US Air Force Begins Development of Space Component Long-Range Kill-Chain

The war in Ukraine has produced many new lessons, in particular on the potential duration of a very high intensity engagement, or on the role of artillery and heavy armor in the land maneuver. In other areas, it has above all confirmed developments anticipated by military planners, such as the vulnerability of combat helicopters and close air support aircraft to modern anti-aircraft defences, while the US Army has precisely launched the FLRAA and FARA programs for next-generation helicopters and which the US Air Force has been waging for almost a decade with Congress to withdraw its A-10 Thunderbolt IIs from service, precisely for these reasons. Beyond these aspects, it has also become indisputable that the arrival of long-range surface-to-air missiles, such as the Russian S-400 or the Chinese HQ-9, and very long-range air-to-air missiles such as the Russian R-47M and the Chinese PL-15, now posed a very serious threat to support aircraft, the very people who participate in supplying fighter-bombers and their precision weapon systems with targeting information and fuel.

Obviously, this subject has become a major priority for the United States Air Force which, within the framework of the preparatory work for the design of the American military finance law 2024, has unveiled certain projects and modified others, such as the acquisition of additional KC-46As rather than continuing the KCy competition, to release funds for the development of the KCz tanker program designed to increase stealth and combat survivability. Likewise, this will look to the E-7A Wedgetail as a likely interim and lower cost solution to replace its E-3 Sentry, pending the development of a new early air warning device adapted to this new environment, and probably using a detection chain made up of drones.

e 8c joint stars 001 Defense Analysis | Fighter jets | Awacs and electronic warfare
The E-8 Joint-STARS entered service with the US Air Force in 1991, and will have to be replaced within a few years

If the E-3 Sentry is used today to detect and designate aerial targets for American and allied fighters, the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, or JSTARS, has the function of detecting and designating ground targets or surface to its bombers and tactical fighters, allowing them to employ their GPS-guided precision weaponry with great responsiveness and efficiency, while remaining at a safe distance from enemy anti-aircraft defences. The process from detecting a target to transferring targeting information to the hunter and then firing the precision ammunition is referred to as Kill Chain, and constitutes one of the most important operational advantages of the US Air Force over other world air forces, the latter being as efficient as it is fast, especially since it also allows the integration of other targeting technologies. . However, like the Sentry and the Pegasus, the JSTARS are now as aging as they are vulnerable to the surface-to-air and air-to-air capabilities of a major adversary, forcing it to evolve significantly further from the opposing devices, and so on. lose efficiency and especially depth of strike. It is precisely to overcome this limitation that the US Air Force announced the development of a new long-range Kill-Chain, which this time would rely on space capabilities.

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