New studies describe the 2008 conflict between Russia and Georgia as a precursor of the next generation of aerial combat between advanced aircraft and advanced air defense weapons.
Operational commanders in the U.S. agree the world of aerial combat is changing quickly and technology must be leveraged to stay ahead of new air defenses, particularly the “double-digit SAMs.” The category offers a range of Russian-made weapons such as the S-300 and S-400 family that includes the NATO-designated SA-10, SA-20 and SA-21. Advanced man-portable weapons include the SA-16, SA-18 and SA-22). To get through such defenses will require new aerial combat techniques.
“The buzz word is Cyber warfare,” says Lt. Gen. Chip Utterback, commander of 13th Air Force, headquarters at Hickam AFB, Hawaii. Finessing air defenses “is very different than 10-15 years ago. Then it was penetration [using stealth] and precision [bombing]. Access has a whole different definition that starts with electronics and cyber. Today, a 2,000-lb. bomb, Tomahawk or JASSM can’t get to a target without entering the cyberworld to get the survivability that’s given to us only by electronic attack.
“Our asymmetric advantage is communications,” he says. “If you can influence, impact and affect an adversary’s ability to command and control, you can defend yourself. [That capability] has grabbed the attention of our combatant commanders and the warfighters.
“The F-22 and the F-35 will have this [electronic attack and surveillance] capability,” Utterback says. “They will continuously suck up information. That information can be put to multiple uses. As time goes by, stealth will be compromised. So you need both stealth and speed [in a single package], since the deeper you go, the more you’ll know. [With this airborne electronic attack capability] you try to find the decision nodes, the seams and logistics failure points in the electronic realm.”