Air Force IB 21: Aiming for Domination in High Intensity Conflict


2017-10-05 By Robbin Laird

The USAF has seen more than a decade in which a primary function has been to support ground operations.

The USAF has served as Fed Ex, a flying gas station, a strike and ISR server in the sky for various types of ground operations.

The end result is that skill sets have been honed for slo mo operations in uncontested airspace.

These skill sets are not easily transferred to high tempo and high intensity conflict in contested operational space.

At the same time, technology has evolved where integrated air and maritime operations are not empowered to be able to serve a distributed C2 strike and sensor enterprise.

But again this has little in common with the training of the last decade of air power professionals.

The USAF has recognized this and their work at Nellis and at Air Combat Command is clearly evolving air combat power to work more effectively in the integrated battle space and to do with allies.

We have highlighted throughout various visits the important efforts of the USAF, the USN and USMC working through enhancing the skill sets for high tempo operations.

But what needs to happen is that this outstanding work needs to be leveraged into a broader transformation of the USAF itself.

Nothing less than a significant shift in USAF concepts of operations and resources is required to provide the nation and our allies with the kind of airpower for the Integrated Battlespace emerging in this decade of the 21st century.

We are referring to this as Integrated Batle (IB) 21.

The focus of the Air Force needs not simply to aim high but to aim for domination in high intensity conflict.

This shift from slow mo support to ground wars to IB 21 is a significant strategic shift; and one not going back to the Cold War or late years of the Cold War templates and paradigms.

It is about crafting a whole new paradigm and way of operating.

In this series we are going to address some of the key elements of shaping an IB21 airpower force.

This is about equipment, investments, training, moving from stovepiped C2 and ISR systems to multi-mission, multi-domain systems, and changing the business rules whereby equipment is purchased and systems are supported.

A key element of cross domain synergy is F-22s and then F-35s cuing up the strike fleet whereby Aegis becomes a wing man for the airborne sensor and strike fleet. The photo is of a Tomahawk launch in the Pacific from the USS Sterett in 2010. Credit Photo: USN

We will focus on key elements and case studies of the transition, which is being made or needs to be made.

It is about putting in place a combat learning process whereby airpower professionals are learning to lead in shaping an integrated high tempo force, not simply serve as the combat cloud for the ground forces.

The USAF needs to significantly move beyond functioning as an airborne file server to the ground forces and focus on the PRIMACY of itscutting edge role working with the Navy, Marines and certainly the Army’s ADA force to create a dominant IB 21 force.

And it will be crafted in common with core allies, a process in which the USAF will collaborative learn if it is to become a real leader in the transition.

For some of our visits which highlight the USAF working the skill sets and training for high intensity conflict, see the following:

Editor’s Note: If you wish to contribute to this discussion, please see the following:

An Air Combat Force for Integrated Battle 21: Aiming for Domination in High Intensity Conflict