Defeating modern air defenses is achievable with smart strategies, not only stealth and standoffAugust 10, 2018
In the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress agreed with the Air Force to cancel the manned JSTARS recap program in favor of a largely space-based system, the Advanced Battle Management System. ABMS is undefined, without an estimate of cost and with an unknown fielding date. In the meantime, against Air Force wishes, Congress has disallowed the retirement of any of the 17 legacy E-8C JSTARS aircraft currently carrying out the mission of wide-area surveillance, tracking of small, moving targets on the ground, and onboard battle management.
But the more significant outcome of this decision is the apparent shift in Air Force thinking about its ability to defeat sophisticated, integrated air defense systems, or IADS, quickly. The commander of Air Combat Command defended the JSTARS recap cancellation because he claimed it would be unable to operate in a contested environment defended by high-end air defense systems.
This assertion overlooks classic air power tactics to rapidly convert “contested” airspace to “uncontested” airspace with overwhelming application of force so as to allow other air, land and sea forces to operate without threat from the air. This suppression and destruction of enemy air defenses, called “rollback,” has been successful in all conflicts despite adversaries’ modern air defenses and predictions of unaffordable losses…