as they carry sophisticated reconnaissance and strike payloads, they wrote.
The authors also suggest:
* Retiring the B-1B gradually, as the newer B-21 strategic bombers begin active service.
* Modernizing the B-52H as the “backbone of the bomber leg of the nuclear triad until the B-21s join the force.”
* Retaining the A-10 Thunderbolt II, with its capability of providing “precision enabled” close air support. Should the Air Force seek to develop a replacement for the A-10, such an aircraft should make sure that such a plane would not “be limited to operations in permissive environments.”
* Continuing to modernize the F-35A Lightning II fighter aircraft as replacements for both the F-16 and A-10, despite the well-documented “growing pains” that have hindered its readiness.