To meet the Chinese challenge, the US Air Force wants to bet massively on combat drones

During the Cold War, the armies of NATO, in particular the American armies, undertook to contain the land numerical superiority of the Soviet forces and the Warsaw Pact, by equipping themselves with unparalleled air power, capable of seizing air superiority over the battlefield, and to compensate for the deficiencies of Western ground forces. This is how the F-4 Phantom II, F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon and other A-10 Warthog evolved alongside the European Tornado, Jaguar, Harrier and Mirage to gain the upper hand over the Mig-21 , Mig-23, Mig-25 and the Soviet Su-22, thanks to their technology but also to their number, and this until the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. Throughout the post-Cold War period, this same American and Western air power was the spearhead of Western supremacy on the planet, to the point that the dependence of all Western armed forces on air power was further increased. . At the same time, however, the significant reduction in the risk of high-intensity conflict, and the constant increase in the costs of acquiring and operating combat aircraft, led to a significant reduction in the formats of air forces, in Europe as well as across the Atlantic.

In fact, today, the US Air Force's fighter fleet, with just over 2000 F15, F16, F22 and A10 fighters, represents in volume only half of what it was in the mid-80s. 600. Similarly, in Europe, the French fighter fleet has gone from more than 1985 combat aircraft in 250 to 800 today, and from more than 220 aircraft to less than 2000 for the German fighter fleet, while in at the same time, the unit price of a Mirage 16 or an F15 had increased from $35 million ($2022 million in 60) to more than $35 million, and that aircraft like the F-15A, the F-XNUMXEX , THE Rafale or Typhoon, well exceed $80m at purchase. To the extent that these new aircraft have greatly increased in capacity, scalability and versatility over the years, and the Russian fighter fleet has for its part been reduced from 6000 to 1200 combat aircraft, even though its land forces have also experienced very severe reductions in format (without even mentioning the war in Ukraine), balances have been preserved in this area in the European theater. On the other hand, it is quite different with China.

F35A USAF Defense News | Military alliances | Fighter jets
With a unit price of more than $80 million, the F-35A costs 2,5 times more than the F-16 of 1980 once inflation is compensated, representing a perfect illustration of Augustine's law

Indeed, unlike Moscow, Beijing can rely on a very dynamic economy, and above all on technological capacities which now have nothing to envy of Westerners, including Americans. In addition, the People's Liberation Army has been able to integrate Western doctrines in terms of air power, unlike the Russian armies which remain largely imprinted with their Soviet heritage, leading them to acquire new high-performance aircraft such as the single-engine fighter J-10C, the J-11B air superiority fighter and the J-16 general-purpose fighter, as well as 5th generation aircraft such as the J-20 and the J-35, and at the same time developing support capabilities with the KJ-500 and KJ-600 aerial surveillance aircraft, the Y-20U aerial refueling aircraft and the Y-8 intelligence aircraft, and that many other advanced programs are underway in the country, including in the field combat drones. And for Secretary of the United States Air Force Frank Kendall, the only alternative to meet the Chinese challenge in terms of air warfare is based on the massive use of combat drones to compensate for the growing mass of Beijing's air forces.

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